Early Courtesy Runner Practices

In the early days of major league play, quite a few of the rules and accepted practices were quite different from those in place at the beginning of the 20th Century, which is usually considered to be the start of the modern era. Here are some notes about courtesy runners in the National Association, the first major league, which existed from 1871 to 1875.

  1. From the "Guidelines" that Bob Tiemann distributed c1990 for the National Association Box Scores Project, which generated the NA statistics gradually published in Total baseball and later elsewhere:
    "Pinch-runners. With the consent of the opposing team, another player was allowed to run the bases for a teammate. This was a common practice and need not be noted. If the pinch-runner stole a base or was caught stealing, credit the pinch-runner with the steal or caught. But if the pinch-runner scored, credit the original batter with the run scored."
  2. From William J. Ryczek, Blackguards and Red Stockings ... 1871-1875 (1992), page 18, who points out that the substitute runner was selected by the opposing captain:
    "Some pitchers, prima donnas even before the advent of the designated hitter, felt they deserved a courtesy runner on all occasions. An 1874 Hartford-Mutual game was delayed while the opposing captains debated whether pitcher Mathews should be allowed relief on the base paths. The Mutuals at first refused to play if the courtesy runner was not allowed, but relented and took the field nonetheless."
    Ryczek cites Hartford Courant 4 Sep 1874 and Clipper 12 Sep 1874.
Our thanks for the above information to Paul Wendt, who is the chair of the Nineteenth Century Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). More information about the committee and related research is available from SABR 19th Century Committee.

Page Updated: 4/30/04

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