According to conventional baseball wisdom, the home team enjoys a significant advantage in batting last. But in the early days of big-league baseball, it was not uncommon for teams to choose to bat first.1 By the time the American League declared itself a major league in 1901, home teams batting first had become a rarity, and by 1914 the practice had completely vanished.
This paper will begin with an overview of the methods used to determine which team batted first in the major leagues of the late 1800s and early 1900s, briefly summarizing the decline in popularity of bat ting first at home, and then focusing on the 1901-14 period—the dying days of home teams batting first (HTBF). Specific examples will be given to illustrate the various reasons why managers sometimes went against the prevailing winds and sent their team to bat first. This article will also detail the unexpected rebirth of teams batting first in their home ballpark in the twenty-first century. Traditionally, home teams batted first because of tactical or superstitious considerations, although the recent reappearance of the phenomenon was caused by very different circumstances.
Whether or not there is a benefit in batting last is outside the scope of this paper. (For more information on this topic, the reader is invited to review the 2008 study by Theodore L. Turocy of the Department of Economics at Texas A&M University.2)
METHODOLOGY AND DATA
Retrosheet game log files for 1901-14 were used to calculate the frequency of HTBF and to identify the teams and individuals who used the practice most (and least) often. For select games, contemporary newspaper ac counts and Baseball-Reference game logs were used to determine, when possible, why the home team chose to bat first. Retrosheet game log files were also used to ascertain the HTBF games 2007-22, followed by inspection of Baseball-Reference game logs and con temporary newspaper accounts to again establish the circumstances.
DETERMINING WHICH TEAM BATS FIRST (1871-1949)
Baseball’s first fully professional organization, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, left it up to team captains to determine which team would bat first in its inaugural season of 1871. This typically involved a coin toss, with the winner being given the right to decide if his team batted first (“the ins”) or last (“the outs”).3
That method remained in use until 1877 when the National League—in its second year of existence— made a “radical change.”4 The NL eliminated the coin toss and mandated that the home team must bat first. One year later, however, the previous rule was reinstated. “The rule [of always] giving the home club the privilege of going to bat first was abandoned,” re ported the Chicago Inter Ocean in December 1877, without providing a reason for the flip-flop.5
The American Association was founded in 1882. In 1885 it got rid of the coin toss, allowing the home team’s captain to unilaterally decide which team batted first.6 The National League followed suit in 1887, and the rule remained that way until after the 1949 season.7
THE DECLINE OF HTBF
In the early days of big-league baseball, it was common for a captain to choose HTBF. Games could be played with a single ball, and so being the first team to take swings at a new sphere was believed to be advantageous.8 However, in the late 1880s Henry Chadwick—the “Father of Baseball”9—was a strong proponent of batting last. He passionately advocated his position in print several times in 1888.10 In the August 8 edition of Sporting Life, he excoriated those who chose to bat first. “Will the League captains kindly tell me what advantage the ‘first crack at the new ball’ in the first part of the first inning yields, which is not similarly at command in the second part of the first inning?” he asked pointedly. “And can any one of them point out wherein going to the bat first in a match equals the desirable advantage of having a chance for a winning rally which going to the bat last gives a team in the last part of a game? Is not that habit you have all of you got into of sending the visitors to the field first one of the many ruts you have got into?”11
It is unclear exactly when the custom of batting last at home became firmly entrenched, although there are several helpful clues.12 The July 30, 1892, edition of Sporting Life pointed out that Brooklyn Grooms player-manager John Montgomery Ward was “sending visiting teams to the bat first on the Brooklyn grounds,”13 which may have indicated a shift in opinion was underway.14 Chadwick continued to push for home teams to bat last in the spring of 1894, writing that “sending men to the bat first, in nearly every instance is a weak point of play.”15 Eventually his message got through, because by 1901 teams rarely batted first at home.
THE DEATH OF HTBF (1901-14)
Home teams batted first in only 1.7 percent of major-league games in 1901. Contemporary news sources indicate getting first crack at the new ball was not a commonly cited rationale. Instead, teams primarily used the strategy in an attempt to snap a losing streak, or “break the hoodoo,” in the parlance of the times.16
Between 1901 and 1914, home teams batted first only 70 times, or in 0.4 percent of all major-league games. After 1914 no home team batted first for the remainder of the twentieth century.17
Choosing to bat first was often an act of desperation by struggling teams. Only twice in this period did a team that went on to win the pennant bat first at home.18 Teams went 32-38 (.457) with this strategy between 1901 and 1914, which was considerably worse than the .536 winning average posted by those teams when bat ting last at home.19 It is worth noting that the lower winning average may not have been caused by choosing to bat first, but may have had more to do with the difficult circumstances which drove them to try HTBF.20
As the chart in Figure 1 shows, HTBF dropped off steadily at the beginning of the twentieth century, effectively ending in 1908. Three outliers 1913-14, two in the AL and one Federal League contest, seemed to be the end of the practice.
MANAGERS AND CLUBS USING THE STRATEGY MOST OFTEN (1901-14)
According to Retrosheet, five men between 1901 and 1914 were responsible for 40 of the 70 examples of HTBF (Table 1). All five were from the National League, so it’s not surprising that 49 of the 70 games in which the host club batted first were in the senior circuit.21 By comparison, it happened 20 times in the American League and only once in two seasons of Federal League play.
