Why Are Baseball Games Nine Innings Long?

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

If you are frustrated by the exhausting length of modern baseball games—or if you are thrilled that these contests last the full nine innings—you can thank an all-but-arbitrary decision made in the nascent stages of the sport. Gone the other way, America's Pastime would end after just seven innings.

Prior to 1857, games were not just of indeterminate time length but also an indeterminate number of innings. According the 8th Rule in the Knickerbockers' handbook—largely considered to be the first rule book from which modern baseball stems—"The game to consist of twenty-one counts, or aces; but at the conclusion an equal number of hands must be played."

Playing until 21 runs wasn't such a bad plan during the riotous offense of the 1840s and '50s, but after the 12-12 tie of 1856—the game had to be called on account of darkness after 16 innings—it was clear a change was in order.

"I believe that as the skill level of play increased, the certainty of one club or the other reaching 21 runs diminished. Most of the runs were un-earned as we would call them today," says Major League Baseball Official Historian John Thorn.

The decision to limit the number of innings gave way to the issue of exactly how many innings should make up each regulation-length game. This was connected to the minimum number of players each side had for a game to go forward. Generally, each team played with nine men, but this was not standard or codified. As Thorn writes in his book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden:

In an 1856 Knickerbocker meeting, [Louis F.] Wadsworth, along with Doc Adams, backed a motion to permit nonmembers to take part in Knickerbocker intramural games at the Elysian Fields if fewer than eighteen Knicks were present (nine men to the side had become the de facto standard for match play by this point, though it still was not mandated by the rules of the game). Wadsworth and his allies among the Knickerbockers thought it more important to preserve the quality of the game than to exclude those who were not club members. Duncan F. Curry countermoved that if fourteen Knickerbockers were available, the game should admit no outsiders and be played shorthanded, as had been their practice since 1845.

In other words, the factions were divided on the issue of whether or not to preserve the exclusivity of the Knickerbocker club at the cost of more competitive defense. Ultimately, Curry's faction, known as the "Old Fogies," prevailed, and the Knickerbockers settled on seven-man teams for intramural play. Since the number of innings was not yet set, they opted for a seven-inning game simply for the sake of consistency: Seven men, seven innings.

This, however, did not apply to intermural competition. The Knickerbockers had been playing matches against other clubs for about a decade by that point and decided that, since the issue had been so divisive on their own team, a committee should standardize the number of men and innings games played between clubs would feature.

The Knickerbockers sent a delegation of three men to the committee, ostensibly supporting the position of seven men, seven innings, which would help promote the club's exclusivity. However, Wadsworth was named the Knickerbocker representative, and despite his official allegiance to the Knickerbocker cause, he hadn't abandoned his original stance of "preserving the quality of the game."

"[Wadsworth] worked behind the scenes with other clubs to overwhelm the Knickerbockers’ position and go to nine innings and nine men," Thorn says of that fateful Convention from which we get many of our modern rules.

The following month, Wadsworth led a motion within the Club to have the Knickerbockers adopt all the new rules and changes agreed upon at the convention. It passed, and from then on, baseball games in America were played with nine men per side and for a regulation length of nine innings.

See Also: Why Does "K" Stand for Strikeout?

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

iStock
iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Why Do Tires Have to Be Filled With Air?

BookyBuggy/iStock via Getty Images
BookyBuggy/iStock via Getty Images

Paul Misencik:

This is an issue that has perplexed me for most of my life, because pneumatic tires filled with air seem like the last anachronistic, 19th-century component of a modern automobile, and an idea which should have disappeared many decades ago. In an era where even the internal combustion engine itself is giving way to electric motors, and where a new economy hatchback has exponentially more computing power than the Space Shuttle, pneumatic tires don’t seem to make sense any longer.

(And before I get flamed, I know modern tires are vastly more advanced and reliable and capable than their 1930s counterparts. Blowouts, which were a common occurrence when I was a kid, are pretty much unheard of today. Modern tires are great, but they are still vulnerable and maintenance-intensive in a way that doesn’t make any sense to me.)

Companies have experimented with non-pneumatic passenger vehicle tires in the modern age—one of the primary drivers was Michelin. But the tires weren’t filled with solid rubber. In fact, they didn’t even have sidewalls. They were open on the sides, and they had a support lattice of structural polyester ribs, with a ton of air space between the contact patch and the (now deformable) wheel.

One of the big problems with switching from pneumatic tires to non-pneumatic tires is the fact that the current air-filled tire is an important component of the suspension of a vehicle. The flex in the sidewall is a critical part of the compliance of the suspension and substantially affects a vehicle's ride and handling. (Which is why race car drivers sweat tire pressures at each corner of the vehicle so much, as even a small change in tire pressure can have a big effect on the handling and grip of a vehicle.)

If a company like Michelin wants to make a non-pneumatic tire, they'll improve their chances of finding success with it if the new design mimics the compliance and flex characteristics of the outgoing, air-filled models as closely as possible. That way, Michelin would be able to sell the new, non-pneumatic design as a retrofit to older vehicles whose suspensions were originally designed with pneumatic tires in mind. And that is hugely important because if they can’t, it becomes much more difficult to convince manufacturers to change over to the new design—particularly after the mild debacle of Michelin’s failed “TRX” metric tire idea of the 1980s, which required the use of a special wheel and which, despite being by most accounts a superior design in almost every way, never really took off. (Owners of 1980s Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxers and some Saab 900 turbos will know what I’m talking about here.)

Non-pneumatic Michelin tires are also rather weird looking, and it’s not clear which manufacturers, if any, would take the risk of being the first to offer them on a new car.

So that is the real issue: Any non-pneumatic tire design must be not only clearly superior to the pneumatic designs of the past, but it must be functionally identical to the outgoing models they would replace, and they must be visually acceptable to consumers.

I hope it happens, though. I hope someone cracks the nut. Pneumatic tires are a 19th-century application still being used on 21st-century vehicles, and at some point that needs to change.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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