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The live-ball era, also referred to as the lively ball era, is the period in Major League Baseball beginning in 1920, following the dead-ball era. During that year offensive statistics rose dramatically in what would be mistakenly attributed to the introduction of a new "lively" ball. The construction of the balls remained consistent, but rule changes gave more advantages to the batter.

Prior to that time, the same ball would be used throughout the game and foul balls would be thrown back on the field and reused. The ball would only be replaced if it started to unravel. As games progressed, the ball would become increasingly dirty and worn, making it difficult to see, and its movement erratic. Pitchers were able to help this process along by scuffing it, spitting on it, and since Russ Ford's discovery in 1913, cutting into it with an emery board. The spitball was widely used as well. All of these effects gave the pitcher a major advantage. The physical wear on the ball from being repeatedly hit also made it more elastic as the game progressed, making it increasingly difficult to hit for distance.

There were also rule changes that contributed to the low-scoring games. In 1901 the National League adopted the "foul strike rule," which counted foul balls as strikes. Prior to this rule, batters could safely swing at many marginal pitches, which not only tired out the pitcher, but allowed for more hits in total in the case that a "flukey" hit landed in play. With the introduction of the foul strike rule the batter had to let many more pitches "go" without being swung on, dramatically reducing the total number of hits as well. The American League followed suit in 1903, making the rule universal.

The dead-ball era came to an end after the fatal beaning of Ray Chapman during the 1920 season. Chapman was killed by a submarine pitch from Carl Mays in the 5th inning of a twilight game. Witnesses stated that Chapman never moved to get out of the way of the ball, and it is assumed he simply couldn't see it. The new Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, instituted several new rules during the season, both in response to Chapman's death as well as an effort to liven up the game. Starting in 1920 new balls were replaced at the first sign of wear, resulting in a ball that was much brighter and easier for a hitter to see. The other major rule change was the elimination of the spitball. The lively ball era was the era in which baseball came back into the picture and exploded with popularity.

In 1920, the game changed from typically low-scoring to high-scoring games, with a newfound reliance on the home run. During that year Babe Ruth, setting a record for slugging percentage, hit 54 home runs, smashing his old record of 29. In 1921, he broke his record again, hitting 59 home runs. Six years later, Ruth passed his 1921 mark by hitting 60 home runs, a single-season record that stood for 34 years. In 1920 George Sisler would also set his long-standing record of 257 hits in a single season, which would not be eclipsed until 2004 by the Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki.

The live-ball era also had a lasting impact on pitchers. Between 1910 and 1920, the last decade of the dead-ball era, eight pitchers had a 30-win season. Since the beginning of the 1921 season, the first full season of the live-ball era, only three pitchers have had 30-win seasons (Lefty Grove in 1931, Dizzy Dean in 1934, and Denny McLain in 1968).

See also


  • Stewart, Gail. "1930's Timelines." CrestWood House New York, 1989.
  • Stewart, Gail. "1920's Timelines." CrestWood House New York, 1989.


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