Morrison: The pitch that changed baseball, and other landmark rules changes

From David Morrison at on October 15, 2018, with SABR member John Thorn:

Ever notice how often umpires switch out the ball in baseball games?

It’s almost like a Pavlovian response: pitcher throws a ball in the dirt, catcher offers it up to the umpire, umpire gives him a clean ball. It’s not just a habit. It’s codified in the rulebook.

Rule 4.01 in the “Umpire Duties” section of the MLB rulebook states that an umpire should have “at least two alternate balls and shall require replenishment of such supply of alternate balls as needed throughout the game” in case of instances such as the pitcher requesting a new one, the ball getting hit out of play, and times in which the ball becomes “discolored or unfit for further use.”

That third contingency comes directly from a dark day in baseball history: Aug. 16, 1920. The day Cleveland Indians infielder Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch, fracturing his skull and eventually costing him his life.

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Originally published: October 24, 2018. Last Updated: October 24, 2018.