Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Random Girlfriend Question #4080
2006-04-21 05:40
by Alex Belth

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.

2006-04-21 06:13:46
1.   joejoejoe
I wonder if warning tracks first gained popularity as paths for groundskeepers to prevent wearing a path on the field when walking equipment like wheelbarrows to and from storage. Is the "warning track" aspect a secondary benefit discovered by players that came to supercede the initial purpose - preventing wear and tear on the grass?
2006-04-21 06:37:15
2.   Shaun P
"On April 14, 1910, Johnson pitched a masterful one-hitter to defeat the A's, 3-0. The only hit occurred in the seventh inning when Senators' right fielder Doc Gessler tripped over a small child sitting on the edge of the warning track, allowing the ball to careen into the overflow crowd for a double."

This is an article at I found when I typed '"warning track" history' into Google.

Full article at

So it seems that warning tracks have maybe been around since at least 1910? But I don't have anything more than that.

2006-04-21 06:40:02
3.   monkeypants
It makes sense from a landscaping perspective to leave a gap between the structure (wall, stands) and the grass, at least if you want to manicure the grass. Of course, such a gap would only need to be a couple of feet--not really a warning track.

Whatever the case, I too suspect the 'warning' aspect was a secondary benefit, and perhaps simply called a warning track because of its later function (indeed, outfielders may have coined the term--this is a pure speculation).

2006-04-21 06:58:34
4.   Sliced Bread
Another perplexing question for the class:

How is it that 80-something year old Bob Sheppard can recover from a hip injury, and return to Yankee Stadium in a fraction of the time it takes Carl Pavano's dumbass buttock injury to heal?

2006-04-21 06:58:35
5.   Jeteupthemiddle
2 I think more interesting than the warning track in 1910, is that Gessler tripped on a small child. Am I still drunk or does that not make sense?
2006-04-21 07:00:19
6.   Shawn Clap
Looks like the last "professional" team to play in a ballpark without a warning track was Winnipeg of the Northern League.

They played the 1994 season in Winnipeg Stadium.

2006-04-21 07:08:58
7.   Rob Gee
4 LOL - Thanks Sliced. And actually I think Sheppard is in his 90's but he doesn't reveal his age.
2006-04-21 07:09:54
8.   42YrOldRookie
2 it sounds like the 1920 warning track was not there to warn about an impending wall and may not have been a warning track in the sense we know it in modern baseball.
2006-04-21 07:18:36
9.   monkeypants
5 I don't know if you are drunk. But in the really old days some ball parks did not have outfield stands and the crowds would stand around on the playing in the deep outfield (sort of like golf or even some cricket matches today). There is a picture in the Ultimate Baseball Book (Okrent and Lewine, edd) that shows a game at Baltimore playing field in 1897, with fans ringing the outfield inside the walls.

So the description from 1910 does make sense.

Hmmm...perhaps the warning track was designed as a barrier of sorts betwen the players and the fans...

2006-04-21 07:19:29
10.   NetShrine
According to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, a NYT article on 7/19/82 ties it to Reiser. In 1948, the Dodgers covered the walls with foam "and, soon after, warning tracks began to appear." It says that Wrigley Field, Braves Field in Boston, and Shibe Park were the first to use them.
2006-04-21 07:19:40
11.   Shaun P
5 In the 'good old days' MLB 'stadiums' - I use the term loosely - didn't hold many people, and overflow crowds often sat on the grass in the outfield. That caused some problems, like tripping over small kids.

In retrospect, many early ballparks didn't have outfield walls at all, so maybe you're on to something in 8 42YrOldRookie.

2006-04-21 07:24:09
12.   Shaun P
4 7 This article says that Mr. Bob Sheppard is 95, as confirmed by a 'senior Yankee official':

Which makes your point 4 all the more funny, Sliced!

Though, in fairness to Pavano, it sounds like the Voice of God's hip injury was easy to fix, given that it was his artificial hip that had the problem. Perhaps Pavano needs to get an artificial butt. ;)

2006-04-21 07:37:12
13.   Shaun P
Ah, here's something, again thanks to Google -

"Beseiged by legal and financial problems, Von der Ahe moved his club to a larger park in 1892. He surrounded the place with amusement park fun, including water rides, an artificial lake, a beer garden (of course), and a horse track that rimmed the outer perimeter of the outfield. The horse track was hated by outfielders and the league office, for slightly different reasons.

(Old Chris may have inadvertently been the inventor of the outfield warning track. The thought of all those horses running around the perimeter of the inside-the-park wall also inspires what could've been a great trivia question back in 1892. - How do Browns outfielders know they've reached the warning track? Answer: They check the bottoms of their shoes.)

