Why is it Three Strikes and Four Balls, Anyway? Where Did That Come From?

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Why is it Three Strikes and Four Balls, Anyway? Where Did That Come From?

Baseball Is Fun

We all know the rules of baseball – You better not flip your bat! Make sure your hat is straight! Don’t you dare get excited about striking that guy out! – er, well, not those rules, but the real ones (three strikes, four balls, three outs, nine innings, etc.), but do we know where they came from?

I know I never gave it a second thought, until Chris Landers (Cut4) brought it to my attention, and I’m glad he did. Indeed, over at MLB.com, Landers writes about the backstories behind baseball’s most iconic rules and you’re definitely going to want to check it out.

Among the bits I found most interesting, as you could’ve guessed by the title, is why batters are given four balls and three strikes. Apparently, when the game started, there was no such things as balls or called strikes.

Because of that, batters would often wait … and wait … and wait for a pitch to be of their liking, until the problem got so bad that some batters would see 40-50 pitches PER AT-BAT. Indeed, Landers writes that “in one 1860 game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Brooklyn Excelsiors, 665 pitches were thrown … over three innings.” Yikes (talk about pace-of-play problems).

With no balls or called strikes in the rules, games would routinely be called for lack of light. So, in 1863, called balls were brought into the game, but it’s not the “balls” you’re used to. At the time, only every third “unfair pitch” was called a ball, meaning that a batter could only walk after nine pitches out of the strike zone. As time went on, the rule was dropped to eight balls, then seven, and so-on until four balls were settled on by the league in 1889. Pretty crazy, right?

Well, if you like that backstory, you really must check out the rest at Cut4, because there’s plenty more like it:

  • Why nine innings?
  • Why nine men on the field?
  • Why 162 games?
  • What’s up with the shape of home plate?
  • Why is it 60’6″ to home?

Pretty darn interesting stuff in there. And thanks to Chris Landers, for tracking it all down and sharing.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.