On top of being future Hall of Famers, the field generals on this list all broke into the big leagues when it was common for home teams to bat first.22 For in stance, Ned Hanlon made his major-league debut as an outfielder with the National League’s Cleveland Blues in 1880, while Bid McPhee’s rookie season came in 1882 as a second baseman with the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association.23
Aggregating the Retrosheet data by team (Table 2) shows that the top five clubs in HTBF account for 48 of the 70 games, led by the Cincinnati Reds, who did it 15 times between 1901 and 1914. As mentioned earlier, the strategy was not typically used by pennant contenders. In 1901 through 1914, the closest the Reds came to first place was 161/2 games in 1903.
The Washington club was responsible for 7 of the 20 American League games with the home team batting first between 1901 and 1913; no other team in the AL did it more than twice.
NOTEWORTHY EXAMPLES OF HOME TEAMS BATTING FIRST (1901-14)
This section will describe some of the more interesting cases of HTBF, starting with the 1901 New York Giants, who were led by 30-year-old player-manager George Davis. Davis chose to send the Giants to bat first at home seven times in 1901, the most by any team in a single season between 1901 and 1914. All seven came in a 42-game stretch between August 8 and September 16, and no other big-league team bat ted first at home during that period.
The Giants had been in first place as late as June 10, but they had won only 17 of their previous 50 contests heading into the second game of their August 8 doubleheader against Brooklyn. Davis was feeling the heat, and that day the team issued a tersely-worded statement on his future as manager. “Davis will continue to manage the team,” it read. “But he has been told that if the team has another ‘slump’ or demoralized streak he would be deposed and [former Giants skipper Bill] Joyce put in his place as manager.”25 To add to the pressure, Joyce was in attendance at the doubleheader and received a hero’s welcome from the fans at the Polo Grounds.26
Davis tried to change the Giants’ luck by having them bat first in the second game of the twin bill.27 The ploy had the desired effect, as New York scored two runs in the top of the first and held on for a 4-1 victory, snapping its four-game losing skid. But after the Giants lost their next two home games batting last, the superstitious Davis again attempted to break their “hard luck” by having them bat first at home in the second game of their August 14 doubleheader.28 They won again, ending another four-game losing streak.
The Giants continued to struggle for the remainder of the season, and Davis chose to bat first at home five more times, including back-to-back home games on September 7 and 9. New York won both times to snap an eight-game losing skid.
The Giants finished the season with a dismal 52-85 record. Seeing the writing on the wall, Davis jumped to the American League for the 1902 season.29 He never managed in the big leagues again.
Frank Selee had his Chicago Orphans (later Cubs) bat first at home 11 times during his 31/2-year run as the team’s manager (1902-05). Selee’s reasons ranged from the customary—as when he used the strategy to break an eight-game losing streak on August 23, 1902—to the extraordinary. On September 15, 1902, the Cubs batted first against Cincinnati’s weakest starting pitcher, 21-year-old Henry Thielman, who had lost 13 of his previous 16 decisions. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Selee “preferred the first crack at the chilled wing of the Red’s [sic] premier loser to a final assault.”30 Chicago scored three runs in the top of the first against an ice-cold Thielman and held on for a 6-3 win.31
Selee had a unique reason to send the Cubs to bat first at home on May 15, 1904. Chicago was on a two-game winning streak, although there was another outstanding “hoodoo” to overcome: The Cubs had lost all four Sunday games up to that point of the season.32 Selee’s move worked yet again. “The Chicago Nationals, after a month or more of strenuous effort, have finally succeeded in winning a game of ball on a Sunday,” re ported the Chicago Inter Ocean.33
Cincinnati Reds player-manager Joe Kelley had his squad bat first at home five times in 1903 and three more times the next season. After dropping the first two regular-season games in 1903 to the defending National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Kelley chose to bat first on April 18 at the Palace of the Fans against Kaiser Wilhelm, who was making his major-league debut. In the top of the first inning, the nervous rookie made a throwing error and surrendered three runs, although he settled down after that to foil Kelley’s strategy.34 Wilhelm tossed a complete game to pick up his first big-league win.
Perhaps spurred on by Wilhelm’s difficulties in the top of the first inning, Kelley sent the Reds to bat first the next day against another Pittsburgh hurler making his major-league debut, 21-year-old Bucky Veil. That move failed too, as Veil earned the first of his five career victories in the big leagues.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY’S FINAL FIVE GAMES WITH THE HOME TEAM BATTING FIRST
In 1908 the home team batted first once in both the National and American Leagues. Just when it looked like the practice had died out, it happened twice more in 1913; one year later the home team batted first for the final time in the twentieth century. A list of the last five games can be found in Table 3.
Although Frank Chance was the player-manager in two of the last five games, one should not conclude that he was a strong proponent of this strategy. He didn’t choose to bat first in any of the other home games that he managed between 1905 and 1914.
