Pitchers’ Roundtable – the 1980s [Part Two]

In Part Two of the 1980s pitching roundtable, the panel discusses pitching inside, and the strike zone. Part One appeared yesterday.




Bud Black: I don’t know if “intimidate” is the right word; I don’t know if there’s more. I think there’s still as much pitching inside today as there was, but back then there wasn’t as much hullabaloo if you did. Now the hitters make a bigger deal of it. You didn’t have that same reaction back in the ‘80s.

Danny Darwin: I think that pitchers pitched inside more in the 80s than they do today and a lot of that stems from if you throw a ball inside today, it seems like you get a warning. The players policed the game themselves back then. At least for me, I don’t know if the guys were maybe more hard-nosed, but you know — you have brawls nowadays, but back then the players policed themselves. We hit a guy, you hit a guy, and it’s over with. I think it’s just the nature of the game.

Mike Flanagan: I think that people like to think that they did. As far intimidating hitters, maybe it was the organization I was with, but the Orioles didn’t believe in doing it, and I think we averaged 90 wins a year during that period. We didn’t get involved in bean-ball wars and that sort of thing. If one of our guys got hit, Earl Weaver would do something that, looking back, I think was terrific – he would stand in the dugout and say, “Look, we can’t afford to get in a bean ball war and lose Eddie Murray, or any of our better players, over this one incident.” We wouldn’t forget about it, but it was “let’s go out and beat them,” because we had more to lose than they did.

Greg Maddux: I think they were allowed to. I think the rules started changing during the ‘80s to where they didn’t let the pitchers pitch inside as much as they used to. Warnings are given a lot earlier now; fines are given. You can get fined for throwing the ball inside, where before, jeez, you could start a fight and you wouldn’t get fined.

Jon Matlack: Did pitchers throw inside more? No question, but more so in the ‘70s than in the ‘80s. Umpires today, I almost believe, are taught not to call the inside pitch as prevalently as the outside pitch, hoping to lead the pitchers away from the inside part of the plate, and ultimately away from confrontation. There’s much less ability to pitch inside and control the inside part of the plate to keep people from diving across the plate than you used to see. That’s probably largely because the kids coming out of amateur ball nowadays are taught largely to miss the bat more so than to intimidate the hitter.

Bob Walk: The umpires allowed it more, especially in the National League, because the pitcher had to come to the plate. It was policed much better. If a pitcher was taking liberties, he had to come up and take his medicine, and I think that the umpires kind of stayed out of the situation much more. Nowadays you get a couple of hitters complaining, a manager complains, there’s a warning, and you get thrown out of the game pretty quickly. You can’t be a physical intimidator any more.


Bud Black: I think the strike zone has changed since the 1980s. It gradually started getting bigger in the ‘90s, and now I think it has shrunk. The advent of technology has maybe made the umpires a little more guarded on expanding it, so it has scaled back.

Danny Darwin: I really don’t believe that it has (changed). The only thing that I ever noticed about the strike zone was that – and I was able to play in both leagues – I thought the strike zone was a little lower in the National League. With today’s umpires, I think maybe you might get the higher strike a little better than you did back then. When I first came up they used the balloon (chest protector). Nowadays the umpires are able to get over the catchers and see the strike zone better.

Mike Flanagan: It was definitely smaller. It was smaller and it was lower. Pitchers will get the call today on a high curveball, which was never called back then. It was a gripe of ours in the 1980s, because a hanging curveball is one of a hitter’s favorite pitches, yet if he takes it, it’s a ball. Today it’s a strike.

Greg Maddux: The strike zone has changed a lot. The umpires have changed, and when the umpires changed, the strike zone changed as well. The strike zone is pretty standard now; it’s pretty much the same for every guy. I think that back then there was a little leeway given to the older players as opposed to the younger players. Today, it pretty much doesn’t matter who is throwing or who is hitting.

Jon Matlack: I think it’s different. The rules have changed as they’ve tried to emphasize different things from when I was pitching. I almost feel like there are more pitches called as they’re caught as opposed to where they are crossing the plate, nowadays. That’s just a feeling from what I see. I do believe that there are fewer strikes called on pitches on the inside part of the plate than there used to be. The strike zone has come up a little bit, but it’s also come up around the knees where it used to be that more that the bottom part of the knee was a strike. There aren’t many of those called anymore.

