Vintage Ball and the One-Bounce Out

Houston Babies @ Katy Commerce Field, 2011.

The 1860s rules for playing the game of base ball are not that hard to follow. Once you snap to the fact that no one is playing with a glove, no one is leading off or stealing bases as runners, and no batter is running full-bore past first base on an infield play. The defense can put you out for running past first base if anyone with the ball tags you before you get back. Once you get that much and then note that the pitching is basically lobbing the ball in there to be hit as though it were a sandlot game, and that no one was reaching by a walk or HBP, you’ve got it. What you’re watching is pretty much baseball as we know it – except for one more big difference – the one-bounce out.

Balls caught on the first bounce cause the batter to be out – even if he simply fouls a pitch that a catcher takes on the first bounce. He’s out.

The effect is to the discouragement of pull hitters. Most of these long high drives on a reasonably level field are going to be easy pickings for an agile outfielder who catches up to that long high first bounce. The one-bounce out is also the main reason why successful vintage ball clubs are adept at liners in the gaps – balls that lace their way into alleys and become worm-burning grounders. No fielder is going to harvest those hitters for very many one-bounce outs.

The one-bounce out decision by fielders is also affected strongly by the presence of base runners. If a team needs to hold down scoring, their fielders better catch some no-bounce flies. Otherwise, their club is going to lose some ground on the score board. Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you club is in the field and that your opponent has runners on second and third with either one or no outs. Their next batter then hits a looping fly ball to left. The left fielder has to run for it, but he is in position to take it on either the fly or one bounce. Either will produce an out, but both runners are off and running hard to home.

If the left fielder takes it on the first bounce, the batter is out, of course, but the runners are allowed to keep the advances they have earned. If they each reach home and ring the “tote me” bell, two runs will have scored for the opposition.

If, on the other hand, the left fielders takes the batted ball on the fly, the batter is out and the runners are forced to go back to the bases from which each came. There is no double or triple play in prospect by these rules – and no penalty for running on any batted ball.

If the fly ball catch is the third out of the inning, of course, there is no scoring on the play, but, if the third out comes vis-a-vis a one-bounce out catch, any runners crossing the plate before the catch is made will be allowed. Any runners still en route to the plate will not count as runs on a first-bounce third out play that happens before they reach their destination.

I can’t think of any 1860s playing rules that would make today’s game better, other than the attention that some rules pay to the importance of good sportsmanship and civil behavior, Unfortunately, the financial stakes in today’s 21st century game and the willingness of some to break the rules to gain some kind of edge makes that expectation today an unreality.

Today it takes rules and enforcement in the hope of preponderant compliance with everything deemed important.

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