The 1908 Chicago Cubs’ bid for a third consecutive pennant ran into a snag in late June and early July when they were hit with a rash of injuries, knocking them out of first place.35 They came into their July 16 matchup against the surging New York Giants on a four-game losing streak. In an attempt to “dent the hoodoo,” player-manager Chance sent his squad to bat first at the West Side Grounds.36 In the top of the ninth inning, the Cubs looked like they might snap their losing streak, but Christy Mathewson—who had started showering in the clubhouse on the assumption that he would not be needed—hurried to the mound to snuff out a Chicago rally.37
Nearly a month after Chance’s gambit, on August 14, manager Joe Cantillon of the seventh-place Washing ton Nationals also elected to bat first at home. The Nationals were on a two-game winning streak when they faced the Chicago White Sox in the first game of a doubleheader. Cantillon, trying to break a different sort of jinx, chose to bat first against a tough south paw, Doc White. Although the Nationals had beaten White in Chicago two weeks earlier, he had gone 4-0 with three shutouts in his four starts in Washington so far that season.
“In order to change their luck, the Nationals went to the bat first,” reported the Washington Herald, “and celebrated the occasion by shoving a run across the plate before White got his true bearings.”38 A 20-year-old Walter Johnson—making his 28th career appearance—made the first-inning run stand up. John son carried a no-hitter into the ninth, only to lose it when White led off with a single. The Big Train settled for a two-hit shutout.39
Five years passed before another big-league team batted first at home: the struggling New York Yankees.40 Then tenants of the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds and still eight years from their first pennant in club history, they came into the second game of their June 2, 1913, twin bill against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox on an eight-game losing skid. Worse still, the Yankees were 0-12 at the Polo Grounds so far that season and had an 18-game home winless streak against Boston dating back to June 22, 1911.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and 36-year-old player-manager Frank Chance chose to have the Yankees bat first, hoping to change his team’s luck. It failed.41 “The only benefit derived from the shift,” chided The New York Times, “was in allowing the spectators to get away from the Polo Grounds a half inning earlier than would have been the case under usual conditions.”
Unlike the sad-sack Yankees, the Washington Nationals were expected to contend for the pennant in 1913.42 But poor play in late May and early June had cost them dearly, and the Nationals came into the second game of their June 26 doubleheader against the league-leading Philadelphia Athletics 13 games out of first place.
The Nationals were on a modest two-game losing streak after being humiliated by the Athletics by a combined score of 25-4 in those two contests. Washington manager (and part owner) Clark Griffith hoped to “change his luck” by sending the Nationals to bat first.43 Griffith was clearly desperate, because it was the only time he used the strategy in his 20-year managerial career.
It made no difference, as Philadelphia pummeled Washington for a third consecutive game, marking the low point in the Nationals’ season. Led by a dominant Walter Johnson, Washington bounced back and went 56-33 the rest of the way to finish in second place, 61/2 games behind the Athletics.44
The final time a home team batted first in the twentieth century came under bizarre circumstances. Hal Chase, generally regarded by many as the most corrupt player in baseball history, had jumped his contract with the White Sox on June 20, 1914, and signed with the Federal League’s Buffalo Buf-feds.45 He played one road game for Buffalo before White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was granted a preliminary court injunction preventing Chase from playing for any other team.46
But Chase still had to be served with the injunction, so he went into hiding, eventually returning to Buffalo on June 25. That afternoon the Buf-feds staged “Hal Chase Day” in an attempt to cash in on the drama. The team had learned that Chase would be served with the injunction as soon as he set foot on the field, so player-manager Larry Schafly informed the umpires that Buffalo was choosing to bat first.47 The strategy was in tended to improve the odds of Chase making at least one plate appearance in front of the large weekday crowd.
Chase batted second for the Buf-feds—he struck out—and remained in the game until the Buffalo sheriff personally delivered the injunction to him as he returned to the dugout after the bottom of the second inning. Less than a month later, Chase’s lawyers got the injunction dissolved in court and he returned to action with Buffalo.48
CLUBS USING THE STRATEGY LEAST OFTEN (1901-14)
Table 4 lists the five clubs that batted first at home the least often between 1901 and 1914. The skippers of those five teams were largely a newer generation of managers as compared to those in Table 1. Only 3 of the 19 men listed in Table 4 began their major-league managerial careers prior to 1901: John McCloskey (1895), George Stallings (1897), and Patsy Donovan (1897).
1950 RULE CHANGE
Happy Chandler was baseball commissioner for less than six years (1945-51), but his impact on the game was considerable, in particular the pivotal support he provided for baseball’s integration.49 In 1949 Chandler directed the Rules Committee to rewrite the rule book, making it more understandable and helping to ensure that the rules were correctly and uniformly applied. Chandler asked them to rewrite the rules in plain language, define all terms, and regroup the rules in logical sequences.50 It was the most significant alteration of the rule book since 1904.
The modernization resulted in the removal of the home team’s choice to bat first or last, which was considered more of a housekeeping change since the option hadn’t been invoked in decades.51 Specifically, rule 26 was dropped:
Rule 26—Choice of Innings-Fitness of Field for Play
The choice of innings shall be given to the manager or captain of the home team,
It was replaced by rule 4.02:
Rule 4.00—Starting and Ending a Game …4.02 The players of the HOME TEAM shall take their DEFENSIVE POSITIONS, the first batter of the visiting team shall take his position in the batter’s box, the umpire shall call “Play” and the game shall proceed.
