Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Thursday, September 14, 2023

An “Old-Fashioned Pitchers’ Duel” Didn’t Always Mean What You Think

From that decade on, the context for “old fashioned pitchers’ duel” was established: There’s a lot of slugging in the game today, but there was once a time when baseball was ruled unilaterally by the men who threw the ball. However, that’s not where or how this saying began. The truly interesting history of the phrase begins well before Ruth ever sent one deep.

In a Montana newspaper’s write-up of NL Opening Day 1919—a piece delightfully headlined “Old Man Baseball Crawls Out Of Dugout”—one of the subheadings read, “Brooklyn Takes Two Games From Boston—Rudolph and Cadore Have Old-Fashioned Pitchers’ Duel. Oh-h-h Boy, Come On, She’s Off!” That’s a fantastic set of words, but after a 1918 season in which NL teams had averaged just 0.14 dingers and only 3.62 runs per game, calling a pitchers’ duel old-fashioned didn’t make much sense to me.

That line persists, though, as you go further back. It’s in a 1918 edition of The Honolulu Advertiser, and it’s there again in a 1914 recap of an Emporia vs. Great Bend game in Kansas, in which Otis Lambeth “showed that he remembered enough of the twirling craft to win one of those old-fashioned pitchers’ duels from Joe Lillis.” The single oldest version of it I could find is from a 1911 Indianapolis Star article, though even there it sounds like a well-traveled phrase: “Before the game had progressed very far it resolved itself into one of those old-fashioned ‘pitchers’ duels.’ And a pitchers’ duel always is a fine thing when the home team wins.”

How would good pitching be old-fashioned in the depths of the dead-ball era? It’d be like basketball writers today calling Warriors games “old-fashioned three-point contests.” It didn’t fit, and even these references I found were explicitly contradicted by other newspapers that, when talking about “old-fashioned baseball,” implied (correctly) that the previous renditions of the game had been marked by sloppy fielding and free hitting. (And, in at least one case, on-field smoking.)

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 14, 2023 at 02:56 PM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pitcher's duel

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Walt Davis Posted: September 14, 2023 at 03:35 PM (#6141328)
Since the dawn of time, humans have always known things were better in the past.
   2. John Northey Posted: September 14, 2023 at 04:56 PM (#6141343)
For a pitchers duel you need a shutout imo, especially in the dead ball period. In 1910 there were 242 shutouts out of 1223 games (one every 5.1 games). A decade earlier in 1900 68 shutouts in 553 games (one every 8.1 games). Hrm. Doesn't seem that different. 1911 saw 172 shutouts in 1218 games, one ever 7.1 games. So shutouts went down a bit from 1910 to 1911 but not drastically, certainly within eyeshot of a decade earlier and the further back I go the fewer shutouts I see (due to poor fielding I suspect).

Yeah, I'd go with people thinking everything was better when I was a kid type of crap. Of course in 1911 'when I was a kid' often involved underarm pitching (like fastball) and more than 4 balls to get a walk. Hmm... what about complete games - in 1890 when 'back in my day' people would think fondly of, 2879 complete games out of 1577 games - 1.8 per game (IE: more often than not both starters went the distance). 1911 saw 1438 complete games out of 2474 games or 0.58 per game. I think we see the issue - by 1911 pitchers no longer were expected to finish what they started vs when writers were kids and all pitchers were expected to complete what they started. So pitchers were wimps by 1911. Can't imagine how they'd feel about today - 31 CG in 4380 games or 0.007 complete games per game, or 1 per 141.3 games.
   3. Howie Menckel Posted: September 14, 2023 at 07:48 PM (#6141354)
yes, I always took "old-fashioned pitchers' duel" to mean that both starters clearly were going to "go the distance, Ray."

not only complete games, but no one ever even warms up in either bullpen.

