When Cubs tried different rules at end of season

During a broadcast of a Cubs game on Marquee Network last week, Boog Sciambi, Ryan Dempster and Taylor McGregor discussed whether 1 of the Cubs' final 6 games against the Reds should be played using next year's rules: a pitch clock, no shifts, bigger bases, etc.

It won't happen, of course.

But early in their history, the Cubs twice did play games under different rules late in the year – immediately after the regular season ended, in 1878 and 1880.



The Cubs, then known as the White Stockings, completed their 1878 National League schedule by losing at home to Cincinnati, 9-6, on Saturday, Sept. 14.

The loss dropped the "Whites" to 30-30-1 for the year, which left them fourth among the National League's 6 teams, 12 games behind the first-place Boston Red Stockings.

Boston (40-16) still had 4 games to play, but had clinched the pennant on Friday the 13th by completing a 3-game sweep at Indianapolis, as it led by 5.5 games over the runnerup Reds (37-23), whose win over the Whites was their finale.

Instead of heading east, for its remaining games -- all against third-place Providence (30-26), 2 at home and 2 on the road -- Boston headed west, to Chicago, having scheduled a pair of exhibition games against the Whites on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 16 and 17.



"To-day and to-morrow the Bostons and Chicagos will play exhibition games at White Stocking Park, at which some changes will be made in the play," the Inter Ocean newspaper explained in its Monday edition.

"In to-day's game, instead of the usual nine balls, there will be but six pitched, every delivery being counted a 'ball' or 'strike.' The batter will have but three 'strikes' instead of practically four, as now, by dropping the ceiling of the fair ball.

"In this way six balls will give a man his base, and three 'strikes,' without the customary warning, will put him out. The umpire is to count the ball out loud, 'one,' 'two,' 'three,' etc., up to six.

"In Tuesday's games the pitcher's position will be moved back six feet, and the batter will be allowed to stand six inches nearer to the plate.

"These are experiments with a view to shortening the game and at the same time give the batter a fair chance."


That's right. In 1878, a pitcher had to throw 9 balls before a batter was sent to first base, but a batter was not out until his fourth strike.



Here is what the Inter Ocean's uncredited writer had to say about the game with reduced requirements for walks and strikeouts (subheads not in original)


The Chicagos and Bostons played an exhibition game of baseball yesterday afternoon, the latter winning as usual.

The main interest in the game was the trial of a new system of calling "balls" and "strikes," fully explained in THE INTER OCEAN yesterday.

The plan was for the umpire to count every ball as pitched, and only to have six instead of nine balls delivered. The striker only had three strikes and no warning of "fair ball" as in the old old style. The sixth ball gave him a base.



It was thought that the result be to shorten the game, but yesterday's exhibition would hardly warrant such a conclusion. It is extremely doubtful if it ever shortens the time much, for the reason that the batters do more work, the fielders do more work, and as a consequence a larger number of errors and runs are made, and the game kept up to its usual length.

The reason that there will be more batting under this plan is obvious. The batter, having no warning, does not know when a strike is to be called on him, and will make greater efforts to hit the ball.

Of course more than the usual hits will be made, as was the case yesterday to a marked degree.



The only virtue of the plan seems to be that it will tend to enliven the game and not give the men a chance to grow drowsy by waiting so long for a ball to handle.

On the other hand it has serious objections. It will tend to make the pitcher a machine. He must pitch more for the batter, and the natural consequences will be that having to pitch at least half good balls he will cease to attempt to worry the batsman by curves and wide or high balls, and pitch for him to strike it.

If the scheme should go in effect the "heap work" of the pitcher would pretty nearly be done away with.

It is doubtful whether or not the system will come into vogue.

[End of excerpt]



The game took 2 hours, 20 minutes to complete, with a final score of 11-8.

The Whites outhit the visitors, 21-14, but Boston had 8 hits for extra bases (7 doubles and a triple) to the Whites' 2 (both doubles), and the Whites left 11 runners on base; Boston, just 5.

The Whites made 10 errors and the Red Stockings made 8.

As for the pitching, the umpire (last name: Stambough) ruled on 152 pitches, 78 thrown by Tommy Bond of Boston and 74 by Terry Larkin of the Whites.

He called 17 of Bond's pitches strikes and 11 of Larkin's.

But only 1 batter walked, when Bond threw a sixth ball, and only 4 struck out, 3 on Boston.



Harry Wright, captain of the Red Stockings, had been advocating to increase the distance that a pitcher had to throw the ball for several years.

Since 1845, the distance had been 45 feet. Wright wanted it to be 50 and in 1877 the Red Stockings had played a game with that distance.

For the game at Chicago, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 1878, it actually was 51.

The next day's Inter Ocean had a more succinct account of that experiment:


The Chicago and Boston Base Ball Clubs played another exhibition game yesterday, at which the Whites won by a score of 18 to 10.

As announced, the pitcher's stand was moved back six feet, so as to weaken its effectiveness and favor the batter. The result was that an old-fashioned game was played that reminded the spectator of the times when the score ran up into three figures.