A key member of the Rules Committee was Tom Connolly, who had umpired in both the National (1898-1900) and American Leagues (1901-31) before becoming the junior circuit’s umpire-in-chief.52
The Associated Press story announcing the rule book enhancements quoted Connolly as saying that he “never heard of a manager wanting to bat first.”53 The statement was surprising considering Connolly had umpired in 7 of the 20 American League games in which the home team batted first between 1901 and 1913, and he was the home plate umpire the last time it happened.54 The 79-year-old future Hall of Famer could be excused for his imperfect memory. “Shucks, who can remember ever seeing a home club bat first in a game?” asked the Albuquerque Journal that off season. “Not even the oldest inhabitant.”55
THE REBIRTH OF HOME TEAMS BATTING FIRST
After 92 consecutive seasons with no home teams batting first, MLB quietly made a change that ensured its eventual re-emergence.56 Starting in 2007, any team that had to relocate a home game to another city would still bat last. Since the team was already penalized by having to play an extra game in front of an unfriendly crowd, it no longer made sense to take away the privilege of batting last.57
The change came far too late for the 1991 Montreal Expos and the 1994 Seattle Mariners. On September 13, 1991, a 55-ton concrete slab fell off Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, forcing the Expos to play their last 13 “home” games of the season on the road.58 Montreal’s opponents batted last in their home ballpark in each of those games.59 A similar situation happened in 1994 when the ceiling tiles inside the Kingdome needed to be urgently replaced and the Mariners had to play 13 “home” games on the road.60
MLB’s revised policy for relocated games resulted in the home team batting first in 44 contests be tween 2007 and 2022. The yearly breakdown can be seen in Figure 2.
These 44 games came about for a wide variety of reasons, the majority of which would have been incomprehensible to Henry Chad wick 120 years earlier. The different circumstances will be briefly out lined below.
HOME TEAMS BATTING FIRST (2007-19)
A freak 2007 snowstorm dropped 16 to 18 inches of snow on parts of northeast Ohio over the Easter week end.61 The cold and snow wiped out the entire four-game series between Cleveland and Seattle on April 6-9, which was the Mariners’ only scheduled trip there.62
Three of the games were rescheduled for Jacobs Field on what would have been off days for both teams (May 21, June 11, and August 30).63 The fourth game was played as part a September 26 doubleheader at Safeco Field in Seattle, with the Mariners batting first in the opener.64 No American, National, or Fed eral League team had done so since “Hal Chase Day” in 1914.
In 2010 the Group of Twenty (G20) economic summit was held in downtown Toronto.65 Law enforcement authorities created an extensive security zone in the area, erecting a 10-foot-high fence around the Rogers Centre and restricting the movement of vehicles and pedestrians in the downtown core.66 The CN Tower and many downtown businesses were closed during the summit, and the Toronto Blue Jays’ three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 25-27 was moved to the City of Brotherly Love.67
The Jays wore their home jerseys and batted last in all three games at Citizens Bank Park.68 It was the first time the Designated Hitter rule was used in a National League ballpark during the regular season.69
Almost exactly one year after the G20 summit, a three-game series on June 24-26, 2011, between the Mariners and Florida Marlins was moved from Miami to Seattle because of a June 29 concert featuring the band U2. The Irish rockers were on the final leg of their 360° tour, the highest grossing concert tour of all time.70 The $25M stage production, complete with a 300-ton, 167-foot-tall stage, required four days of setup time.71
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria may have lost three home games, but the venue change was likely to his financial benefit.72 The Marlins were last in National League ticket sales every year between 2006 and 2011, and they were unlikely to draw big crowds for the games against the Mariners.73 U2, on the other hand, attracted approximately 73,000 fans to Sun Life Stadium.74
The series opener on June 24 at Safeco Field was the first time since the DH was instituted in 1973 that National League rules were used in an American League ballpark in the regular season.75 Mariners pitchers held their own at the plate, batting a combined .250 in the series.
The next time a team batted first at home came in 2013 after the finale of a four-game series between the Reds and San Francisco Giants was rained out on July 4 in Cincinnati. Since it was the Giants’ only visit to the Queen City that season and no common off days were suitable as a makeup date, the contest was played as the nightcap of a July 23 doubleheader in San Francisco.76 Perhaps the most notable aspect of the rescheduled game was that Giants manager Bruce Bochy earned the 1,500th managerial win of his career while wearing a road uniform in his home ballpark.77
Tragic circumstances caused the relocation of three games in 2015. Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man from the west side of Baltimore, suffered a broken neck while in police custody on April 12, and died a week later.78,79,80 Civil unrest broke out after his April 27 funeral, resulting in the postponement of games be tween the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles on the next two nights.81,82 The National Guard was called in and a weeklong curfew imposed. On the afternoon of April 29 the gates of Camden Yards remained locked while the Orioles and White Sox played an eerie game with no fans in attendance. It was the first time one of the four major North American sports leagues held a game with no fans present.83
The next series—three games versus the Tampa Bay Rays—was moved to Tropicana Field May 1-3.84 The games were played without the Rays’ usual in-game promotions, and the Orioles’ traditional seventh-inning stretch song, John Denver’s ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy,’ was played.85
Hurricane Irma caused widespread devastation in South Florida on September 10, 2017, killing hundreds and causing billions in property damage.86 Although Marlins Park suffered only minor damage, team officials moved the three-game series on September 15-17 between Miami and Milwaukee to Miller Park to avoid straining the resources of police and fire rescue crews.87,88
Since the Marlins’ extended road trip began three days before the hurricane slammed into Florida, they didn’t have their home uniforms with them for the games in Milwaukee; they batted last in their road jerseys.89 In a lighthearted touch, the Brewers tried to make Miami feel at home by installing neon palm trees in Miller Park’s outfield pavilion.
