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On This Date in Sports December 3, 1968: Level the Playing FIeld

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Baseball owners announce that the pitcher’s mound will be lowered from 15 inches to 10 for the 1969 season. They also announced an adjustment in the strike zone, shirking from the shoulders for high strikes to the letters on the uniform. The move came after a season of historic pitching numbers to help boost the offense. The move worked as games combined score went from 6.84 to 8.14 runs per game.

Everywhere you looked during the 1968 baseball season, pitching was the story as seven pitchers finished with an ERA under 2.00, while the average MLB ERA was 2.98. Nobody was more impressive than St. Louis Cardinals ace at Bob Gibson who was named MVP and won the Cy Young in the National League with a 22-9 record and a mind-boggling 1.12 ERA that is the best in the live-ball era. Luis Titan of the Cleveland Indians had the best ERA in the American League at 1.60. Teammate Sam McDowell had a 1.81 ERA and Dave McNally of the Baltimore Orioles finished with a 1.95 ERA. Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers who was baseball’s last 30-game winner posted an ERA of 1.96, winning the American League MVP and Cy Young. Tommy John of the Chicago White Sox, surgically produced a 1.98 ERA, while Bobby Bolin of the San Francisco Giants finished at 1.99.

Another pitcher who dominated in 1968 was Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who set a record with a scoreless streak of 58 and two-thirds innings. Drysdale would finish the season with a 14-12 record with a 2.15 ERA.

Also having great ERA were a pair of New York rookies, in the American League Stan Bahnsen had a 2.05 ERA and won the American League Rookie of the Year, while Jerry Koosman of the Mets finished at 2.08 and finished a close second to Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

As a consequence of the low ERA numbers and great pitching, offenses across the game struggled. All hitters combined for a .237 batting average, the lowest in the history of Major League Baseball as seven teams had team averages under .230. In the American League, Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox was the only hitter to have a .300 average, winning the batting title at .301. The National League did not fare much better, with five hitters over .300, including Pete Rose, who won the batting title at .335. A pair of Alou brothers also hit over .300 with Matty Alou of the Pittsburgh Pirates at .332 and Felipe Alou with the Atlanta Braves, posting an average of .317. Meanwhile, Alex Johnson of the Cincinnati Reds hit .312 and Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals hit .301.

After the 1961 season due to the increase of home runs, led by Roger Maris record 61 with the New York Yankees, baseball changed the strike zone from the knees to the letters, to the knees to the shoulder. With the 1968 pitching dominance the strike zone was reverted back to the letter-high. In addition to the mound being lowered to ten inches. The move had the desired effect as offenses improved in 1969, bring ERA and batting averages back to their normal balance.