Who Invented the Pitcher’s Mound?


Today, the pitcher is probably the most important
position on a baseball field. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the early days of the game, the pitcher’s
role was merely to toss the ball to players to initiate play, since the real action didn’t
start until the bat hit the ball. Pitchers often lobbed the ball underhand;
there were no fastballs or curveballs (at least other than the natural curve from the
underhand pitch), and no balls or strikes were called. Since baseball revolved around batters hitting
the ball, a pitcher would pitch as many pitches as needed until a hit was executed. In the mid-19th century, the front of the
pitching area was 45 feet from home base. As long as the pitcher didn’t cross over this
line, he was fine. However, as more serious competition took
root, pitchers began to look for ways to gain an advantage over hitters by inducing weaker
contact. Since there were no official rules about what
constituted a ‘fair pitch,’ pitchers started testing the boundaries…a lot, despite that
many at the time considered this sort of thing cheating. For instance, to gain more speed on their
pitches, pitchers took a running start before pitching the ball underhand to the batter. The hope was that a faster pitch would prevent
a batter from squaring up the ball. As pitchers continued to experiment with pitches,
their varied attempts often resulted in wild pitches to try and lure hitters to swing at
balls outside their reach. However, since batters didn’t have to swing
if they didn’t want to (balls and strikes weren’t yet being called yet), they could
wait all day for a decent pitch. Selective batters caused pitchers to throw
200-300 pitches per game, which made for a really long, slow game (and presumably some
sore arms). This back and forth game between pitchers
and hitters finally resulted in the National Association setting parameters for what would
eventually be balls and strikes. Also towards this end, by 1864, the pitching
box was instituted to limit the freedom of pitchers. The 3 x 12 foot box prevented pitchers from
taking a running start prior to releasing the ball. Just to be sure, though, they were also required
to pitch with both feet on the ground. With reduced speed and leverage- baseball
once again became a hitter’s game. But all was not lost for pitchers. They soon found that it wasn’t just peak velocity
that counted, figuring out ways to put movement on the ball and change speeds to mess up the
hitter’s timing. Their reward for such innovation was an increased
pitching distance to compensate for the increase skill of the pitcher, with the front of the
pitching box moved to 50 feet from the batter instead of 45. In 1884, pitchers were allowed to throw overhand
if they desired, which resulted in even faster pitches that batters had a difficult time
handling. In 1893, in the attempt to, once again, create
an equilibrium between pitchers and hitters to maximize fan enjoyment, new rules were
put in place. The pitching distance increased to 60 feet,
6 inches; a pitching slab replaced the pitching box; and the pitching mound was introduced. Between 1893 and 1950, the only rule regarding
the height of the pitching mound was that the top could be no more than fifteen inches
above the playing field. Teams used this loose rule to their advantage,
often making significant adjustments to the height of the mound to play to the home team’s
pitching strengths or to throw off pitchers from visiting teams. Either way, the variable height and mound
construction provided a home field advantage. In response to this, in 1950, Major League
Baseball mandated that each pitching mound had to be exactly fifteen inches high. By delivering the ball from a fifteen inch
elevation, pitchers gained momentum as they lunged downward off the pitching rubber and
the ball gained even more speed, which made it more difficult for batters to square up,
especially with the downward angle of the ball. Combined with a 1963 rule change that expanded
the strike zone, pitchers began to dominate hitters once again to an extreme degree. In fact, 1968 is referred to as “The Year
of the Pitcher,” because average run scoring per game per team that year was a scant 3.42,
with a full 21% of the games ending in one of the teams getting shut out. For reference, during the steroid era in 2000
as high as 5.14 runs per game per team was seen with just 8% of games resulting in one
team getting shutout. In 2015, there were 4.25 runs per game and
a shutout rate of 14%. In 2019, the pace is currently about 4.84
runs per game. (The sweet spot to maximize fan enjoyment,
and where MLB has mostly tried to stay within when adjusting things to favor the hitter
or pitcher, is between 4 to 5 runs per game. Although there are some who argue even higher
is better, almost no one argues that below 4 runs per team, per game makes the game more
enjoyable to watch. Might as well just start allowing ties and