THE PANDEMIC-SHORTENED 2020 SEASON
On March 12, 2020—one day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic—spring training came to an abrupt halt.90 Eventually, baseball restarted in early July, and a 60-game regular season kicked off on July 23 with no fans in the stands.91
But after several COVID-19 outbreaks among major-league teams, it was unclear how many of the games could be played in the narrow 67-day period set aside for the regular season.92,93 One week into the sea son, the owners and the union agreed to an innovative rule change to help deal with a potential glut of rescheduled games and conserve pitching resources: Doubleheaders would consist of two seven-inning games.94 The move proved significant, as a whopping 55 twin bills were necessary in 2020.95
COVID-19 outbreaks caused the postponement of 45 games during the regular season, with 16 of those games moved to a different city to ensure the regular season was completed on time.96 Another 12 contests in 2020 were postponed and relocated for other reasons, bringing the total number of games with the home team batting first to 28, or 3.1 percent of regular-season games—the highest percentage since prior to the 1901 season. Incredibly, only two games didn’t get played despite the unprecedented challenges.97
Since the Canadian and United States governments had closed their border to non-essential travel, playing games in Canada was impossible in 2020.98 After exploring several options, the Blue Jays made a last-minute decision to play their home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, the ballpark normally used by their Triple-A affiliate.99 But necessary ballpark infrastructure improvements couldn’t be completed before Toronto’s first home date, so two games against the Washington Nationals on July 29-30 were shifted to the US capital.100 The Jays batted last, wore their home whites, and heard their seventh-inning stretch song, “OK, Blue Jays,” echo across an empty Nationals Park.101
COVID-19 wasn’t the only hazard affecting play in 2020. Aside from Toronto, no team had more games moved out of its home ballpark in 2020 than the Mariners. In addition to one game being postponed and relocated because of a positive COVID-19 test, the team had to play five more away from T-Mobile Park because of dangerously poor air quality in Seattle.102,103 Smoke from wildfires on the West Coast elevated the air quality index into the 300s across most of Washington state—anything above 150 is considered unhealthful for everyone, not just “sensitive” groups.104 The Mariners batted last in two games in San Francisco on September 16-17 and three more in San Diego on September 18-20.
Hurricanes caused two other games to be relocated. First, the threat from Hurricane Isaias bumped a Yankees-Phillies game on August 4 to Philadelphia the next day.105 Hurricane Laura had a similar effect on an August 26 contest between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels in Houston; it was played as the second game of a twin bill on September 5 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.106
On August 26, six National Basketball Association teams made the decision to not play their postseason games to make a strong statement against racial injustice.107 The player action came three days after a White police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake seven times.108 The boycott soon spread to other professional sports, including baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Seattle Mariners were the first MLB teams to refuse to take to the field, and eventually 11 ballgames were postponed because of the boycott.109,110
Two of those games required a change of venue in order to be made up. The Red Sox’s decision to sit out their game against the Jays in Buffalo on August 27 resulted in a September 4 doubleheader at Fenway Park.111 In the second game, the Red Sox batted first at Fenway for the first time in the history of their storied ballpark, which opened in 1912.112 A change of venue was also required when the Orioles decided not to play their Au gust 27 game in Tampa Bay.113
One other game was relocated during the turbulent 2020 season because of a far more traditional postponement: an August 28 game was washed out by rain.114
HOME TEAMS BATTING FIRST (2021-22)
The 2021 season featured only one game with a team batting first in its home ballpark. That was the first game of an August 10 twin bill in Anaheim between the Angels and Blue Jays, made necessary because of a rainout on April 11 at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, one of three venues the Jays called home in 2021.115
The 99-day owners’ lockout that began on December 2, 2021, played havoc with the 2022 regular-season schedule.116 The first eight days of the season were wiped out, forcing makeup games to be played on for mer off-days and/or turning single games into doubleheaders.117 The game between the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers that was originally scheduled for April 4 in Oakland was moved to Detroit and played as the first game of a May 10 doubleheader, with the Tigers batting first at Comerica Park. It was the only instance of a team batting first in its home ballpark in 2022.
SUMMARY OF HOME TEAMS BATTING FIRST (2007-22)
After a 93-year absence, teams batted first in their home ballpark a stunning 44 times between 2007 and 2022. The underlying reasons for these games—aside from the 2007 change to how relocated contests were conducted—are summarized in Table 5.
The rules and customs of the game of baseball are not chiseled in stone. Even basic features like determining which team bats first have evolved over the years without altering the fundamental nature of the game. This insight is particularly relevant as the major leagues enter a new era in 2023 with the introduction of pitch clocks and a ban on defensive shifts.
