Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Globe On The Fair-Foul Rule

The subject which seems to excite most attention in base-ball circles at present is how the rules can be changed so as to do away with the wretched style of fair foul-hitting which many professionals have adopted during the last few years. Nothing can be imagined more disgusting to the patrons of the game than the sight of a broad-shouldered athlete bunting at the ball for ten minutes, and keeping it constantly out of play in an effort to accomplish something which does not prove successful once in ten times, instead of swinging the bat in a graceful and easy manner, but with sufficient force to drive the sphere, if squarely hit, over the heads of the outfielders, or so hard that it requires nerve and pluck for the infielders to face it. A hard-hit bounder, even though it be driven directly at an infielder, frequently results in a base hit, owing to the fact that it was a sheer impossibility for the fielder to handle the ball. Harry Wright has been heard from on the subject, and his idea is to consider as foul all hit balls that pass outside the foul lines before reaching first base or third base, and as fair all hit balls that strike the ground and pass into the infield and in front of the first base or third base, or that shall be fielded inside of the foul lines. Also, to do away with catching the call on the bound; an out on a hit ball or three strikes to be when it is caught on the fly only. Harry thinks this will equalize the batting and fielding, and also tend to lessen the discretionary power of the umpire, and relieve him of responsibilities now resting upon him.

A day or two since a Globe-Democrat reporter called on Mr. Chas. A. Fowle, Secretary of the St. Louis club, to ascertain what the gentleman who had drawn up the playing rules of the League had to say on the subject. Mr. Fowle was not in favor of the change as proposed, though extremely anxious to have fair-foul hitting abolished in the future. The change as proposed, in his estimation, did not fill the bill for several vital reasons, the main one being that it would be absolutely impossible, in many cases, for the umpire to decide whether the ball was picked up inside or outside the foul lines, especially in cases of very swift grounders in the direction of first and third bases, and again when the ball was hit directly along the foul lines. By the proposed change balls could be still "blocked" so as to roll slowly towards the basemen and it is essential that this style of hitting should also be done away with. Mr. Fowle has given the problem a great deal of consideration, and finds it an extremely difficult one to solve. In his estimation the best way to dispose of the matter is to place the home plate six inches back of its present position and then pass a stringent rule, very carefully worded, compelling the bats man to strike at the ball with a full swing of the arm. Were this done, the ball, when fairly hit, would very rarely get back of the foul lines, and there would be very few tedious waits during the progress of the game. This plan seems to be the best yet presented, and the attention of the League Directors will be called to it at their meeting on the 4th of December.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, November 19, 1876

From A Game of Inches: "What ultimately provided the impetus to abolish the fair-foul was the fact that it was very difficult for umpires to determine whether a ball that was hit into the ground first hit fair or foul. Accordingly, the rule makers redefined the concepts of fair and foul in 1877 and, in the process, eliminated the fair-foul."

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