Saturday, May 2, 2009

Who's on First? Where is Second?

The Tampa Bay Rays' new logo (unveiled after the 2007 season) is wrong.

It's not that I don't like the design. Actually, the new look is nice. It's sharp, straightforward, and (dare I say it?) classy.

And it's not that I'm disappointed that they've dropped the "Devil" from their name. In fact, the devil's still there. Indeed, the devil's in the details. Look closely at the positioning of second base. It's in the wrong place.

Rule 1.06 of the Official Rules of Major League Baseball states:

First, second and third bases shall be marked by white canvas bags, securely attached to the ground as indicated in Diagram 2. The first and third base bags shall be entirely within the infield. The second base bag shall be centered on second base.
And here's that "Diagram 2":

Home, first, and third bases are each neatly nestled in their corners, but second base is centered smack dob on its crook of the diamond. Strange, but true.

Well ... maybe not that strange. Perhaps an explanation is in order.

Though the earliest rules of the game did not explicitly state where the bases were to be positioned, early diagrams showed that each was to be centered on its corner of the infield diamond. It was not until 1874 that a new foul line rule made this clear:
The foul ball lines shall be unlimited in length, and shall run from the center of the home base through the center of the first and the third base to the foul ball posts. ...
Then, in 1875, the rulemakers moved home base (a 12-inch by 12-inch square like first, second, and third) so that it was completely in foul territory, with the front corner of the plate touching "the foul ball lines where they meet at the home base corner." This surprising positioning of home lasted just two seasons, after which two major changes were introduced.

First, the season of 1877 saw home base move once again, this time to a position wholly in fair territory, with its back corner touching the intersection of the first and third base lines. With the exception of the rule that altered the shape of home to its now-familiar five-sided shape, the positioning of home has remained right there. And second, that same year, the first, second, and third bases were increased in size to 15-inch by 15-inch squares.

Finally, in 1887, the positions of first and third bases moved such that "the center of the first and third bases shall be on the lines running to and from the foul lines, providing that each base be entirely within the foul lines." The reason for the change was simple. Prior to 1887, a batted ball hitting the portion of first or third that was in fair territory was a fair ball, while a ball hitting the foul portion of these bases was foul. With just one umpire on the field (the two-umpire system was not introduced until the late 1890s) having to make a split-second call as to what part of the bag was hit was exceptionally difficult. By moving the bases wholly into fair territory it rendered the point moot: any ball touching a base had to be fair.

Of course, there was no need to move second, as it had nothing to do with fair and foul balls. So it was left where it had long been: centered on its corner. It would have been nice for second to have been moved for the sake of symmetry (and for the Rays), but it was not done and ... well ... here we are.

Now, to be fair, the Rays were not the first to make the mistake of placing second base in the wrong place. Even though second base has stayed put for over 120 years, there have been numerous incorrect representations of the diamond.

A few that come to mind include ...

the 1939 baseball centennial logo (worn as a patch by every major league player in 1939):

the cover art on the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia:

the primary National League logo:

the Chicago White Sox shoulder patch (thanks to Mark Fimoff for alerting me):

and shame on the Northwest Baseball Umpires Association ... you'd think the officials would know better:

Update of September 24, 2011:

While I've found numerous examples of this common error over the years since I originally posted this entry, this one seemed particularly egregious. Here's what the Baseball Writers' Association of America's "Manager of the Year Award" looks like (or, at least, what it looked like when Mike Scioscia received his 2009 award):



  1. can you show us an example or two of someone who has second base in the right place?

  2. Follow this link for a great example of second base correctly positioned: