In The Big Inning: Jeter “soaked” Ellsbury for the third out
Imagine you are watching the Red Sox playing the Yankees this summer on TV and, with Sox on First and Second and two out, Youklis hits a fast grounder to deep short; Jeter snags it it and, instead of tossing it to Cano at Second for the force out, he turns toward Third base and throws the ball at Ellsbury and hits him in the back. The umpire signals “Out!” and the inning is over.
While you won’t see that play today, that was the way to get a runner out in the mid 1850’s. When a fielder hit a runner with the ball, before the runner reached the next base, the runner was declared “out” and it was referred to as “soaking,” “patching” and “plugging” the runner.
Then the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York included “Rule #13” in its book and it changed the game by eliminating “soaking” and replaced it with tagging the runner with the ball and touching the base on force plays.
Although Historian David Block declared the rule to be the “Knickerbockers’ single greatest contribution to the game,”* the rule was grudgingly adopted, as people felt that hitting the runner with the ball was “half the fun of the game.” [Brooklyn Eagle, July 16, 1873] [*Baseball Before We Knew It, p. 87]
The historical significance of the rule is that it allowed the introduction of a hard ball to the game. Prior to the rule change in 1873, to avoid injuries, teams were required to use a “soft ball” and the game “bore the stigma of being a child’s activity. The removal of this feature enabled base ball to be viewed in a fresh light.” [A Game of Inches, Peter Morris, p. 29]
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