Scoring Variables Tough Back in The Day

Houston Post April 18, 1896 Contributed By Researcher Darrell Pittman

Houston Post
April 18, 1896
Contributed By Researcher Darrell Pittman

We’re talking “baseball” here, of course.

No big news. Statistical records consistency always has been a bugaboo to player comparisons, especially of players from different eras, due to several variables, including, but not limited to several key considerations: the presence of clearly stated rules on the scoring of certain plays; the clear enforcement of the rules in place; the intelligence, baseball knowledge and training of the people used to serve as official scorers; of course, and actual changes in the rules, back and forth, that shall always taint comparisons by the way these differences alter the statistical records of players who were active during different rule interpretation periods.

The changing face of the sacrifice fly rule over time is a prime example. During Ted Williams’ last day surge to .406 in 1941, the sac fly rule was not in effect and Williams was charged on several occasions for a “time at bat” on fly outs that scored a runner from third base. Had the sac fly rule been in place that season, Williams’ last minute, gutsy call to go for .400 would have been totally unnecessary. His pure-grade .400 batting average would have been secured in advance by the times at bat the sac fly rule that would already have subtracted enough “at bats” from his numbers over the season. The great Ted Williams could have spent his last day of the season planning his celebration for the evening. So, for the sake of the great drama that actually played out on the last day of the ’41 season, I guess we are all better off that things worked out as they did. Anything less would have been a major loss to the legend of Ted Williams.

Today’s feature article from the April 18, 1896 Houston Post simply underscores how much tougher it must have been to achieve consistency in scoring interpretations. For one thing, universal authority for rules-making had not yet developed to the level it has now reached in 21st century organized baseball – and for another – the communication technology and cost of using the telegraph and the early telephone long distance lines was not always up to the immediacy of game reporting expected by league officials. It is easy to presume from our general knowledge of human behavior that game reports and box scores that arrived in the league offices 48 to 72 hours late may have escaped the same scrutiny of those arriving in time for newspaper publication.

The featured flashback piece also poses an interesting view in at least two other respects: (1) The league office seems to be using the opportunity to instruct official scorers how to credit fielders with assists on plays in which another player’s error prevents a “putout”. Makes you wonder: How were the local people scoring assists prior to this interpretation by the Texas-Southern League Secretary? And how many batters were being charged with a “time at bat” after being hit by a pitch or because they had been awarded a walk because of an “illegal pitch” (whatever that means), or having sacrificed to move a runner up a base? (2) How often too were rules simply made by administrative edict. The league secretary in the report is credited with saying “I will rule that” a fielder should be given credit for an assist, regardless, if no out results because of another fielder’s error.

Somewhere along the way, and we make no claims as rules historians, that support for assist credit to fielders on plays that did not result in an out died for want of support. In other areas, we also know that baseball leaders would continue to waver back and forth for years on the “AB” charge exemption on fly balls that scored runners from third base. Hopefully, that issue is now settled for good, but who knows.

In some ways, baseball will always be a work in progress. We keep finding ways to tweak the rules just enough to keep the game on the field in shape as the one we want to see, but, every now and then, some group comes along to deliver a rules change that is the equivalent of a major disease in humans.

Let’s talk about the “DH” some other time!


3 Responses to “Scoring Variables Tough Back in The Day”

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    ??? Fielders still get assists when their teammate makes an error on what should have been a putout. Also, I think there was a comma left out in the Houston Post article between base on balls and pitcher’s illegal delivery.

  2. gregclucas Says:

    The assist rule actually is very silly. If the play is not made it is not made. That would be like basketball giving assists to all the players who passed the ball to the man who missed a shot.

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