December 12, 2018

Attempting to Change the Foul-Strike Rule

November 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

In the off-season of 1906, there was some discussion on whether or not to eliminate the rule in which foul balls were counted as strikes (like modern rules, in 1906, foul balls were counted as strikes for the first two strikes on a batter). Some people in the baseball world believed that the abolition of the rule could allow more offense to be injected into the game. Much discussion of this rule came through after the completion of the 1905 World Series between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics, in which three or less runs were scored in four of the five contests.

National League president Harry Pulliam spoke to the media in January of 1906 on the matter. Pulliam was opposed to the rule change and believed it “would be suicidal to change the foul strike rule.” He also argued that batting had not decreased the year previous, stating that more batters hit for higher averages in 1905 opposed to 1904. He also said that any problems arousing from lower scoring games was a result of better pitching in the NL, not inferior batting.

Clark Griffith, the manager of the New York Highlanders of the American League, said he would propose a rule that would meet halfway. His proposal would still see foul balls batted behind the plate, or along the baselines ruled strikes, to prevent intentional fouling off pitches by the batter. However, he believed that any ball hit “on the fly out of bounds, into or over any fence on foul ground shall be declared a foul and not a strike.”

Griffith said that no batter, no matter how skillful at fouling off pitches, can intentionally hit a foul ball in or over the stands. “I hardly think it is proper that a batsman should suffer when he is not doing an intentional act, and I am certain he is not doing that when a ball from his bat goes in or over a stand or fence. By my scheme there will be less intentional fouling, and an inducement offered to hit the ball out,” Griffith said.

The manager also spoke out on two other proposed rule changes, their goal being to improve the offensive side of the game. On the proposed change from four to three balls for a base on balls, Griffith said he might be a part of the group that introduce the rule at the Joint Rules Committee meeting. The other proposed change, moving the pitcher’s mound back from 60  to 62 ½ feet so it is placed directly in the middle of the diamond, Griffith said he would oppose the change, because he believed that the rule would not improve the batting if it were implemented.

Napoléon Lajoie, the player-manager of the Cleveland squad, also offered his take. He said he was not in favor whatsoever on the proposed changes to the foul strike rule. Said Lajoie:

“We have the foul strike rule in force and there is no chance of its being repealed, so let’s take our medicine gracefully. It’s as fair for on as another. I cannot say I favor the changes suggested by Griffith, for the reason that it would only serve to complicate matters and cause many an argument with the umpires, who seem to have all they can do now. ”

As far as the proposed three ball rule was concerned, Lajoie believed it could improve the game:

“It might not be a bad idea to adopt the three-ball rule. That would increase base running and be a big step toward bringing back the hit-and-run game, which the foul strike rule has done much to obliterate. With a pitcher limited to three balls he would not be in a position to waste as many balls as he does at present in checkmating an attempt to try the hit and run, which, in my mind, is one of the prettiest pieces of baseball.”

Even with all the suggestions, president Pulliam remained opposed to any of the rule changes. “I have heard nothing that appeals to me why the foul strike rule should be abolished,” he said, “This foul-strike rule has been in existence since 1901. It was passed because the interest in the game was deteriorating. Batsmen had become so proficient in the art of fouling balls that action was taken out of the game and patrons became dissatisfied. Long, drawn-out contests were the result, and something had to be done for a remedy. ”

Pulliam believed the biggest misconception was that fans were clamoring for offense in games. He believed that was not the case, at least not for the result of longer games. Pulliam also said that while the 1905 World Series did not feature much offense, it was one of the most skillful displays of baseball he had seen in his opinion. The president also spoke out against moving the pitcher’s mound back two-and-a-half feet. “This putting the pitcher back has been tried frequently and in every instance has failed of its object,” he said.

On February 14th, the American and National Leagues met to set schedules for the upcoming seasons, as well as to discuss the proposed rule changes. The change of the foul-strike rule had three main supporters; Griffith, Athletics manager Connie Mack, and Washington president T.C. Noyes. Each men presented different takes on the issue.

Griffith proposed his original outline, which the addition of a line drawn from across home plate from each sides of the grandstand, with every ball dropping in back of the line declared as foul only. Mack, in favor of changes for the foul-strike rule, presented what was described as a “complicated diagram” and Noyes voiced his support for both the foul-strike rule change and the three-ball rule. The owners voted, and shot down each suggestion and variation of the proposals. There would be no rule changes put forth for the 1906 regular season.

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