The press called the new facility "Coney Island West" - and they nicknamed Von der Ahe as "Von der Ha Ha." Under the heavy losses he incurred from his grand scheme and lack of support all around, Von der Ahe was forced into selling his best players to stay afloat. - This, of course, would become a way of life in the years ahead for the new Browns as well." and scroll down to April 7th

2006-04-21 07:58:20
14.   Rob Gee
Sorry to shift discussion for a moment away from warning tracks:

The Forbes valuation of the Yanks at 1 Billion also includes these interesting tidbits:

1) [The] rule that teams pay 34 percent of their net local revenue to help make poorer teams more competitive, is the reason why the Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals increased in value by more than 20 percent.

2) The Yankees and the Red Sox lost $50 million and $18.5 million, respectively, before interest, income taxes and depreciation. By not using their subsidies to boost player payroll (which was the intent of revenue sharing), the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Royals and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays each earned more than $20 million.

3) [A] visit by the Yankees can increase a home team's ticket sales by as much as 25 percent. And the Yankees account for 27 percent of all league merchandise sales, the profits of which get shared equally throughout the league to the tune of more than $3 million per franchise. In effect, much of the league operates as subsidiaries of the Bronx Bombers.

2006-04-21 08:11:17
15.   mark Lamster
Von der Ahe's outfield midway was not the first proto-warning track. The home field of the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) in the mid 1880s), Lake Front Park, was ringed by a bicycle path so the facility could also serve as a velodrome. Bicycle racing was a fad sport at the time, and Albert Spalding built the track to cash in on the phenomenon.
2006-04-21 08:13:06
16.   KJC
"...record company people are shadyyyyyy."

RE: Rob Gee's comment #14 part 2, I find it amazing that the poorer teams aren't required to invest their revenue sharing money into payroll. Why wasn't this written into the agreement? Did MLB just assume that team owners would do the right thing and not just pocket it?

2006-04-21 08:16:39
17.   Sliced Bread
13 Good stuff, re: the horse track origins of the warning track, Shaun P.

The idea of outfielders mingling with livestock makes me think of Sheffield punching out a horse, bare-knuckled, like Mongo in "Blazing Saddles."

Sheppard's 95? That's amazing. I love Jeter's idea to have him record his introduction and have it played after Sheppard retires.

2006-04-21 08:19:56
18.   Rob Gee
And one more bit of non-warning track news -

Giambi may sit tonight because of a bruised forearm. Hopefully this means more Andy and less Cairo.

2006-04-21 08:21:47
19.   Shaun P
16 I don't think there are any restrictions on what teams do with revenue sharing money. Maybe there's something about investing it in baseball operations? You can bet if there is something, its vague.

Even if there are restrictions on what a team does with revenue sharing, do you think Selig is going to enforce that against his pals in KC, Detroit, Florida, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, etc? Not bloody likely, IMHO.

I do know for a fact that the MLBPA has always been against a salary floor, as they believe imposing a salary floor will ultimately result in a hard salary cap.

2006-04-21 08:47:25
20.   monkeypants
16, 19 I don't think MLB gave (gives?) two hoots about how teams spend the revenue sharing. In fact, it might actually be better not to care. Think about it, whenever anything goes wrong in MLB the owner complain about the "economics" and blame the Yankees. The solution, extract publicly financed stadiums...and tax the Yankees. This also allows them to obscure the real reason why, by and large, their teams stink--their own mismanagement.

As for a 'salary floor', there already is a de facto floor, since players are paid a minimum salary. But I guess mot people mean a floor higher than 25xminimum in order to "guarantee" a team's commitment to winning. I wonder if this would work, or if it would just encourage owners to spend a gob of money on one or two high profile players, milk their images for as much $ as possible, and still not really try to win with the rest of the roster.

2006-04-21 08:48:40
21.   Barron
According to wikipedia:

" The dirt and finely-ground gravel (as opposed to grass) area bordering the fence, especially in the outfield. It is intended to help prevent fielders from inadvertently running into the fence. 1950s and 60s broadcaster Bob Wolff used to call it the "cinder path". The first "warning tracks" actually started out as running tracks in Yankee Stadium and Cleveland Stadium. True warning tracks did not become standard until the 1950s, around the time batting helmets came into standard use also."

2006-04-21 08:55:27
22.   its430
I've encountered many a random question from the GF during a game as well.

She also had a stumper that I've been trying to work on ever since. Maybe someone else knows this...

What is the longest at-bat ever recorded, based on the # of pitches?

I would imagine the answer would also coincide with the record for most pitches fouled back.

