Understand first of all that the human arm was not constructed to pitch baseballs. The tendons and ligaments in there are not arranged to launch pitches at 90-plus mph.
That probably explains why so many pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery, demanding that their arms be repaired so that they can throw again and beat up the tendons and ligaments all over again.
That said, pitchers have been positioned 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate since 1893, a mere 128 years ago. That distance worked perfectly well for everybody from Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson to Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax and fistfuls of other great pitchers. In fact, it worked so well that strikeouts began mounting at alarming rates.
Baseball watched as Ryan struck out 383 batters in 1973, eight years after Koufax struck of 382. These were impressive numbers, tucked in the top 10 of all time. Baseball never felt a need to change the game because the strikeouts were so plentiful.
Not until now.
Now, the mad scientists who are running the game, have decided to add a foot in the distance the pitcher works from, moving the pitching rubber back to 61 feet, 6 inches. Let’s give the hitters a bit more time to adjust to what’s coming. Let’s give the elbows and arms a little more distance with which to deal.
It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. The proprietors of the game have tinkered with the distance from mound to home plate more than once. From 1845-1880, it was 45 feet. By 1892, it had grown to 50 feet and then, a year later, it expanded to the current 60 feet, 6 inches.
Now jumping from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches is a rather dramatic change, much more than the extra foot baseball’s bosses are inflicting in the second half of this summer’s independent leagues’ season.
Still, there is no way of knowing what the impact will be. The analytics and sabermetrics crowd will sit back and watch. Will the extra foot add spin to pitches? Will arm trouble develop from the extra distance? Will batters benefit from the split second longer it takes for pitches to reach the hitting zone? Nobody really knows.
What we do know is this.
In 1892, the last year of the 50-foot mound to plate distance, Bill Hutchinson of Chicago led the league with 314 strikeouts. A year later, from 60 feet, 6 inches, Amos Rusie was the strikeout king with 208, a full 106 fewer than Hutchinson’s total.
It was three strikes and you’re out then and it still is, for the moment.