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Those new to baseball might take a careful look at the playing field, and eventually notice that the point where play begins is raised on a mound of dirt, while everywhere else is flat. At some point they have to ask, Why is the pitcher’s mound raised?
The pitcher’s mound is raised in baseball to help pitchers in an effort to maintain an offensive-defensive balance attractive to fans. Since major league’s inception, fans have disapproved of games with too many or too few runs scored.
The mound, sometimes called the hill or the “bump,” was born in 1893 after major league officials moved the pitcher’s rubber back a few feet away from home plate. This was during an era when significant rule changes occurred much more often than today as the league tinkered to find an equilibrium acceptable for pitchers and hitters — and fans.
- 1 The Pitcher’s Mound is Born
- 2 More Information
- 3 Related Questions
The Pitcher’s Mound is Born
Prior to 1893, pitchers began play with their feet inside a 3-foot by 12-foot pitcher’s box. It was removed that year in favor of the pitcher’s rubber, which was set 60 feet, 6 inches from the front of the rubber to the back of home plate — the additional 5 feet in distance that nurtured development of the pitcher’s mound.
The mound was not invented by the league; it was not regulated until 1903. Around the time the rubber was introduced, pitchers began discovering new ways to gain advantages over hitters, including breaking balls and change-up pitches to keep batters off balance. Add to that the discovery by some pitchers that they could increase velocity of pitches if they could stride downhill.
So pitchers asked their groundskeepers to provide the mound. It would vary from park to park, depending on preferences of that team’s pitcher(s). Some pitchers claimed that the mound height might even be changed on a daily basis depending on who was to pitch. Indeed the elevated starting point provided two distinct advantages (and one that is more perception):
- The higher delivery point creates a downward angle to the ball in flight, resulting in more difficulty hitting a ball safely. Think more easy-to-catch pop-ups.
- Starting high and moving forward downhill allows pitchers to gain bodily momentum during the stride to home plate, adding velocity.
- Pitchers standing high atop a hill can tend to look intimidating to batters, possibly throwing hitters off their game mentally.
Pitcher’s Mound Development Speculation
Some baseball historians speculate that pitcher’s mounds eventually evolved at least in part for better grounds-keeping — for drainage away from an area of dirt trampled and dug into repeatedly over the course of play.
Any father or youth baseball coach responsible for maintaining a pitcher’s mound understands this; the area directly in front of the rubber gets torn up creating deep holes if not monitored and maintained. The same could be true of the spot where the front foot lands just prior to releasing the ball. Without the elevation, rains or field watering could cause mud holes and possible game delays or postponements.
Pitcher’s Mound Regulated
The league finally set standards for pitcher’s mounds in 1903, commanding that:
- The pitcher’s mound could not exceed 15 inches in height. (This was reduced to today’s 10 inches after the 1968 season — the “Year of the Pitcher”). However, this rule was loosely enforced until mid-century, and some home stadiums had mounds rumored to be up to 20 inches in height!
- Mounds would have an official diameter of 18 feet. This creates the dirt circle in the middle of the infield grass that baseball fans today notice.
- The 1950 rule mandating every mound to be exactly 15 inches high was supplemented in 1963 with an expanded strike zone — resulting in several years where pitchers absolutely dominated games. Think of Sandy Koufax’s four no-hitters, and later Denny McLain’s 31 wins and Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in 1968. That year, 21% of games ended with one team scoring no runs in a shutout — the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale threw 6 in a row! Fans became bored with the game, at a time when pro football was gaining popularity, and MLB executives took notice.
- The lowered mound in 1969 — combined with a return to the pre-1963 strike zone — resulted in a jump in team batting averages of about 15 percentage points, indicating how important the mound is for pitching.
Future Pitcher’s Mound Changes?
Interestingly, MLB officials are at least discussing possible changes to pitcher’s mound heights, or at least something to address a carnage of strikeouts. This was in response to the 2018 season, where in the first time in MLB’s 147 years more strikeouts were recorded than base hits. It has yet to be approved, but at least league officials are cognizant of growing pitcher dominance — and fans’ potential disapproval.
Also in 2019, some began discussing possibly moving the pitcher’s rubber further away from home plate. It would not be a lot, like the 5 feet added in the late 19th century. Proposed by baseball enthusiasts, and not the league, is a move back of 1 or 2 feet.
Question: Do home teams cheat with the mound’s height to help their own pitchers?
Answer: Prior to 1950 it is commonly accepted that this happened consistently, hence the MLB rule change. Still, some speculate that during the pitcher-dominated 1960s, many mounds were 16” high. Today mound heights are measured prior to each game. However, mounds in bullpens are not regulated and some visiting teams claim those mounds are lower on purpose to mess up opposing pitchers!
Q.: How important is pitcher’s mound maintenance?
A.: Very important, especially considering how much teams pay for pitchers. Pitchers must have solid footing pushing off the rubber, and especially for the landing foot just prior to releasing the ball. Slips or stubs during delivery could result in arm injuries — which all MLB teams prefer to avoid.