call it soccer at that point.) And now for a brief aside, because we know
some commenters are already scrolling down to rage about our use of the term “soccer”,
if you’re wondering why American Football is called that and Association Football is
called “Soccer” in America, Soccer was once a popular name for Football in Britain
in the sport’s earliest days. When the rules for the sport were first being
defined, it was, of course, named “Association Football” to distinguish it from the other
forms of football commonly played. Within a year of its inception, this got slurred
down to “Assoccer,” after the common practice of adding “-er” to nicknames at the time
in Britain. Very shortly after this, “Assoccer” became
“Soccer,” which remained a popular nickname for the sport in Britain until about a half
century ago, along with just “Football.” The game initially spread throughout the world
primarily known as “Football.” However, in countries where other forms of
football already were dominate, the nickname “Soccer” was, and in some cases still
is, the preferred name to avoid confusion. And because the name “soccer” still works
to avoid any confusion when dealing with audience members who might be from the U.S. or might
be from Germany, we still go with the term “soccer”, much to the chagrin of some. In any event, going back to pitcher’s mounds,
in response to the Year of the Pitcher, the following year efforts were made to swing
things back in the hitter’s favor a bit, with the rules adjusted to lower the pitcher’s
mound from 15 inches to 10 and to restore the smaller, pre-1963 strike zone. It worked; in 1969 the average run scoring
per game jumped to 4.07 and then 4.34 in 1970. While the height of the pitcher’s mound has
not changed since (to date), the never ending war to try to keep a consistent, competitive
balance between pitchers and hitters is still being waged and has become a concern in the
last decade as pitchers have started to dominate the sport once again, with run scoring down
as low as 4.07 runs per game, per team as recently as 2014. Of course, to solve that issue, beyond many
players jumping on the flyball bandwagon in recent years, it would appear MLB has gotten
Rawlings to change various facets of the ball to help it leave the yard a bit more frequently,
though they continually deny anything was intentional or any real change was done despite
pretty conclusive evidence supporting that notion, then an abrupt backtracking on that
for a little bit, and now back. The most baseball commissioner Rob Manfred
has been willing to admit to is that, to quote him in a recent interview,
“They [Rawlings] haven’t changed their process in any meaningful way. They haven’t changed their materials. There’s two points that I would make, even
in the report last year: The scientists identified the pill in the baseball — not what it was
actually composed of — but the centering of the pill in the baseball as something that
could be a drag issue. To the extent that the pill is not perfectly
centered, the ball wobbles when it’s hit, creates more drag. We think one of the things that may be happening
is they’re getting better at centering the pill. It creates less drag.” Bonus Facts:
• When Henry Chadwick developed the E.R.A. (earned run average) statistic, his goal was
not to evaluate a pitcher’s worth, but rather to differentiate between runs caused by batting
skill and those caused by lack of fielding skill; the pitcher’s skill was not factored
in. This makes sense considering pitchers of the
day tended to just throw the ball right down the middle of the plate, as previously noted. Incidentally, Chadwick chose the “K” to
denote a strikeout when developing the baseball box score because it was the last letter in
“struck” as in “struck out.” His reasoning? He noted, “the letter K in struck is easier
to remember in connection with the word, than S.”
Chadwick was also the first to setup a demonstration proving that the rotation of a baseball could
cause the ball to curve in flight. Before this, some pitchers had already observed
and used this to their advantage, but no one had yet proved that it was an actual effect
and not just in the pitchers’ heads. To prove it, he set up two stakes placed twenty
feet apart in a line between the pitcher and batter’s box. A pitcher, Fred Goldsmith, then threw a ball
which ended up being to the right of the first stake, but then curved to end up to the left
of the second stake. • Chadwick was an outspoken supporter of
changing baseball to allow extra innings instead of letting games end in a tie as was the rule
at the time. He also argued successfully that the game
should be changed so that a hitter was not out unless an opposing player caught the ball
in the air. Before this was made a rule, the batter was
still out if the opposing player managed to catch the ball on the first bounce. Due to the fact that baseball gloves were
virtually non-existent / ineffective in this era, you can see why many players preferred
catching the ball on the first bounce.