2006-04-21 08:59:20
23.   Simone
The Forbes article just reinforces my disgust at the rest of MLB and the Yankee haters. It makes me crazy to read and hear that the Yankees are ruining baseball when they are the only reason the league hasn't turned into the NHL. The Yankees carry this league because the other owners just want to get richer and have no interest in fielding a competitive team. I wish fans of other teams and the media would wake the hell up and start pointing fingers where it belongs, at the owners of their teams.
2006-04-21 09:02:17
24.   Dimelo
Getting off topic a little, still about baseball but poking a little fun at that other team in NY. Check this out via Deadspin...
2006-04-21 09:16:16
25.   deadteddy8
About warning tracks... Didn't Crosley Field and a few other places have short inclines to their walls before warning tracks came about? Or were those just accidents of local topography?
2006-04-21 09:36:52
26.   tommyl
Although it will never happen I'd love to see baseball split into two (or more) leagues akin to the way European soccer works. Then, the worst say 3 or 4 teams get relegated to the lower division every year, and the best few from the lower division get promoted with the added bonus of money into their bank accounts. That way, if you don't want to sink money into your team, well down you go.

It would also make the mid and end of season a lot more exciting for smaller clubs. Who's gonna stay up? The D-Rays or the Royals in a relegation battle! And if you really don't want to spend money or you're in a small market, then you are in the lower division playing against other smaller clubs so it remains competitive. In Italy, no one in their right mind expects Venice to compete with Milan, and no one whines about how Milan spend so much money.

It will never, ever happen here, but its fun to think about it.

2006-04-21 09:37:59
27.   standuptriple
Nice topic. My girlfriend asked me why they are allowed to run through 1st and no other base. Easy enough to answer, but then she asked if it had always been like that. I certainly hope so, but couldn't verify. I'm guessing somebody here knows if that was part of Abner's initial rules.
2006-04-21 09:47:48
28.   fgasparini
22 According to this, we'll never know:

I do remember reading something a long time ago, at BP I think, on what effect long at-bats have on pitchers vs. hitters, and the longest AB in their tables was I think 22 pitches long. There were very, very few ABs longer than the 10-12 pitch range.

By the way, BP concluded...(sound of conventional wisdom being punctured)...that long ABs generally result in the batter making an out, and do not help the batters who follow the marathon man get a hit.

2006-04-21 09:51:12
29.   fgasparini
28 I guess I should have said that a long at bat results in an increased chance of a batter making out compared to non-long at bats... Every at bat, generally speaking, results in an out...
2006-04-21 10:00:41
30.   KJC
from Ask Yahoo:

What's the record for most pitches thrown to one batter?

...Luke Appling, who played for the Chicago White Sox from 1930 to 1950, seems to be the frontrunner. His anecdotal pitch counts range from 19 to 24...

2006-04-21 10:04:10
31.   Knuckles
My girlfriend (now fiancee) used to ask if Ruben Sierra was dating Torre's daughter, because that's the only way she could reconcile in her head just how he got so many PH at-bats with the game on the line. Aside from telling her Joe's daughter is about 10, I had no answer for her.
2006-04-21 10:18:56
32.   its430
Thanks 28 and 29.

My girlfriend is rarely satisfied by things that don't sparkle and cause credit card debt, so I kind of knew it was a tough task to begin with.

From my limited observations it seems that the 10-12 range is certainly the typical upper limit. But I'm sure there must've been a time (perhaps involving Paul O'Neill) where an at-bat lasted into the 30+ pitch range.

And it certainly seems that Mr. Sheffield's experience in Minnesota lends to that non-conventional wisdom that long AB's lead to outs.

2006-04-21 10:24:56
33.   rbj
Cool stuff. I don't care as to how other teams spend their money (more accurately, the Yankees' money), I just wish those teams, their fans and sports writers would knock off about how evil the Yankees are for spending money on getting good players. They need to have some team play the bad guy.

the Clippers are in town this weekend. Anything special I should look for?

2006-04-21 11:18:07
34.   wsporter
My wife asked me once what the expression "on deck" meant and where it came from. I told her it referred to the batter who would hit either next or 2nd in an inning. She wanted to know where it came from. Being the way I am, I told her was an old navy expression that referred to someone being on the deck of a ship next to a gunner and that baseball started in the navy so it was kind of a natural thing.

She then asked me what "in the hole meant" So I told her it referred to a batter who would hit third in the inning or is two batters away from being up. She wanted to know where that came from so I told her it was a poker expression referring to a third card being turned faced down or being "in the hole" and I explained (I thought quite neatly) that ball players love poker so it's kind of natural. She looked at me a little skeptically but I thought she bought it.