In the early days of the big leagues, it was common for the home team to choose to bat first and in one season (1877) the National League even mandated the practice. Helped in part by the urging of Henry Chad wick, the strategy became less common in the 1890s, and by 1901 it had become a rarity. Since batting first at home was typically done to break out of a losing streak during this period, elite teams rarely did it. Only twice between 1901 and 1914 did a team that went on to win the pennant choose to bat first at home.
The rule book modernization initiated by Happy Chandler in 1949 eliminated the home team’s choice to bat first or last. But starting with the 2007 season, any team that had to relocate a home game to another city retained the privilege of batting last. Since then, a global pandemic, extreme weather, poor air quality, and racial injustice were the most common reasons why teams batted first in their home ballpark. Given that society continues to grapple with these serious issues, it may only be a matter of time before major-league teams bat first at home more times in the twenty-first century than in the previous one.118
GARY BELLEVILLE is a retired Information Technology professional living in Victoria, British Columbia. He has written articles for SABR’s Baseball Research Journal, Games Project, and Baseball Biography Project, in addition to contributing to several SABR books. Gary grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, and graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Mathematics (Computer Science) degree.
The author thanks SABR Games Project Committee Chair John Fredland and two anonymous peer reviewers for providing valuable feedback on early drafts of this article. The author is grateful for the help provided by Retrosheet President Tom Thress. Thanks also to Andrea Gough at the Seattle Public Library for her research assistance.
1. David Nemec, The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated (Guildford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2006), 51.
3. Nemec, The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated, 51.
4. “Convention of Base-Ball Managers at Cleveland,” Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1876, 7.
5. “Base Ball Rules,” Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), December 7, 1877, 5.
6. Nemec, The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated, 51.
7. The home team’s captain also decided which team batted first in the Player’s League (1890), American Association (1885-91), and American League (1901-49). Nemec, The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated, 51.
8. Nemec, The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated, 51.
14. As of December 2022, the preliminary Retrosheet game log files indicated that National League teams batted first at home 53 percent of the time in 1882, 41 percent in 1894, and just 9 percent in 1898. (Revised Retrosheet game log files for 1871 to 1900 will be released in the coming years. E-mails with Retrosheet President Tom Thress, October 13, 2022.)
15. Henry Chadwick, “Chadwick’s Chat,” Sporting Life, April 14, 1894, 5.
16. “Piatt Goes to Pieces,” Boston Globe, June 9, 1903, 5.
17. The World Series in 1921 (Giants-Yankees), 1922 (Giants-Yankees), and 1944 (Cardinals-Browns) featured two teams who shared a home ballpark. However, the author does not consider these games to have the home team batting first, since both squads were playing in their home ballpark.
18. Connie Mack had his 1902 Philadelphia Athletics bat first at home on May 15 against Cy Young and the Boston Americans. Player-manager Frank Chance sent his 1908 Chicago Cubs to bat first in a home game against the New York Giants on July 16. It was the last time a National League manager chose to bat first at home.
19. Teams that batted first at home at least once in a season from 1901 to 1914 had a combined record of 1286-1112 (.536) when batting last at home.
20. It is worth reiterating that Turocy concluded that there is no significant strategic advantage to batting first or last. However, he theorized that there may be a psychological advantage to batting last. Turocy, “In Search of the ‘Last-Ups’ Advantage in Baseball: A Game-Theoretic Approach.”
21. It is unclear if manager Bid McPhee or captain Tommy Corcoran made the decision to bat first at home four times during the 1901 season.
22. Frank Selee never played in the major leagues, although his professional baseball career dated back to 1884 in the Massachusetts State Association.
23. Selee began managing in the big leagues in 1890 for the Boston Beaneaters. One year later, he managed rookie outfielder Joe Kelley. George Davis began his big-league playing career in 1890 with the National League’s Cleveland Spiders. David Fleitz, “Frank Selee,” SABR BioProject. Accessed November 8, 2022.
26. Davis was also cheered by the fans when he came to bat, although perhaps not as enthusiastically as Joyce was welcomed. “‘Scrappy Bill’ Joyce is Again in Town,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 9, 1901, 10.
27. “Teams Break Even,” (New York) Daily People, August 9, 1901, 3.
28. “Taylor’s Curves Easy,” Boston Globe, August 15, 1901, 5.
36. Charles Dryden, “Cubs Pipe Fails, and Giants Land,” Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1908, 6.
37. Belleville, “July 16, 1908: Christy Mathewson Bolts from the Shower to Preserve Giants’ Victory over Cubs.”
38. “Two From White Sox,” Washington Herald, August 15, 1908, 8.
39. Johnson was in his first full season in the big leagues in 1908 and he had been inconsistent up to that point. His August 14 outing was his third shutout of his career and the most impressive so far. “Two From White Sox.”
40. In the first game in Yankees club history, played on April 22, 1903, in Washington, Senators manager Tom Loftus had his team bat first. The Yankees batted last at American League Park and lost, 3-1. Loftus also had the Senators bat first at home for the first two games of the 1902 season. No American League manager chose to bat first at home more frequently than he did. According to the Retrosheet game log files, Loftus chose to bat first in 1.9 percent of home games between 1901 and 1903. He began managing in the big leagues in 1884 with the Milwaukee Brewers of the Union Association.
