When I'm watching the ballgame at home with Emily--the 'lil perfessor--she loves throwing questions my way. At times I have to bite my tongue and contain my smug, male superiority--"God, what a chick thing to say," I'll think, rolling my eyes. Then of course, Emily will also come out with things that leave me completely stumped. So the other night, as we watched Johnny Damon make several catches against the wall, she asked about the origins of the warning track. How did it get its name? When was it invented?
Mr. Wizard didn't have an answer. So I asked around some, and still don't have a definitive answer. Bill James suggested that they were possibly invented as a response to Pete Reiser, the Brooklyn Dodger outfielder who was famous for running into outfield fences and getting knocked out. Late '50s, early '60s was his guess. Steve Treder thinks it could have been a bit earlier but agrees that it was probably designed at the same time other player-safety innovations were created--batting helmets and padded walls. (By the way, I just learned in David Maraniss' forthcoming book on Roberto Clemente that none other than Branch Rickey came up with the plastic/fiber-glass batting helmet--was there anything that Rickey wasn't invovled in?) Here is Rich Lederer's take:
Warning tracks, as we now know them, were fairly standard by the 1950s. I'm not aware of any ballpark without a warning track by the 1960s. Are you?
The first warning track dates back much earlier though. Yankee Stadium had what was known as a running track dating back to the 1920s. It was used as just that: a running track (used for foot races) but it served a dual purpose as a warning track for baseball games, too. I just don't know if it was a coincidence or not. That said, I have black and white photos in baseball books that backs up this claim.
So, anyone else have any ideas? Paging Mr. Markusen. Hey, my girl's just got to know.