60 thoughts on “Who Invented the Pitcher’s Mound?

  1. One trick is that the home bullpen mounds are identical to the one on the field. The visitors bullpen mounds is built as askew and off as the rules tolerance allowed.
    What, if any, advantage it gains I do not know. But it is something that is done.

  2. Thank you so much for the soccer/football thing. It's so annoying when people whine about that like we just made up a name in order to annoy everyone.

  3. I got into a fight with a baseball player.

    It wasn't too bad. All I did was strike him three times and he was knocked out.

  4. I think the balls are actually less consistent than they used to be. You'll occasionally see a hitter who looks absolutely amazed at how far he hit the thing. Could be that the "pill centering" makes a bigger difference the closer it is to perfection.

  5. Thank you for the explanation on the "K", I always thought it was because the pitcher had metaphorically killed "at bat".

  6. Can you do a video about ALL of cricket for those of us in the US? I'm not interested enough to do research. And I really like your presentation.

  7. Of course, when they lowered the mound in 1968, they also shortened the hypotenuse of the right triangle, thereby shortening the distance from pitchers hand at release to the plate. ⚾️🤓

  8. I still don't get why American football is called football, when it's mostly held in the hands. Why isn't it called something like carry ball? Or hand ball? The only time you actually use feet to manipulate the ball is kicking it for a field goal. And BTW, I'm American.

  9. Another bonus: the reason why the pitchers mound is 60'6" away from the batter's box is because the contractor misread the plans calling for the mound to be 60'0"away, misreafing the last 0 as a 6 in the plans

  10. Baseball, baseball, I swear I've heard of it… some kind of primitive ball and stick game, right? Played by early 20th century Americans who weren't dying of consumption or starvation. I remember reading about it in a history book.

  11. Very interesting. I have often wondered why there is a pitcher's mound. Soccer was the name given to the fans of football (English football). The Nick name became the name of the game.

  12. here is how to make baseball interesting for the players and the viewers. baseball is boring now. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1c2MtYjJgdpdikfuoSwa7cjFZQdFo41Mi/view?fbclid=IwAR3mZK0Z7v7vaQ3g85o8_fmLraLcpkYPuoZPrWS_UtcRSzZ1q6b20GlUAoY

  13. Could you at least show what "the pill" looks like and how it is used to construct a baseball? This is less obvious than you seem to think.

  14. You said the scoring sweet spot was "2 to 5" runs per game yet the English captions said "4 to 5". And your later commentary implied 4 was the minimum. Could you correct the video? Thanks! You did have a lot of interesting things to say about baseball history.

  15. Numerous captioning errors (like 2-5 vs 4-5 runs/game), but another great video in your series and one that I'll certainly share with my partner, who's a baseball fan for sure!

  16. It's always great when Simon has to talk about American sports… but he got through this vid without having to say a word that might as well have been Martian to him

  17. 1968, the year of the pitcher was also the last time MLB was honored with a 30 game winner (Denny McLain), and is also the last time a pitcher (Mickey Lolich) threw and won three complete games during the same world series. Lolich is also the only LH pitcher to have pitched three complete games of the same world series.

  18. You are by far my favorite person on YouTube. I was wondering if you could do a video on how groups get classified as a cult. The process that is followed from beginning to end and the channels the the process has to go through. On a related note, what would it take for the Flat Earth Society to be classified as a cult? I'm sure that they fall under the definition of a cult because their views are intellectually harmful.

  19. Wow Simon it almost sounded like you understood what you were talking about, instead of having absolutely no idea what the game of baseball is all about. Realing out those facts
    like you truly know what any of it means. Have you even watched a game yet? Know you hadn't when you did one of your podcasts a few months ago. Good job though considering.

    Oh and what's this issue with a draw? One of the great things about football (soccer) is the fact you can have draws yet still watch an amazingly entertaining game. In fact some of the best games I've ever seen between teams I've no affiliation for have been draws.

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