50th anniversary: strike zone widened

50 years ago today, the lords of baseball made a rule change that had a profound effect on the game. They messed with that most vital element of the game—the strike zone.

On Jan. 26, 1963, the owners voted to widen the strike zone. They felt that run scoring had become too easy. In 1961, in part due to diluted pitching in baseball’s first expansion in 60 years, the game witnessed an explosion of offense, highlighted by some impressive individual performances.

In 1961, six American Leaguers belted 40 homers or more. Not only was that a one-year, one-league record, but it tied the most 40-homer seasons achieved by both leagues in one year. Jim Gentile swatted 46 homers—including five grand slams—while driving in 141 runs. Norm Cash had an all-time great fluke season, hitting .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs. Most famously, Roger Marisbroke Babe Ruth‘s hallowed record with 61 homers—narrowly edging teammate Mickey Mantle with his 54 dingers.

The next year didn’t have quite as many impressive individual performances, but overall offense was still up. The owners and executives had had enough. When Roger Maris out-homers Babe Ruth, it’s time to change the rules, they felt.

So the new strike zone came into being 50 years ago today. It was a bigger zone, going from the top of a batter’s shoulders to the bottom of his knees.

The impact was immediate. In 1962, the NL and AL averaged 4.48 and 4.44 runs per game respectively. In 1963, the AL fell to 4.08 while the NL collapsed to 3.81.

Offense hovered around four runs a game for the next few years, but pitchers had the upper hand. Finally, in 1968, they took full control. Bob Gibson had his historically low ERA of 1.12. Don Drysdale set a record with the longest scoreless inning streak ever. Denny McLain became baseball’s first 30-game winner in a generation.

The rule created in 1963 helped reduce run scoring all right. But the cure proved to be worse than the disease. People began talking about how low run scoring had become and how baseball would have to create new rules to boost scoring again.

But 50 years ago today the game tried to lower scoring—and boy, did it ever succeed!

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary) which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.

Day-versaries

3,000 days since the Cubs hire Bob Brenly to replace Steve Stone calling games for them.

3,000 days since Seattle hires Don Baylor as its hitting coach, replacing Paul Molitor.

4,000 days since the Red Sox sign free agent Rickey Henderson.

5,000 days since Robin Ventura is just being Robin Ventura. He becomes the first person to hit grand slams in both ends of a doubleheader.

6,000 days since the Yankees trade Bob Wickman to the Brewers.

8,000 days since the Dodgers sign amateur free agent Roger Cedeno.

9,000 days since the Dodgers sign amateur free agent Raul Mondesi.

10,000 days since Hal McRae collects his 2,000th career hit.

10,000 days since Mike Schmidt belts his 10th and final career walk-off home run. It’s a three-run shot in the bottom of the 11th, the latest of any of his walk-offs, in a 5-2 Phillies triumph against Montreal..

10,000 days since the A’s trade Don Sutton to the Angels.

25,000 days since the big league debut of Eddie Yost.

60,000 days since the birth of Hall of Famer and reputed curveball inventor Candy Cummings.

Anniversaries

1853 Billy Barnie is born. He’ll be a popular figure in Baltimore baseball circles despite a terrible record as a big league manager.

1893 Abner Doubleday dies. This shouldn’t be an item because he had absolutely nothing to do with baseball, but after his death a fictional story will begin that he invented the game. It’s not true. It’s just that a committee wanted to (inaccurately) claim the sport was a purely American invention and not descended from the British game of rounders. So the old Civil War general was picked to serve as an all-American inventor.

1895 Baseball leaders consider moving pitchers back to 50 feet from the plate. This doesn’t take.

1904 George Blaeholder, decent St. Louis Browns pitcher in the 1920s/30s, is born.

1919 Branch Rickey becomes manager of the Cardinals. He had been team president.

1930 Controversial starting pitcher Carl Mays sign with Portland in the Pacific Coast League. This ends his big league career.

1931 The Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League finally sell longtime star Buzz Arlett to the majors. The Phillies get him. He’ll be 32 years old in his only big league season, hitting 38 homers with a .313 average and 925 OPS. Arlett is a great “what if” about the era’s not fully established farm system.

1932 Cubs owner William Wrigley dies at age 70 of a stroke. His son Phillip K. Wrigley takes over, and will run the team for 45 years.

1935 Legendary baseball broadcaster Bob Uecker is born.

1952 The Canadian-American League suspends operations due to dwindling attendance.

1954 Baltimore releases former star Cardinals pitcher Harry Brecheen.

1960 Jackie Jensen announces his retirement due to his fear of flying. He’ll return to the majors in 1961.

1962 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle sign with Columbia Pictures for the movie Safe at Home!, which is supposed to be terrible.

1962 Well-regarded manager Steve O’Neill dies.

1965 Construction workers begin demolishing Griffith Park in Washington DC.

1968 The Phillies sign amateur infielder Manny Trillo.

1977 The White Sox release aging veteran pitcher Blue Moon Odom.

1981 Weak-hitting infielder Ray Oyler dies at age 42.

1983 Del Rice dies at age 60. He was a National League catcher for 17 seasons.

1989 The more toughly enforced balk rule from 1988 is scrapped. No one mourns.

1990 The Red Sox name Elaine Weddingham their new assistant GM, making her baseball’s highest-ranking black female.

1995 President Clinton tells both baseball owners and the players’ union to resume negotiations.

1999 Oakland signs free agent outfielder Tim Raines.

1999 It’s Texas’ turn. The Rangers sign the well-traveled Mike Morgan.

2001 It’s the contract heard ‘round the world. Super-agent Scott Boras gets the Rangers to bid against themselves, resulting in today’s $252 million contract for Mariners star shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

2005 Florida signs free agent slugger Carlos Delgado.

2006 Fidel Castro says that Cuba will take part in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

2009 Omar Vizquel signs as a free agent with Texas.

2010 The A’s sign free agent pitcher Ben Sheets. Sadly, but not at all surprisingly, he’ll be hampered by injuries.

2010 Minnesota signs free agent slugger Jim Thome.

2010 San Diego signs veteran starting pitcher Jon Garland.

2011 The Yankees sign Bartolo Colon, who didn’t play in the majors in 2010, as a free agent.

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Comments

  1. Strike Three said...

    As HRs and runs went down with the larger strike zone, strikeouts went up, as might be anticipated.  The Indians ‘63 staff would set a new AL record while being the first staff to K over 1000 in a season.  Led by Sam McDowell and rookies Sonny Siebert and Luis Tiant, they would go on to set a new record in ‘64, with over 1100 Ks.  They would set record numbers and lead the AL in Ks from ‘64-68, a feat still not matched!

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