Walks, Unintentionally Speaking

Southern Association club directors passed a new rule in 1933 that startled the baseball world. It was intended to eliminate the intentional pass, especially those issued to power hitters. Fans wanted to see those players hit long homers and drive in runs.

A. H. Woodward

The rule was presented to league directors on November 17 by A. H. Woodward, owner of the Birmingham Barons. Credit for the new rule was given to Pat Linnehan of Birmingham, a local jeweler and baseball fan who had come up with the idea. Adopted by the league, the rule read:

In any inning of next year’s Southern Association games, after two outs have been made, if the pitcher delivers four consecutive balls to the batter, the batter shall be entitled to first base; and any and all base runners occupying bases shall be advanced two bases, except, in the event both second base and third bases are occupied, the runner on third base shall score and the runner on second shall advance to third.

When the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held its 32nd annual meeting in Galveston, Texas a few days later, there were plenty of opinions expressed. Judge W. G. Bramham, who presided over the minor leagues, felt the league could do as it pleased but advised that national rules would have to be adhered to in the Dixie playoffs between the Southern and Texas Leagues.[1]

Some said there were ways to avoid the rule. In either of these situations, the runners on base would only take the normal advance:

  1. In realizing his control is not very good, the pitcher could hit the batter after three balls.
  2. The catcher could tip the hitter’s bat.
  3. The catcher could jump in front of the plate to catch the pitcher’s throw[2]

In the December 14, 1933 edition of The Sporting News, Woodward defended the rule.

“After 25 years in baseball, the two things that have griped me the most are: (1) Playing for rain; and (2) the intentional pass. I look upon the average American as the best sportsman in the world. I believe his sense of fair play is of the highest order. These two things are offensive to him. The intentional pass is the cue for the manager to come out of the dugout and thumb the batter to first base, thereby giving an active demonstration of the fact that he was afraid of him. The batter is given no chance. The playing for rain is the hoisting of the yellow flag.

“By and large, it seems to me that the time has come for some innovations in the game, and I sincerely trust that the new rule, as passed by the Southern Association, will be given a fair trial.”[3]

It is likely the rule was intended for a situation where there were no strikes on the batter. As written, a pitcher could have two strikes on the batter, then throw four balls wildly with no intent. Thus, the penalty would be enforced on unintentional walks.

Larry Gilbert, manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, agreed.

“I think the league officials really meant for the one strike clause to be in the new rule but neglected to write it in before adjourning.”[4]

League president John D. Martin soon announced the rule would be revised to include the one strike clause, but also would include an amendment that would keep the rule from being interpreted that two players could occupy the same base at the same time.[5]

At a meeting in New Orleans on February 12, 1934, the league directors modified the rule with the adoption of an amendment presented Gilbert. The amendment read:

If in any inning after two outs have been made the pitcher delivers four consecutive balls to the batter, or hits the batsman with a pitched ball, or if the batsman is interfered with by the catcher, before the pitcher throws at least one strike, the batter shall be entitled to first base and any and all base-runners occupying bases shall be advanced two bases except with a runner on first base, or runners on first and third, or when the bases are full, each base-runner shall be advanced only one base, and except that when second and third are both occupied by base-runners, only the runner on third shall score and the runner on second shall be advanced to third base.

After utilizing the rule during spring games, some of the owners soured on the novel decree. On April 14th Martin announced the intentional pass rule had been rescinded by the directors of the clubs 5-3 in a wire vote. Only Birmingham, Memphis, and New Orleans voted to keep the rule in place.

Birmingham’s Woodward suggested to Martin that the clubs consider giving the rule a two-week trial, and they agreed.

Once the trial period ended, five clubs asked for repeal and the rule was unanimously rescinded on May 3rd. League president John D. Martin announced the result after a poll of the clubs.

“…the rule will not be effective in today’s game(s), or in any subsequent games,” was Martin’s final say on the matter.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Galveston Daily News, November 18, 1933.

[2] The Sporting News, November 23, 1933.

[3] Woodward, A. H. “Make Way for Changes in the Game. The Sporting News, December 14, 1933.

[4] Galveston Daily News, November 18, 1933.

[5] The Sporting News, December 28, 1933.

A. H. Woodward Image courtesy Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

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