A little later someone shot a ball "through the hole" so I had to explain the difference between that kind of 'hole' and the other. I brought up Willie Keeler and the "hole being where they aint" thing and probably made up a bunch more crap. This went on for a while when she stood up to leave and asked me if someone has to be an asshole like me to love baseball or can anyone watch? I wasn't sure.

Can anyone help me with this?

2006-04-21 11:37:54
35.   Rob Gee
33 rbj -

I'm curious if:

a) Duncan looks as overmatched as his numbers indicate
b) Melky is as locked in as his numbers indicate
c) Rasner's K rate b/c his stuff is overpowering or more a matter of trickery
d) Mitch Jones has developed an eye
e) Bean looks recovered from the knee surgery
f) Pena's defense - overated or legit


2006-04-21 12:02:25
36.   Dimelo
My favorite girlfriend, or girl in general, question/comment is when I hear them say:
"The score is 1 - 3, Yankees winning, Woo-hoo".

It just makes them so damn cute....yes, dear, it's 1 - 3 good guys.

2006-04-21 12:09:22
37.   Shaun P
MFD 35 - my own experience is that, when my wife uses the word asshole and is referring to me, there is very little one can do to salvage the situation. Short of lots of groveling or buying expensive jewelry, that is. ;)

Once over dinner, my wife (my fiance at the time) asked me how a pitcher gets a win. I was able to explain the whole convulted thing clearly, a rare event when my wife askes me a baseball question. Her response - "You've GOT to be kidding. That's so stupid! How does that tell you anything about how the pitcher really did in the game? And people really care about this?!"

At that time, I had only recently learned the stupidity of the win stat myself. I immediately realized that, despite having watched fewer than 30 baseball games in her life to that point, my wife intuitively knew more about baseball than many people employed to write or talk about baseball. Her common sense applied to baseball sometimes leads to some crazy ideas, but a lot of times, she amazes the crap out of me.

2006-04-21 12:13:41
38.   Alex Belth
Yeah, look for Elton Brand and his normal 20/10. Oh dip, those Clippers, the Yankee bad.
Thanks for all the great insights and info on the "warning track" question, guys. That's great stuff.
As far as this weekend goes, I know Cabrera has the potential to be tough but man, the Yanks must to pound Benson and especially B.Chen on Sunday.
2006-04-21 12:32:40
39.   Sliced Bread
Annoyed that I was subjecting her to another "meaningless" mid-season Yankees game, my wife inquired why a pitch outside the strike zone is called, "duh, a ball" -- and why the men I regarded as "geniuses" who created this "perfect" "thinking person's" game couldn't come up with a more clever, accurate, or descriptive name for an off-target pitch?

Asshole that I am, I responded "Why does a pedicure cost $75?"

She also thinks I'm an idiot whenever I refer to a baseball game as a "matchup" between two pitchers. It usually comes up if I'm trying to explain why it's important that I view every pitch of a particular game. For example, "It's Schilling vs. Mussina, Mich, gotta watch." She'll ask (knowing the answer) "Is Schilling pitching to Mussina?" "No, cupcake, but he's pitching against him," I'll argue. She'll counter, "No, dear, Schilling's pitching against the Yankees, in fact, he's pitching against almost every Yankee not named Mussina."
The argument always ends with me scratching my sides, jaw protruding, like the baseball lovin' chimp that I is.

2006-04-21 12:59:06
40.   alterity
my favorite significant other related question: "how many points do the yankees have?" it's useless to try to explain.
2006-04-21 12:59:49
41.   Rob Gee
39 Sliced rippin' off left and right folks! He'll be here every Tuesday and Friday...

4 The best part for history: We can always looks up photos of Meat laughing his dumbass off while injuring said dumbass. This is a man of Yankee lore.

2006-04-21 13:14:33
42.   Cliff Corcoran
This has been my favorite comments thread thus far this season. Between the fantastic arcana about warning tracks and the significant other stories, just great stuff. Thanks, everyone.

For what it's worth, most of Becky's questions tend to be of the "what's the most/least ____" variety, especially now that her understanding of the game is getting fine tuned (she's very proud that she knows what a LOOGY is). Funny, just this afternoon (I'm working from home today), I dug out the scorecard of the first game she and I ever attended together. Jim Abbott hurled a complete game to beat Jamie Moyer and the Orioles. Meatloaf sang the National Anthem. Dig:

By the way, the thing that drives me nuts is when my mom calls every Yankee run a "home run." "The Yankees got another home run!" No, ma, they . . . oh never mind.

2006-04-21 13:24:56
43.   Dimelo
This link still doesn't explain why they are bad drivers:

But it's a start....

2006-04-21 20:17:29
44.   Bruce Markusen
Sorry, Alex, I'm a late entrant on this one. I'll try to do something on the history of the warning track in my next column.

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