Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Perfect Distance


The Category Was: Perfect Distances

The Answer Was: 90 Feet

I nearly jumped out of my seat watching JEOPARDY! on television (something we don't do a lot of). The African Queen telling me to calm down.

But how could I?

There was only one Correct Question: What is the distance between the bases on a baseball diamond?

Even Alex Trebek himself had to pounce in and pontificate on this answer and question: "Yes, 90 Feet, remarkable how perfect that distance is in the great game of baseball!!"

Canadian Native Alex understood the geometric simplicity and perfection of the baseball field. And when he called it "The Great Game" did I ever smile accordingly. It's my MONIKER for baseball.

Yes, Mr. Trebek gets it, just like one of his contestants that answered correctly on this particular program.

Of course I would like to know: Is Alex a Dodger Fan?

But this moment also had me wondering again about how exactly did someone come up with 90 Feet between bases?

The Best Answer: No Good Reason.

It just happened.

In 1845, The Knickerbocker Club of New York officially paced off 42 strides from home to second base and then from first to third base to form the infield bases. If you then consider one stride being a three foot length--the corresponding distances would be 126 feet. Laid out a diamond, 90 feet would be the resultant triangle between bases (home plate to first, second to third, etc.).

Not only simple, but Simply Perfect.

How many times does that ground ball hit by the batter result in the fielder throwing out the runner by the typical half stride at the bag?

How many times does that little extra effort by the runner result in the umpire calling safe?

Every player knows how quickly he must field and toss the baseball or run to the bag.

Whether a throw is coming across the infield or from the outfield, everyone, even those in the stands, knows when the play is going to be close.

Just like you know when the runner is going to be out.

As well as--when you know the runner is going to be safe.

That 90 Foot Distance between bases allows the right amount of athleticism, and skill, to participate in the game--neither really overshadowing the other.

There will always be great fielders.

There will always be great runners.

But none of them will ever be as Perfect as the 90 Foot Distance set between bases on the baseball diamond.

When you really thing about it, the Game Of Baseball has changed tremendously over the past 163 Years of play. But from the very first days of Organized Ball--the infield distances have stayed the same. If a player from 1845 emerged today to watch the modern game--he may not know all the rules--but he would know the game being played was BASEBALL.

Remarkable.

90 Feet--A Perfect Distance.

PS--The Knickerbocker Rules

PSS--Who wants to take a stab at 60' 6"? Why not just 60 Feet for the distance from The Pitchers Mound to Home Plate?

8 comments:

Mike-in-131 said...

I recall reading this when looking up Cy Young a few months back. This is was from wiki.

"Two years after Young's debut, the National League moved the pitcher's position back by five feet. Since 1881, pitchers had pitched within a "box" whose front line was 50 feet (15 m) from home base, and since 1887 they had been compelled to toe the back line of the box when delivering the ball. The back line was 55 feet (17 m), six inches (152 mm) away from home. In 1893, five feet was added to the back line, yielding the modern pitching distance of 60 feet (18 m), six inches (152 mm) . In the book The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, sports journalist Rob Neyer wrote that the speed with which pitchers like Cy Young, Amos Rusie, and Jouett Meekin threw was the impetus that caused the move."

I would guess that those extra 6 inches were the width of the pitching box [likely a real wood box outlining the pitching area] when it was 50 feet. Add 5 feet twice and there you are. No idea how true it is but sounds reasonable.

Jay said...

If there is one thing I have learned about baseball history, it is the fact that it can often times be a moving target. Best we can do sometimes is to feel more comfortable with the expertise of certain historians.

David Nemec, who is a trusted 19th Century historian, writes about the pitching mound and distances in the first chapter of his book, The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated. Some great insight into this subject, including the 42 paces and his noting that the distance between the bases, at least when measured from edge to edge, is not exactly 90 feet. I’m not sure he answers the question about the 60’6” but he covers this on page five.

http://books.google.com/books?id=6NGwe135o5EC&pg=PA5&lpg=PA5&dq=60'+6%22+pitching+mound&source=web&ots=t9ylTGJedE&sig=x-cbwlRmGmkASjGOCi3nKRDCi8Q&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result#PPA5,M1

If this link does not work, book google 60’ 6” pitching mound and it should come up with his book. It’s worthwhile to read the whole first chapter.

Thanks for the trivia, love it especially during the off-season!

Tom said...

The symetry of the game is what makes baseball the sport it is.
A hot shot to 3d gives the 3B just enough time to knock the ball down and still throw out the runner. A perfectly placed bunt still requires a fast runner to beat the throw. A double play has to be executed perfectly to get the runner out at first. Just to name a few . . .

Edward J. Cunningham said...

Speaking of 90 feet, you could do a blog on the most embarrassing way to make an out in baseball---getting thrown out at first by the right fielder.

Anonymous said...

you can tell it's the doldrums of winter when this subject is blogged. ;o)

Nook Logan said...

EJC-

Are you sure its not getting thrown out after overrunning third, when the catcher had the ball, with two out in the bottom of the 9th inning?

Edward J. Cunningham said...

You mean this game, right?

A Ninth Inning To Forget

Yup, that was bad...

janet said...

When people tell me that something was better in the good old days, I tell them that if the good old days had worked, things wouldn't have changed. 90 feet between the bases is a pretty good example.