This Day in Baseball History: January 24th, 1913

He’s not in the box! He’s not in the box!

On January 24, 1913:

Detroit President Frank Navin suggests moving back the “coacher’s boxes” to speed up games.

American League President Ban Johnson was worried about the length of games going over two hours (now, we worry about three hours and are impressed by two hour games), so he sent out a letter to all American League teams saying that they would need to find a way to decrease game times. In response, Navin believes that if the “coacher’s boxes” (“coach” was strickly a verb at the time, so they used the word “coacher”) are moved back, the problem will be solved.

It seems like an odd thing to say. If you want to decrease game time, there seem be a few more ways of doing it, but even Washington’s manager Clark Griffith agrees. Here’s why. At that point in baseball history, the catchers stood (not crouched — okay, they were slightly bent) farther back from the hitter than they do now. As a result, it was significantly easier to see what the calls were, and consequently, it made it easier to hit. To combat this problem, catchers took more time and care to hide their signals. Therefore, the games took longer as the catchers took longer to give the pitchers the signal.

Just for a quick reminder on the rules about “coacher’s boxes” (Rule 4.05):
(a) The offensive team shall station two base coaches on the field during its term at bat, one near first base and one near third base. (b) Base coaches shall be limited to two in number and shall (1) be in team uniform, and (2) remain within the coach’s box at all times. PENALTY: The offending base coach shall be removed from the game, and shall leave the playing field. Rule 4.05 Comment: It has been common practice for many years for some coaches to put one foot outside the coach’s box or stand astride or otherwise be slightly outside the coaching box lines. The coach shall not be considered out of the box unless the opposing manager complains, and then, the umpire shall strictly enforce the rule and require all coaches (on both teams) to remain in the coach’s box at all times. It is also common practice for a coach who has a play at his base to leave the coach’s box to signal the player to slide, advance or return to a base. This may be allowed if the coach does not interfere with the play in any manner.

In other words, following the rules is completely optional unless someone calls you out on it. If I’m the opposing manager of a team who had Gary Sheffield in his prime and hated the opposing third-base coach, I’d bring this little rule up.

Speeding up of games is still a problem in baseball. Some, like Shyster, have advocated the murder of Steve Trachsel. Other thoughts: shorter commercial breaks (yeah right), hitters aren’t allowed out of the box unless absolutely necessary, not letting Christy Mathewson go to the showers before the end of the game, not allowing Terry Pendleton to eat chili before games, and forcing Nomar Garciaparra to leave his flippin’ batting gloves alone.

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