Kang: As baseball considers change, it should look to its past

From Jay Caspian Kang at the New York Times on March 28, 2017, with mention of SABR member John Thorn:

In 1857, 14 baseball clubs met at Smith’s Hotel on Broome Street in Manhattan to draft a new set of rules and regulations. In an effort to make the game more manly and scientific, members of the Knickerbocker Club, New York’s most influential team, proposed that “the ball must weigh not less than 6 nor more than 6¼ ounces avoirdupois” and that “no person shall be permitted to approach or to speak with the referee, umpires or players, or in any manner to interrupt or interfere during the progress of the game.” Most significant was the rule that changed the terms of victory. The winner was no longer the first team to score 21 runs, but the one that accrued the most runs after the end of nine innings. The reasoning behind the change was simple and logical: Fielding, which had been a stone-handed disaster during baseball’s earliest days, had improved rapidly, making it hard for any one team to reach 21 before the sun went down. The modern nine-inning game was one of the first official attempts to make baseball games go faster.

It may be time for another get-together at Smith’s Hotel. Baseball will always have its staunch traditionalists, but their usual grouchy reasons for resisting change — the sanctity of the record books; the game’s intergenerational history; the fact that Cubs and Red Sox fans wanted their teams to win a World Series played by roughly the same rules as when they last won championships, in the early 1900s — have all evaporated over the past two decades. In 2017, it’s hard to know what hallowed numbers like 61, 300, 714 or 755 (or idioms like the “Curse of the Bambino”) mean, and while some records might still matter — Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, possibly — the chatter generated by a great hitter approaching his 500th home run or 3,000th hit has become muted.

Read the full article here: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/28/magazine/as-baseball-considers-change-it-should-look-to-its-past.html

Originally published: March 29, 2017. Last Updated: March 29, 2017.