Origins of baseball: “In The Big Inning…” When did 60′-6″ become the distance from Pitching plate to Home plate?


The fastest pitch ever recorded in MLB history spiked the radar gun at 105 MPH; it was thrown on September 24, 2010 at the Padres’ Petco Park by Reds’ Cuban left-hander, Aroldis Chapman.

His ball was traveling at an average of 1.74 feet per second in a distance of 6’6” or 726 inches.

If Chapman had been pitching in 1888 for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, when the distance from the pitching plate to home plate was just 50 feet [or 600 inches], he would have hit 125 MPH.

In 1888 overhand pitching was allowed for the first time and that gave the pitchers a big advantage, since they were throwing it much harder at the old 50 foot distance.

To balance the pitchers and batters, the National League voted 9-2 on March 7, 1893, to move the pitcher back to the current distance of 6 feet, 6 inches.

Prior to 1888 pitchers were just 50 feet from the batter, but this was balanced by the requirement to pitch underhanded [softball style].

And, up until 1856, the job of the pitcher was not to deceive the striker, but to put the ball where the batter indicated; a striker would come to the plate and, using his hand, show the pitcher where he wanted the ball to arrive.

The player on the mound tossing the ball to the batter was not called a pitcher, but more often a “feeder.”  Thus, baseball was like someone throwing a softball, only in batting practice.

Balls and Strikes?  No Balls were called by umpires and Strikes were only called when the batter swung and missed.  The batter, or “striker” was expected to hit, or strike, the ball in each at bat.  It was not unusual for the hitter to wait for the perfect pitch, resulting in 40-60 pitches per batter!

If some fans think today’s games need to be sped up, consider that in a game between the Atlantics and the Excelsiors in 1860, the two opposing pitchers tossed a total of 665 pitches in just three innings. (1)

"The term “strike” likely came from the original title for the batter: striker."

The term “pitcher” likely derived from the action of “pitching horse shoes,” since the player tossing the ball underhanded was attempting the lob the ball to the exact point the batter indicated, just as in horseshoes, where the one who pitches the shoe is attempting to place it right on the spike.

We have “come a long way baby:” from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches, from underhand to overhand, and from the pitcher trying to allow the batter to hit the ball to making sure he doesn’t.


Source material: A Game of Inches, Peter Morris, 2006, 2010

(1) A Game of Inches, Peter Morris, 2006, 2010, p. 17.