The batting was terrific. The longer distance necessitated to deliver the ball not only weakened its force but gave the batter a better chance to determine its direction and make a safe hit.

The scheme is not a good one, at least without some modifications. It lengthens the game, and so much pounding of the ball grows monotonous.

Possibly combined with the plan of the day before of delivering only six balls instead of nine it might work better, but not with the old number.



The game featured 39 hits. The 22 by the Whites included 4 doubles; the 17 by the Red Stockings, 5. There were no triples or home runs.

The Whites made 5 errors, 3 fewer than Boston did.

There were no walks and just 3 strikeouts, all of Wright, by Larkin, who pitched the entire game again, as did Bond.

Oddly, neither the story nor the box score in the Inter Ocean lists the time of the game.



The Chicago Tribune's account of the contest doesn't mention the time either.

This was the Tribune's opinion of what transpired:


Yesterday's experiment can hardly be called a success. The object sought in the changes proposed is, of course, to make more batting and general play, but not to lengthen the game. To play the game as yesterday would no doubt make it more lively, but would also prolong it, which is to be avoided.

As to Monday's experimental game, the question of main importance is of course whether the improvement is proved worthy to be recommended for adoption or not.

It is certain that the players favor it, -- that is, a majority of them. In point of fact, however, the change disturbs the relation between pitcher and batsman so slightly that it amounts to very little in that respect.

Under the old rule the pitcher had to deliver four good balls before he delivered nine bad ones -- that is, he must give four good balls out of the first twelves pitched, or one good one to three bad ones.

Under the new rules he must give three good balls before he gives six ones, -- that is, he must must give three good balls out of the first eight pitched, and that proportion is a little greater than in the other case.

If the umpire is to be considered in the matter, it must admitted that his power (or is discretion) is somewhat increased.



It would take until the 1882 season for the pitching distance to be changed. There were several further modifications to it until the 1893 season, when it was set at the current 60 feet, 6 inches.

Those extra inches, by the way, are NOT the result of a misprint, as some sources maintain.

The pitcher did not throw from a mound with a rubber, but from within a box, whose size varied over the year.

As an entry at Wikipedia explains:


In 1893, the box was replaced by the pitcher's plate. . . . Exactly 5 feet was added to the point the pitcher had to toe, again "to increase the batting" (and hopefully to increase attendance, as fan interest had flagged somewhat), resulting in the seemingly peculiar pitching distance of 60.5 feet (18.44 m).

Many sources suggest that the pitching distance evolved from 45 to 50 to 60.5 feet. However, the first two were the "release point" and the third is the "pushoff point," so the 1893 increase was not quite as dramatic as is often implied; that is, the 1893 rule change added only 5 feet to the release point, not 10.5 feet.



The number of balls required for batter to sent to first and of strikes required before he was called out also changed several times after 1878, before finally being set at 4 balls and 3 strikes in 1889. But it was not until the early 20th Century that a foul ball was counted as a strike unless a batter already had 2 strikes.

Also, there was a short-lived rule that a batter who received the requisite number of balls was ruled out if he walked, rather than ran, to the base and the catcher threw the ball to the first baseman before the batter arrived.

That long-discarded rule is why a play on which a batter was awarded first base because of errant pitches commonly was called a "base on balls" instead of a "walk."



Two years later, the Whites closed out the 1880 season with a 10-8 victory over the visiting Buffalo Bisons that left the Whites an incredible 50 games over .500, at 67-17, and a season-high 15 games ahead of their nearest rival.

The Bisons agreed to stay in Chicago for 2 exhibition games, on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2.


In the first game, the Tribune reported:

"An experiment was made with the square bat, and it proved a total failure as a substitute for the present style of stick. So far from improving the hitting, it served to diminish the force with which the ball was struck, for the very plain reason that whenever the ball struck the bat on either side of the exact centre of the flat surface it turned the bat in the player's hands, causing a disagreeable sting in the palms, and for the same cause the hitting was weak and unsteady.

"The players pronounced the flat bat a flat failure, and only with much urging could be induced to use it after one trial. Finally they abandoned it altogether as worthless and unsatisfactory, and played the rest of the game with the regular round bats."

In 1885, a rule would be adopted allowing one side of a bat to be flat. It would be rescinded 8 years later.



The following day, "The feature of the game was the reduction of called balls to six, the abolition of the 'fair ball' warning, and the compelling of men to run back to their bases on foul hits and get there before the ball was returned to the pitcher's hands and by him fielded to the base.

"All the changes worked admirably. The game was sprightly and interesting, with something going on all the time.

"Both pitcher and batsman were kept on the alert, the former in order to prevent giving a base on balls and the latter to escape being called out on strikes.

"The consequence was freer hitting and a greater degree of activity than under the old rules. The Chicagos made twelve clean hits with a total of twenty [bases], and the Buffalos eight and twelve respectively.

"[Joe] Quest sent the ball into left field for a clean home run," something the Whites had done only 4 times during the regular season."

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