Major League Baseball is one of those sports that’s filled with bizarre and arbitrary regulations. Despite this fact, the rules have become somewhat of a sacred institution. Baseball has been played the same way for so many years, to even suggest tweaking the sport is an unpardonable sin.
However, the game as it is played today didn’t just formulate overnight. Baseball’s founding fathers experimented with many ideas at once, hoping at least some of them would stick.
In order to appreciate how far baseball has come, let’s take a look at five peculiar rules you won’t believe actually existed.
Catching a Ball off the Bounce Resulted in an Out
Prior to 1864, if a batter hit the ball in the air and the fielder caught it off the bounce, the batter would be called out. The reason for this is quite simple; it allowed players to avoid catching a hard baseball with their bare hands. The first glove use was by St. Louis outfielder Charlie Waitt in 1875.
The one-bounce rule was officially voted out for fair balls in 1864. Fly balls hit in foul territory could still be caught off the bounce for another 19 years.
Pitchers Required to Throw Underhand
Looking at Major League pitchers today, it’s hard to believe that at one time they were required to toss the ball underhand. The Knickerbockers rules drafted in 1845 stated, “The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.”
The term “pitched” was defined as “a stiff, underhanded motion, almost like bowling.” The first pitcher to “push the limits” of the rule was Tommy Bond. In the mid-1870s, he altered his delivery to just above the waist. By 1883, the overhand release was normalized.
Ground Rule Doubles Were Considered Home Runs
As recently as 1930, a ball that bounced over the outfield wall was considered a home run. Basically, if the ball disappeared over the fence, the batter was allowed to run around the bases and score.
Prior to the 20th century, home runs were actually a foreign concept. According to MLB historian John Thorn, after a player hit a ball over the fence and into a river, the right field was unsure of what to do. So, he decided to hop in a boat and retrieve the ball.
Catchers Weren’t Required to Crouch Directly Behind Home Plate
In today’s game, catchers are considered the linchpin to a team’s defense. Not only do they call the game and throw out base runners, they’re the captains of the infield. A talented catcher is a must-have in professinal baseball.
In the mid-1800s, catchers’ jobs were much simpler. They were basically glorified backstops who stood a few feet behind the plate and kept the ball from rolling away. The crouching position didn’t catch on until the beginning of the 20th century.
Batters Could Request Pitch Location
Imagine Barry Bonds or Bryce Harper telling Justin Verlander where to pitch the ball during an at bat. From 1867 to 1887, batters were afforded the privilege to request a high or low strike zone. The pitcher was then obligated to deliver the ball to the exact location.