Pitchers go down under: a rules change for the New Havens

The New Havens ran into a slightly unexpected problem in early March. The Board of Directors – remember, the guys in suits and top hats smoking cigars in a wood paneled room at the Tontine Hotel – was informed that there would be a fairly large rule change for the 1875 season.

The rules of the sport were not codified in stone the way they are now, where most changes, aside from the addition of the designated hitter in the 1970s, are fairly small. They tinker with balk rules, mess around a bit with the height of the pitchers mound or the size of the strike zone. In the 19th century rules changed with a degree of abandon as the management of the game sought the best balance between offense, which was exclusively small ball, and bare handed defense.

We’ll go back to our intrepid reporter at the Daily Palladium to explain the rule change: “According to the new rules, no part of the pitcher’s person must be outside the lines of position while delivering the ball, and the delivery must be perpendicular, and not by a round swing or throw from the wrist. This is an important amendment, as it rules out nearly all of our pitchers, only one or two of whom pitch perpendicularly, that is to say, with a straight movement of the arm.”

This is a problem for our hometown team as they embark on their first professional season. Jim Britt, the reliever under contract (or “change pitcher”) had plenty of experience under the old rules, and Tricky Nichols was entering his first campaign. Nichols, who was intended to be the primary starter, was described as having a “prompt and effective” delivery.

There are legitimate reasons for the rules changes, the Palladium writes. “If the rule is strictly observed, it will cause a radical change in the style of pitching, and do away with a large number of ‘dodges’ resorted to by pitchers to increase the speed and effectiveness of the delivery.”

Got all that? What our friend is trying to tell us is that the rules makers were trying to limit a pitcher’s speed by forcing them to throw completely underhanded – in short, they were trying to create more offense in the game. They are trying to return the pitcher to the role of feeder, or initiator of action, with the primary means of retiring a batter defensive action rather than pitching prowess (think of slow pitch softball).

What exactly are they talking about in terms of what the delivery looked like? Here is  a clip of 1980s reliever Dan Quisenberry. I believe, if I am interpreting the rules correctly, that this motion would be illegal, but closer to what pitchers were expect to do in 1875. Go to 1:10 to see him in action.

Here’s lefthander Randy Choate, a sidearmer. I believe this is what they were trying to avoid with the rules change. He’s sneaky, and his arm  is getting more parallel to the ground during the delivery.

Brad Ziegler seems to split the difference between Quisenberry and Choate.

In order to get the most accurate representation of 19th century pitching mechanics, one has to look at fast pitch softball, perhaps. Here’s Olympian Jennie Finch.

Can’t do anything about what is going to happen on a ball field from a board room in March, so the Board of Directors got back to doing what they seem to do well – find ways for the club to make money. They voted on March 3 to allow advertising to be placed on the outfield and to charge $10 per season ticket with a limit of 150 sold.

Captain and first baseman Charlie Gould, who hasn’t quite signed his contract, has recommended a couple of players for the fledgling roster, and more signings will happen in the next several weeks.