I think it meant what I thought it meant.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: September 14, 2023 at 08:09 PM (#6141355)
Duels do tend to be one v one. I suppose we could have bullpen battles.
   5. Cris E Posted: September 15, 2023 at 10:45 AM (#6141419)
I always got the feeling that the one-on-one duel extended to removing the offenses from the game as well, so very few baserunners and not even a lot of defensive gems. Just helpless batters and desultory popups.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: September 15, 2023 at 04:50 PM (#6141475)
#5: Maybe but probably not historically. Ceratinly not many runs scored is a requirement of a duel but it's really only recently that a reporter in Chicago could see a NY-Baltimore game and I'm sure it's still the case that they rarely do. So when some guy in Montana in 1919 is writing about a pitcher's duel, he's going off the box score or, at most, the writeup from a NY paper. So mainly it's that the game ended 1-0 and, much more likely in those days, maybe something crazy like it went 11 innings with both starters on the mound. But sure, the number of hits came into it but everything was BIP in those days -- bound to be some solid defensive plays or the scattering of 7 hits at least.

The Cadore-Rudolph pitchers' duel ended 5-2 in 10 innings. The Robins scored 2 early then the Braves tied it up in the 7th. Rudolph gave up 8 hits in the first 9 innings; Cadore gave up 10. The top of the 10th inning went error, error, sac, single + error, groundout, bunt single, flyout. Three errors in one extra inning is not winning baseball.

Oddly, game two was just 3-2, scoreless through 4, the Robins took a 3-0 lead. Featured 8 hits for Brooklyn, 9 for Boston. I guess not a pitchers' duel because the Bos starter left after 7 for a PH. The Braves had 5 errors in game 1 and added 4 in game 2. Fielders' duels these were not.

The Robins had an interesting logo -- imagine stylized owl eyes, then flip it on its side and it's a "B" of sorts. Except they are the Robins not the Owls. Don't robins have standard beady bird eyes, one on each side of a narrow head?
   7. sunday silence (again) Posted: September 15, 2023 at 05:17 PM (#6141481)
So when some guy in Montana in 1919 is writing about a pitcher's duel, he's going off the box score or, at most, the writeup from a NY paper.

I dont think that's true. Wasnt it a gang of guys sitting around the boiler at Sam Druckers general store getting the feed from a telegraph or something. And some kid writing the score for each inning.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.



<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Dynasty League Baseball

Support BBTF


Thanks to
Martin Hemner
for his generous support.

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogMLB playoffs 2023: Orioles clinch postseason berth
(6 - 1:15am, Sep 21)
Last: DFA

NewsblogOmnichatter for September 2023
(472 - 1:12am, Sep 21)
Last: Howie Menckel

NewsblogCan Freddie Freeman Re-Open the 3,000 Hit Club?
(39 - 9:35pm, Sep 20)
Last: baxter

Hall of MeritReranking First Basemen: Results
(7 - 9:29pm, Sep 20)
Last: Jaack

NewsblogRays to announce St. Petersburg stadium deal this week
(22 - 9:27pm, Sep 20)
Last: Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc

Hall of MeritReranking Pitchers 1893-1923: Ballot
(2 - 9:05pm, Sep 20)
Last: kcgard2

NewsblogThe ragtag team that saved Darryl Strawberry’s career
(2 - 8:52pm, Sep 20)
Last: It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out

Newsblog200 WINS! Adam Wainwright caps career with long-awaited milestone
(28 - 8:49pm, Sep 20)
Last: Howie Menckel

NewsblogOT Soccer - World Cup Final/European Leagues Start
(84 - 8:15pm, Sep 20)
Last: Infinite Yost (Voxter)

NewsblogRepublicans propose $614M in public funds for Brewers' stadium upgrades
(31 - 8:06pm, Sep 20)
Last: Hombre Brotani

Hall of MeritReranking Pitchers 1893-1923: Discussion
(38 - 7:19pm, Sep 20)
Last: DL from MN

NewsblogOT: Wrestling Thread November 2014
(2968 - 5:06pm, Sep 20)
Last: Tubbs is Bobby Grich when he flys off the handle

(10 - 2:43pm, Sep 20)
Last: Darren

NewsblogThe Athletic: A former White Sox exec on skimming bonuses, team ownership, life after prison and more
(10 - 11:55pm, Sep 19)
Last: chordlonely

NewsblogBaseball History Is No Longer Written With Ash Bats
(9 - 11:52pm, Sep 19)
Last: chordlonely

Page rendered in 0.3130 seconds
48 querie(s) executed