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Defensive shifting and corked bats . . . in the 1860s

dodgers shift

Douglas Short

Baseball’s historian John Thorn brings us so many wonderful golden nuggets from baseball’s past over at his “Our Game” blog. And, as any good historian does, he likes to bring them to our attention at a time when current events could use a dose of historical perspective.

Such as today, when he presents us with an article that an old dude wrote in 1902, remembering when he was a young dude playing something akin to baseball in the 1850s and 1860s. It wasn’t professional baseball as we know it and there is a lot of questionable noise in the article about the transition from proto-baseball games like rounders to what became professional baseball in the second half of the 19th century, but it’s still pretty fun. Mostly because it talks about infield shifting!

“The shortstop for many years shifted ground to a point between first and second bases if a left-handed striker was at bat….”

As Thorn noted in a tweet to me later this morning, shortstop was a later addition to what was becoming baseball and, at the time, he functioned “as sort of a rover, as in softball.” Defense was fluid then and was allowed to evolve. Rob Manfred would limit the fluidity of modern defense, heading off some sort of natural evolution. I think it’d be a mistake for him to do so.

Bonus: ballplayers were just as crooked then as they ever have been:

“a shrewd, up-country team of Connecticut in the early sixties did not miss the mark when it bored out a set of huge bass-wood bats and filled them with corks.”

If they had Deca Durabolin back in 1866 you can bet your bippy the players would be injecting it.

Go read the whole article. There is nothing new under the sun.

Follow @craigcalcaterra