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11 Little Quirks in Baseball's Early Rules

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Baseball has been part of American culture and consciousness since the mid-1700s. Even though it's a classic game, it's still showing signs of evolution. For instance, some of the rules of yore seem particularly quirky compared to the modern game.

1. In the earliest version of base ball—two words back then—games were not nine innings long. Instead, teams played until one side scored 21 runs, which, at the time, were called “aces.”

2. Before 1872, pitchers had to throw underhand. This was largely because their purpose wasn’t to get outs but to serve up pitches to be put in play. Batters would even request where they wanted a ball to be pitched for a better chance of making contact. Eventually, pitchers realized they could give their teams a competitive advantage if they made things a little less easy on the batter, and the rules caved to accommodate overhand motions.

3. Originally, a hitter wasn’t just out if the ball was caught in the air; he was also out if it was caught on the first bounce. If it sounds like this makes the game too easy for the outfielders, consider that using gloves didn't become the norm until the 1890s. This practice was so entrenched that after the Knickerboxers suggested changing it, it took several years of heated debate to get the rule changed. And even after it was changed for balls in play, it persisted for several decades when dealing with pop ups in foul territory.

4. Before there was a whole crew of umpires monitoring games, the home plate umpire was allowed to confer with spectators, who may have had a better view, before issuing a ruling.

5. At first, there was no such thing as a called strike. There were only swinging strikes. When the called strike idea was introduced, it came with some caveats—the first pitch couldn’t be a called strike and the umpire had to warn a batter that a certain pitch is liable to be called a strike before beginning to do so.

6. Similarly, only every third “unfair” pitch was called a ball. So while the rules dictated the batter take a base after three balls, in practice the pitcher got nine pitches out of the strike zone before surrendering a walk.

7. In the early days, outfielders could put out base runners not just by tagging but also by throwing the ball at them before they reached the base. The practice, known as “soaking,” “patching,” or “plugging,” was thought to be necessary to the manliness of the game.

8. What we now think of as the “umpire” was originally called the referee, who proceeded over the game along with two “umpires,” one from each team who made appeals on their players’ behalves.

9. In the mid-1800s, home plate was a circular base, 12 inches in diameter. At first it was made of iron painted white and later marble or stone.

10. For a time in the late 1800s, hitters were allowed to use bats that were flat on one side, like a paddle. This made swatting at balls easier but they had a tendency to splinter dangerously.

11. In the early 20th century, you couldn’t get credit for a walk-off home run if the go-ahead run was already on base. That is to say, the game ended as soon as the lead run scored for the home team in the ninth. So if your home team was down by one with men on second and third and you hit the ball over the fence, the game ended as soon as the runner on second scored and you would be credited with a double. Babe Ruth hit plenty of homers in his day, but the Sultan of Swat would tell you, he would have credit for even more if not for this rule.

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Seattle Mariners Fans Are Going Crazy for These Crunchy Grasshopper Snacks
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Great Big Story, Youtube

Seattle Mariners fans have more than warmed up to the newest, offbeat addition to the Safeco Field concessions menu: toasted grasshoppers covered in chili-lime salt.

The crunchy snack, which sells for $4 and comes packed in a small container, has only been available for less than a season but has already sold 300,000-plus orders to date. That's about 1000 pounds of grasshoppers. 

Frequenters of Seattle's popular Mexican restaurant Poquitos will know that this delicacy—which first started as a novelty item on its menu—has actually been available to the public for six years. But it wasn't until local chef Ethan Stowell was hired to give the Safeco Field menu a hip retooling that the salty bugs found new, fervent popularity at the ballpark. (Also on the Safeco menu: fried oysters drizzled in hot sauce.)

Great Big Story met up with Manny Arce, the executive chef of Poquitos and visionary behind this culinary home run, to discuss the popularity of these crunchy critters. You can watch the video interview below:

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History
The First High Five Recorded in the History of Sports
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We don’t quite know who invented the high five—but we can pinpoint the moment it became inextricably linked with sports, which the short documentary The High Five explores below.

On October 2, 1977, Los Angeles Dodgers leftfielder Dusty Baker scored his 30th home run, making the team the first in history to have four players—Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Reggie Smith—with at least 30 homers under each of their belts. Fellow outfielder Glenn Burke was so overwhelmed with joy and pride, he raised his arm and slapped his flat palm against the victorious athlete’s own palm. The moment transformed Baker and Burke into legends.

Sadly, the latter player faced hard times ahead: Burke was gay, and it’s believed that his sexuality prompted team officials to trade him to the Oakland A's the following year. In Oakland, Burke clashed with team manager Billy Martin, then retired early from baseball. Today, Burke is remembered for his charisma and talent—and for transforming a simple gesture into a universal symbol. “To think his energy and personality was the origin of that, that’s a pretty good legacy,” sportswriter Lyle Spencer says in the film.

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