Bob Walk: Yeah, it’s gotten a little higher and a little narrower in my opinion. I think that it’s come up, especially in the last few years when they’ve started trying to get the umpires to call that higher strike a little bit more. And I don’t think that it’s as wide as it used to be. Especially if you were a veteran pitcher and had been around for awhile, you used to get the corners a lot more than you do nowadays. I think that a lot of it has to do with the leagues, because there are no National League umpires and American League umpires, they’ve kind of brought them together. When that happened is about the time I started seeing that the plate wasn’t quite as wide as it used to be.

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

11 Responses to “Pitchers’ Roundtable – the 1980s [Part Two]”

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  1. TheUnrepentantGunner says:

    Did these guys also walk uphill both ways to the ball park and play in blizzards with shoes that had holes in them?

    The answers have a number of just half-baked logic

    In one question (in the previous part) Maddux talks about pitchers pitching in more today, then in the this part he says that they don’t go in more because they get fined.

    That combined with the whole “we were men back in those days” tone to the answers makes this piece pretty awful, though not necessarily David’s fault because he is only asking the questions.

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    • TheMooseOfDeath says:

      Maddux’s logic makes sense; you can pitch more on the inner half of the strike-zone while trying to avoid intimidating a batter (i.e. throwing it extremely inside on the batter, but out of the zone).

      Maybe I’m just prone to unquestionably take in all things Greg Maddux.

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  2. Chris says:

    Well, concerning Maddux’s answers, I think his answer yesterday was more regarding pitching inside for strikes, and that pitchers are more willing do so these days because hitters “cheat” to some extent to cover the outside part of the plate better than they did in the 80’s. His answer today more concerns pitching inside (and high) in order to send a message of sorts to the hitter, either to move him off the plate or because the other team hit one of your guys. The two are completely different situations. I didn’t look into any logical contradictions with the rest of the answers, but I will agree that the “high and mighty” tone that seems prevalent throughout these answers is pretty annoying.

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  3. Whether or not the members of the panel strike a high and mighty tone, or are guilty of back-in-my-day bias, is a matter of interpretation. Regardless, they are anything but out of touch with today’s game. At the time they offered their opinions they held [or very recently had held] titles of: active big league pitcher, minor league pitching coordinator, double-A pitching coach, big league manager, broadcaster, VP of baseball ops.

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    • TheUnrepentantGunner says:

      I didnt say they were out of touch, just well, the answers they gave left me finding them unlikable, And I am in agreement with Chris (who saw that answer in a way I didn’t, probably because I was aggravated), and the “high and mighty” tone is probably a better way of putting it.

      Either way, definitely didn’t feel enlightened or anyhthing.

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  4. Bill says:

    Joe Matlack is kind of a tired act. I get it Joe, the 70s were great, and the 80s sucked.

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  5. Eric Farris says:

    Honest question: If I’m a pitcher with an .085 OBP, don’t I WANT to get hit by the ball? I’ve been hit by plenty of pitches (admittedly not MLB velocity fastballs), and while it hurts, it very rarely actually injures someone. And now I get the base, and possibly help my team win.

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  6. Dave S says:

    Interesting followup to the umpire discussion yesterday… 5 out of 6 ex-pitchers say the strike zone has changed over time… and the one that did not think it changed (Darwin) felt the strike zone was different between leagues.

    So, 6 out of 6 note the amorphous nature of the strike zone.

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  7. Mike B. says:

    I’m curious who on the panel believes that today’s more uniform strike zone is a positive development, for both pitchers and hitters. Also curious what their thoughts are on a possible implementation of Sportvision (and other technologies) as an umpiring supplement.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    I think Darwin suffers from embellished memories.

    Didn’t the 1980s feature a period known as “basebrawl”, that spilled over into the early 90s? That led to the chane in issuing warnings.

    There were far more bench clearing brawls and charging of the mound.

    It also led to batters wearing armor and hanging out over the plate.

    Be interesting to see data on the number of fights in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.

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  9. Phantom Stranger says:

    The strike zone today is definitely narrower than it was in the 90s. If you could regularly hit the outside corner in the 90s, even if it was 2 inches outside, you would often get the call. It has expanded upward and downward a little from the 90s though, you used to never see a strike called above the waist during the steroids era.

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