When(& why) did these baseball behaviors begin?

  1. Teams used to treat baseballs like gold- now routinely balls are thrown by players into the stands-end of innings etc., fouls by ballboys, etc. Did this start after the 1994 strike & was it a PR ploy?

  2. Routinely-indeed everygame- after a win the whole team & staff exits the dugout to congratulate the guys on the field. Each winner does it the same way. This used to be spontaneous & for only “big” games- now it is every game,no matter how minor. When did this begin?

I would like to see more specific support for your assertion that teams “used to treat baseballs like gold.” I can’t think of any ballpark from the 20th century that netted foul balls and prevented them from going into the stands, from Tiger Stadium (built in 1912) to the Kingdome (built in 1975 or so). There is a screen behind home plate to prevent a foul tip from careening into the high-paying luxury boxes at 120mph (seriously, those things can do major damage. The Safeco Field tour of the pressbox shows holes in particle board where the baseballs knocked through a layer of wood and Formica).

In fact, establishing the foul lines was one of the first innovations of modern baseball rules, going back to the mid 19th century and Harry Chadwick, then the unofficial keeper of the rule book. The San Francisco Giants today use about 300 dozen baseballs per month, which presumably counts batting practice. Balls have always been lost to the foul lines and to home runs; so why do you say they were treated like gold? Can you find a cite for the monthly baseball consumption of any team pre-strike and post-strike?

They were originally treated like gold, of course; they were hand-made. They were originally made by a saddler who provided them to the first New York teams until the workload became too great. They were later manufactured by the A.G. Spaulding company (probably among others).

At any rate, best guess: in 1919, mere months after Ray Chapman of the Indians was killed at the plate by a pitch from Yankee pitcher Carl Mays, the leagues established a rule that the ball must be changed when it got dirty. (Evidently Chapman couldn’t see the ball coming because of the dark layer of dirt.) At that point, the league had to use a great many more baseballs than before. Coincidentally, they also made the ball livelier and 1919 saw the first (then-)great home run year of one George Herman Ruth. That caused a lot of baseballs to fly out of the stadiums. Gold? I dunno, but a good souvenir. The high-powered air attack probably caused a lot more fouls to go into the stands, too; previously, the game consisted of place hitting, grounders through the infield, and keeping the ball down. Not much chance of losing a ball that way, either.

Sure, there might be something to the baseball-needs-PR-after-the-1994-strike idea. I’d like to see if there are any facts to back it up, though.

About the winning-handshake-congratulation thing: we used to do that on my soccer team when I was 8. What do you mean when you say it “used to be” only for the “big” games? Still, I have a guess on this too. Baseball players are superstitious and over a 162-game schedule they crave routine. Alex Rodriguez (at Safeco Field) always used to eat a peanut butter & jelly sandwich before games; Wade Boggs of the Yankees used to have fried chicken. I remember watching Joey Cora hop over the first-to-second baseline on the way out to his position, and every inning without fail he glanced down and saw an invisible piece of grit that he would bend down and pick up with his throwing hand, and then he would toss this invisible grit away. When you get into a winning routine, habits become rituals, and ordinary events became talismanic. Break them at your peril. Plus – this is the other consideration – it makes for good TV. The TV stations probably enjoy seeing the congratulatory lineup afterward because it gives the audience something to watch while the announcers recap the game.


Fish-you make some good points but- the nets are to physically protect fans, & teams from lawsuits. Now players routinely throw warm up balls-outfielders between innings- have to be at stadium to see it-into the stands. And 3rd outs-balls may be "too dirty " for the game, now players toss them into the stands near the dugout. Just saw a Red Sox player toss a foul hit into the dugout over his head into the stands.Ball boys NEVER used to give fans the balls. Teams have washing machines that clean the balls for next day BP, so the balls are reusable.
Also re: nets -football uses them partially because balls cost much more than baseballs, but IMO it is mainly to prevent scuffles for the balls. I say used to re handshakes-look at any game from even 80’s that wasn’t a Series game- players just picked up their gear & went to the locker room.

On the question of when players started tossing balls into the stands, I can’t pinpoint an exact date but I remember seeing Pete Rose do it in the 70’s.

Some teams don’t wash balls to reuse them for BP- they donate them to little leagues who are hard-pressed to buy enough balls for a full season of play. And the kids know they are playing with balls hit by big leaguers- pretty cool.

I remember balls being thrown to fans in the stands from a very young age- that would put it in the 1970’s for me as well. I went to my first ball game in the summer of 1967, but don’t remember it very well- I was only 3 weeks old at the time!

Players have probably been tossing balls into the stands for years, but ballboys, to the best of my knowledge NEVER gave away any prior to the ‘94 strike. Post strike, even the umpires started soft tossin’ to little Timmy in the second row.

I remember a Mickey Mantle interview where he recalled flipping a ball into the stands after an inning. The GM called him on the carpet, told him it wasn’t his ball to give away, and made him pay for it.

It depends on what level you’re playing. I read an article by a perennial minor leaguer who had gone up for a cup of coffee and he listed, at one point, the differences between the minors and the bigs. The one that stuck in my mind was, “The batting practice balls are white.”

Someone once said that the average big league baseball has a lifespan of six pitches.


How do the balls not become waterlogged?

I would imagine that there’s a lot more scrubbing going on in this machine than in your clothes washer, which means that the ball isn’t wet for very long.

Fish said:

Ray Chapman
Debut August 30, 1912
Born January 15, 1891 in Beaver Dam, KY
Died August 17, 1920 in New York, NY

Carl Mays.
Rule 3.01 © - (e) cover the circumstances which require that a ball be replaced.

There’s a little bit about the rule change
here. Some people say that Chapman’s death was the reason for the rule change, but in the couple of quick searches I just did I haven’t been able to find when in 1920 the rule was changed. It’s possible it was changed as much to increase offence as to protect batters.

You sure you’re not thinking of a line from Bull Durham?

(emphasis added)

Two things:

Teams DID used to treat balls like gold. Foul balls were routinely re-collected by the ushers and returned to the field of play. But I believe the habit died out sometime prior to the 1930s.

I also recall a flap in the 1980s surrounding the Cincinnati Reds. IIRC team owner Marge Schott began fining players for flipping balls that were in play to the fans. Something like $50 a ball (which is a lot for something that goes for $7 at a sporting goods store).

Back in the late 70s, early 80s, I used to watch the Detroit Tigers during warm ups before the games. They used to throw about half the balls they used over the fence to the fans - probably about 25-30 a game.