41. Chance was in his first and only full season with the Yankees. He also played first base in both games of the doubleheader; the Yankees’ regular first baseman, Hal Chase, had worn out his welcome in New York and was traded to the White Sox the previous day. First baseman Babe Borton, who was acquired by the Yankees in the Chase trade, had not yet reported for duty. Martin Kohout, “Hal Chase,” SABR BioProject. Accessed November 10, 2022; “Chance Trades Chase to Chicago,” Dunkirk (New York) Evening Observer, June 2, 1913, 7.
43. “Macks Hit and Score at Will in a Soft Bargain-Day Bill with Senators,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 27, 1913, 10.
44. Johnson had a career year in 1913. The 25-year-old went 21-2 for the rest of the season to finish with a 36-7 record and a 1.14 ERA. The extraordinary effort earned him the first of his two American League MVP Awards.
47. Zerby, “June 25, 1914: Buffalo and the Sheriff Greet Hal Chase on His ‘Day’ at Federal League Park.”
48. The court ruled in Chase’s favor because his contract with the White Sox lacked mutuality-the team could terminate his contract on 10-days notice, but Chase did not have that ability. Zerby, “June 25, 1914: Buffalo and the Sheriff Greet Hal Chase on His ‘Day’ at Federal League Park.”
51. Perhaps the most significant change to the rule book was the redefinition of the strike zone. The upper portion of the strike zone was changed from the shoulders to the armpits. The lower portion was more precisely defined as the “top of his knees” instead of just “knees.” Fritz Howell, “Chandler Predicts Few Players to Be Drafted,” Idaho Falls (Idaho) Post-Register, 11; Spink, Baseball Guide and Record Book 1950, 524; J.G. Taylor Spink, Baseball Guide and Record Book 1948 (St. Louis: Charles C. Spink & Son, 1948), 591. Accessed December 12, 2022: https://archive.org/details/baseballguiderec1948stlo/page/590/mode/2up.
52. Connolly also umpired in one American League game in 1932 (July 31 at Cleveland).
53. Howell, “Chandler Predicts Few Players to Be Drafted.”
54. According to Retrosheet data, Connolly also umpired a bunch of National League games in which the home team batted first between 1898 and 1900.
56. This is under the assumption that the definition of the “home team” is aligned with the one adopted by Baseball Reference and Retrosheet. By their definition the home team is the one playing in its home ballpark-not necessarily the team batting last. In neutral site games, the home team is the one batting last. E-mails with Retrosheet President Tom Thress, October 13, 2022.
57. David Andriesen, “Home Teams Sweep Doubleheader,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 27, 2007, D-1.
59. For statistical purposes, all 13 relocated games were considered road games for the Montreal Expos.
60. For statistical purposes, all 13 relocated games were considered road games for the Seattle Mariners. The issues with the Kingdome roof surfaced on July 19, 1994, forcing the Mariners to play on the road for the remainder of the season. They would have played many more “home” games on the road had the players’ strike not canceled all games beginning on August 12. Bob Condotta, “Ten Years After the Kingdome files Fell,” Seattle Times, July 19, 2004. Accessed November 11, 2022: https://archive.seattletimes.com/archive/?date=20040719&slug=tile19.
61. “The Boys of Winter?,” Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, April 10, 2007, C-1.
62. The bad weather also forced the three-game series between Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to be moved to a neutral site (Milwaukee) on April 10-12.
63. The addition of a game on May 21 required the approval of the players’ union because it forced the Mariners to play games on more than 20 consecutive days. They played on 23 consecutive days (May 15 to June 6).
64. David Ginsburg, “M’s Will Make Three Trips to Cleveland for Makeups; but Fourth Game Snowed Out in April Is Moved to Seattle,” The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington), May 5, 2007, B-5.
66. Ken Fidlin, “The Good,” Toronto Sun, June 25, 2010, S-31; Jennifer Yang, “A World of Security in the Heart of the City,” Toronto Star, May 29, 2010, GT-3; Justin Skinner, “Downtowners Looking to Get Out of Town for the Weekend,” City Centre Mirror (Willowdale, Ontario), June 24, 2010, 1.
67. Kenyon Wallace, “G20 Shuts Down Trains, Jays and Musicals in Toronto,” Edmonton Journal, June 5, 2010, A-5.
71. Jordan Levin, “U2 and Bono: Connecting the Universe,” Miami Herald, July 1, 2011, B-5.
72. Phil Rogers, “Time to Gaze at Stars,” Chicago Tribune, June 26, 2011, 3-3.
73. The Marlins briefly escaped the NL cellar in attendance in 2012 with the opening of their new home, Marlins Park. They returned to having the lowest attendance in the league in 2013. As of the end of the 2022 season, the Marlins had not yet escaped the NL cellar in attendance (no fans were allowed during the COVID-shortened regular season of 2020).
74. Sun Life Stadium was originally known as Joe Robbie Stadium. It was the home of the Marlins from 1993 to 2011. Levin, “U2 and Bono: Connecting the Universe.”
75. “Late Friday; Mariners 5, Marlins 1,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 26, 2011, 4-C.
