This Day In Baseball History: June 5th, 1920

Jared HoodContributor IJune 5, 2009

In perhaps the first sign that the end of the dead-ball era may be closing in, and the live-ball era knocking on the door, on June 5th 1920,  the Philadelphia Athletics' vice president Thomas Shibe, denies charges that the baseballs currently being used are livelier. Shibe cites the abolition of the spitball and other "freak" pitches as the reason for the increase in home runs during the season.

Later, on August 16th, 1920, Cleveland Indians Shortstop Ray Chapman is killed when a wild pitch thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays makes contact with his cranium. He was rushed to the hospital, but died later that afternoon. Many Yankees players on the field recall thinking the ball was hit and in play due to the loud echoing sound made after Chapman was hit, even going so far as throwing the ball to first base. Shortly after Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, begins instituting rule changes that have a drastic effect on the future of baseball.

 Throughout the Baseball season of 1920, baseballs were no longer allowed to be “customized” and spitballs were no longer allowed to be thrown. Up to this point leading dead-ball era aces such as Jack Chesbro, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Carl Mays and Grover Cleveland Alexander used whatever they could to create an advantage on the mound. The trajectory of the balls they pitched was aided by rubbing tobacco juice, licorice, clay and anything else they could get their hands on. The “emery” ball, was largely popular with Mathewson and Young who would rub the ball against the spikes of their cleats to change the consistency of the horsehide it was wound in. By the end of the first innings of the dead-ball era, the ball could hardly be seen approaching the strike zone because it was so brown and dirty. During this time, baseballs were also wound tighter to make them less dense and were replaced more frequently during games.

 Commissioner Landis was a visionary, though many jeered him for this policy change in 1921 and up until late 1925, he was on the verge of drastically shifting the balance of power from the short-hop to the long-ball without even knowing it. What Landis saw simply as a danger to the sport which had taken the life of a very good ball player and all around nice guy, in Ray Chapman, turned into being one of the single greatest rule changes in the history of Baseball.

We all know what happened next. Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Teddy Ballgame and on, and on, and on changed the face of baseball. Baseball was saved by the lively-ball and thus the home run. It was saved so much so, that by the late twentieth century franchises all over the country shrank the distances of their outfields just to make home runs more frequent from just average power hitters. We all love the long ball. Can you imagine watching any modern player hit the dead-ball? They would tear up their contracts, or we would stop watching.