Clipping:Interpreting when a dead ball is live (revisited)

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Date Sunday, August 29, 1858
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[interpreting “...the players running to the bases shall return to them, and shall not be put out in so returning, unless the ball has been first pitched to the striker.”] We think that the interest of the game would be improved by omitting all of the latter clause of the section, or at least all that portion of it which follows the word “returning,” namely “unless the ball has been first pitched to the striker.” If there is any “nigger in the fence,” there is where he lies concealed. In the first clause, it is stated that the ball is in play after it is settled in the hands of the pitcher; but, in the next clause, it has still got to go through another course, pitched to the striker, before it can be used to any advantage.

During a recent match, a decision was rendered upon this clause of the sixteenth section, which has been brought to our notice by a correspondent. A high ball had been struck which was caught on the fly, and the men who were running the bases of course had to return to them. Previous to reaching the bases, however, the ball, which had been caught by the pitcher, had been delivered by him over the home base to the catcher, and was sent by the latter individual to the third base in time to head off and put out the man returning to that base. Judgment was demanded, and the umpire decided the man was not out, because “the ball had not been pitched to the striker.” There was no striker on the home base, the interval of time not having been sufficient to enable the succeeding striker to take his place at the bat. This decision was undoubtedly in accordance with a strict construction of the wording of the rule; but, we think it was a perversion of its meaning. Cases similar to this may not very frequently occur; but once is enough to show the absurdity of the matter. If a man returning to the bases, upon a caught fly ball, is not spry enough to “hunk” by the time the ball is settled in the hands of the pitcher, he should be open to the risk of being put out, without more ado–leastwise, that’s our opinion.

Since writing the above, we have received the following communication:

BROOKLYN, August 26th, 1858

To the Editors of the Sunday Mercury:

In base ball, a player running the bases on a foul ball has to return–now, does it matter whether he touches his base before or after the ball is settled in the hands of the pitcher? I contend, according to Article 16, of Rules and Regulations, that he should touch the base after the ball is in play (in the hands of the pitcher), but some of Brooklyn’s “all nine” differ from me, and say that it is sufficient if they touch their base any time AFTER the foul ball is struck, whether it has been settled in the pitcher’s hands or not. Will you bne so kind as to give me your opinion in your issue, and oblige “A NATIVE.”

We fully coincide with the opinion of “some of Brooklyn’s ‘all nine.”.” There is nothing stipulated in the bond at what time the bases must be touched by a returning player. “The players running the bases shall return to them.” The sooner they do so the better, whether before or after the ball is settled in the hands of the pitcher.

Source New York Sunday Mercury
Submitted by Richard Hershberger
Origin Initial Hershberger Clippings

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