76. Associated Press, “Rain Washes Out Reds-Giants,” Sidney(Ohio) Daily News, July 5, 2013, 13.
77. Janie McCauley, “Reds Split DH After Missed Chances,” Advocate-Messenger (Danville, Kentucky), July 24, 2013, B-2.
91. The National League Championship Series and the World Series had limited fans in attendance in 2020. All other regular-season and playoff games were played with no fans present. Jordan McPherson, “Prospects Face Major Loss with Minors Canceled,” Miami Herald, July 1, 2020, A-11; “Fan Friendly: Spectators Return to Park as NLCS Opens in Texas,” Daily Press (Newport, Virginia), October 13, 2020, B-5.
92. Perry, “Timeline of How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Impacted the 2020 Major League Baseball Season.”
96. Goldman, “Baseball Made It, So Far, through a Pandemic; Football Hopes to Follow.”
97. The St. Louis Cardinals did not play a game between July 29 and August 15 because of a significant number of COVID-19 cases among players and staff. Only two of the four games between the Cardinals and Detroit Tigers originally scheduled for August 3-6 were played. Jeff Seidel, “Don’t Shame the Cards for Virus Outbreak; Praise Tigers for Staying Healthy,” Detroit Free Press, August 4, 2020, B-1.
101. “Roundup; MLB Suspends Dodgers’ Kelly 8 Games for Throwing at Astros,” Miami Herald, July 30, 2020, A-16.
102. A three-game series in Seattle scheduled for September 1-3 was canceled because of a positive COVID test in the Oakland Athletics’ traveling party. Two of the games were rescheduled in Seattle (September 14 doubleheader), while the other was shifted to Oakland (Game 2 of September 26 doubleheader). Lauren Smith, “Mariners Series Against A’s Rescheduled as Doubleheaders Later This Month,” News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington), September 2, 2020, B-1.
103. Lauren Smith, “Mariners vs. Giants Postponed Due to Poor Air Quality in Seattle,” News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington), September 16, 2020, B-2.
104. Anything above 100 is considered unhealthy for “sensitive” groups. Brandon Block, “Hazardous Air across Washington Could Last for Days,” The Olympian (Olympia, Washington), September 16, 2020, A-4; “Air Quality Index (AQI) Basics,” AirNow.gov. Accessed November 15, 2022: https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basic/.
105. The contest was played as the first game of an August 5 twin bill at Citizens Bank Park. Scott Lauber, “‘Weird’ Day Ends in Defeat,” Philadelphia inquirer, August 4, 2020, D-1.
106. Associated Press, “Angels Strike Early to Earn Doubleheader Split,” Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California), August 27, 2020, B-3.
107. Brian Mahoney and Tim Reynolds, “Six NBA Playoff Teams Make Bold Statement,” Spo/resman-R’eview (Spokane, Washington), August 27, 2020, B-2.
109. Bob Nightengale, “Baseball (Finally) Takes a Stand,” Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana), August 28, 2020, B-1.
110. Three games were canceled on August 26, followed by seven more the next day, and one on August 28.
111. The Blue Jays had decided to play on August 27. “Player Protests,” London(Ontario) Free Press, August 28, 2020, 8; Peter Abraham, “Bradley, Sox Agree to Sit,” Boston Globe, August 28, 2020, C-1.
112. Associated Press, “Jays: A Win on the Road, a Loss at Home in Fenway Doubleheader,” Toronto Star, September 5, 2020, S-4.
113. The Rays were planning on playing on August 27. It was rescheduled for the second game of a September 17 doubleheader in Baltimore. Marc Topkin, “The Rays Unite with the Orioles and Opt Not to Play. ‘Obviously the World Is Much More Important than Just Sports’,” Tampa Bay Times, August 28, 2020, C-1.
114. The day after the Twins and Tigers jointly decided not to play their August 27 game in Detroit in support of the racial injustice boycott, their game was postponed because of rain, resulting in the second game of a September 4 doubleheader being played in Minnesota. Omari Sankofa II, “Tigers, Twins Opt for Not Playing,” Detroit Free Press, August 28, 2020, B-1.
115. The Blue Jays opened the 2021 regular season at their spring-training home in Dunedin before moving back to Sahlen Field on June 1. They played their first game since 2019 at the Rogers Centre on July 30, 2021. Aside from the one game in Anaheim on August 10, the Jays played the remainder of their 2021 home schedule at the Rogers Centre. Mike Harrington, “A Second Home,” The Citizen (Auburn, New York), June 2, 2021, B-1; Davis, “July 30, 2021: Blue Jays Play First Home Game in Canada in Nearly Two Years.”
118. With a more balanced schedule having been introduced for the 2023 season, that milestone may be reached even sooner than one might expect. The 2023 schedule had all 30 teams playing each other for at least one series. This decreased the number of home series against each team in the same division from three to two and increased the number of times a team made one and only one visit to a city. The number of divisional games was reduced from 76 to 52 and interleague games were increased from 20 to 46. Non-divisional intraleague games were re duced from 66 to 64. Mike Axisa, “MLB Releases 2023 Schedule: All 30 Teams Will Face Each Other in New Format; Opening Day on March 30,” CBS Sports, August 25, 2022. Accessed November 15, 2022: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/mlb-releases-2023-schedule-all-30-teams-will-face-each-other-in-new-format-opening-day-on-march-30.
https://sabr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/research-collection4_350x300.jpg300350Davy Andrews/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/sabr_logo.pngDavy Andrews2023-05-28 23:56:072023-05-28 23:56:07The Death and Rebirth of the Home Team Batting First