With baseball being one of the oldest sports in American history and the MLB being one of the oldest popular sports leagues at well over 100 years, there have been a lot of changes and evolution over the years. But there was perhaps no bigger “changing of the guard” than the evolution of the deal ball era to the live ball era, which we are still in today. Here I’ll take a look at that time way back in history and look at the evolution.
The dead ball era came first and was the period between about 1900 and about 1920, with the introduction of power hitters like Babe Ruth. However, some baseball historians say this dead ball era dates back to the beginning of baseball. The reason it was called the dead ball era is because it was primarily low scoring games and the home run was not a valid way to win games and weren’t very common. It was normal for teams to average just over 3 runs a game during this period.
During this period, the game was much more of a strategy-driven game in which things such as hit and runs and stolen bases were primarily used to win games. However, this was largely used by necessity. This is because ballparks were very spacious in this time and the balls used back then didn’t have as much pop and were often overused which would remove the little bit of pop that they did have. In fact, most seasons in this era had the league leaders in home runs finish with fewer than 10, which is very low for today’s standards. However, due to the emphasis on speed and base running, the numbers for triples were astronomical as most years had the league leader finish with over 20 and in the modern day, anything over 10 is fairly rare.
Despite all of this, the dead ball era ended extremely suddenly sometime around 1920. The offenses were scoring 40% more runs than before and hitting 4 times as many home runs. With the changes and evolution being so sudden, historians are slightly confused as to what caused it. Generally, there are six main theories for what could have led to this changing of the guard, so to speak. Theyare:
- Making more pitches illegal – back in the dead ball era, many difficult to hit pitched (such as the spitball) were allowed.
- Changes in the actual ball – When the MLB moved to a cork-centered ball, it likely allowed for easier power hitting
- More actual baseballs per game – back in the day, balls were used far beyond they should have. After injuries and the death of Ray Chapman, the MLB decided to use a new ball after each and every time a ball got dirty.
- Game winning home runs – these weren’t brought in until 1920
- Babe Ruth – It is possible that the success that Ruth had with hitting the long ball could have led to a ton of other players adapting his style.
- Dimensions of Ballparks – there are also some who feel that the dimensions of ballparks over time has led to this, along with other rules surrounding the dimensions of ball parks
Whatever the reason for this change, the period from around 1920 on has been known as the live ball era with teams and players often having a huge reliance on home runs and other types of power hitting. While pitching and small ball is still a bit important now, it is not nearly as important as it used to be.