The modern Baseball pitcher utilizes myriad sleights of hand in his quest to fool and demoralize the slugger. Taunts, curses, incantations. Foreign substances added to the ball, including but not limited to urine and faeces (both human and animal) or reproductive fluids (both human and animal). Diving curvéd-balls which defy natural law and spit in the face of the one true God, YHWH. Various effete leg movements and kicks meant to distract the incorruptible batsman standing at the plate. Et cetera, dear reader. No doubt you have witnessed some or all of these deceptions if you have watched so much as a single inning of Baseball in the past century. These tricks, to be sure, are wicked, underhanded, and inexplicably condoned by the various shadowy forces which have turned our fair game into a fetid piece of Dog Shit. But reader, one of the most blatant hocus-pocuses at the pitcher’s disposal lies just under our noses—nay, under the wretched tosser’s cleats—and its sordid history is unknown to all but the most intrepid scholars.
Like Lucifer himself, it is known by many names: Coward’s Hill. The Hideous Child Grave. Scoundrel Mountain. The Filthy Circle. Scumbag’s Perch. The Earthen Rectum. The Stench Pile. Shit-Dome. Villain Summit. The Devil’s Yarmulke. The so-called “Pitching Mound” has been the bane of Baseball fans for over a century. Billions of disappointed everyday people have been forced to spend decades watching depraved losers toss their pitiful white trinkets towards our heroes, all while these pitchers prayed to their wild Pagan gods for their cruel cozenage to spare them the humiliation of giving up the spectacular and pleasing Home Run Slam. We are all familiar with this abomination, this abortion, this “mound.” But the story of its invention, remarkably unreported until now, is one of our great national shames.
In the summer of 1895, the steel mills of Pittsburgh were stirring with unrest. The men were dissatisfied with their living and working conditions. Their only joy in life was attending the games of the early Pittsburgh professional Baseball team, the Leather-Dicks, which was owned by the steel magnate Harland Abbott James, a distant cousin of Henry and William James. In June of that year, he suspended all team activity in order to increase productivity at the mills. By July, there were rumors of unionization. By August, there were rumors of a wildcat strike. By September, there was a massacre.
At exactly 11 a.m. on September 2, 1895, more than 1,000 steelworkers walked out of the Specialized Steel Incorporated mill on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Harland Abbott James was touring a nearby slurry pit and received word almost immediately. He sent messengers to notify the police, as well as his own private militia, which had been assembled in case of just such a situation. Within half an hour, there were 20 plainclothes policemen and 40 militia members gathered a hundred yards from the workers. James ordered the policemen to monitor the workers while he led his militia to the top of a nearby hill, nicknamed “Pitching Mound” due to its history as a punishment site for unruly workers, who were often subjected to James’s favorite punitive measure, tar-and-feathering.
The workers were not pleased with the display of force. They became agitated. At some point, a worker threw a rock into the throng of policemen. A melee erupted on the ground. James had seen enough. He ordered his militiamen to open fire. James watched the men collapse like ragdolls on the ground below, giddy like a schoolgirl. “Watch the strong men collapse under the rain of hot steel,” he reportedly gushed to the militia commander, “destroyed by the products of their own labor.”
The officially recorded death toll was 25, composed of 23 workers and two policemen caught in the crossfire. Dozens more were maimed for life. Only one of the strikers’ demands was met: The Baseball park was reopened, but with an alteration that would change our National Game forever.
James was concerned that the Home Run Slams of the strong and noble sluggers of the Pittsburgh Leather-Dicks might inspire the workers to organize yet another uprising. Inspired by the September 2 Massacre, he ordered the traditional field-level “Throwing Square” at the center of the diamond be replaced with a small hill that would provide the pitcher with an unbelievable advantage over hitters. He named his dastardly innovation the “Pitching Mound” to remind spectators what would happen to them if they ever decided to revolt again. There was never another strike at a James-owned mill during his lifetime.
The “Pitching Mound” soon spread to every major ballpark in the country. Andrew Carnegie, an investor in Specialized Steel and close friend of Harland James, admired the invention, calling it “a victory by civilized man over the crude and savage Irish and Italian sluggers.” He used his political influence to make the Pitching Mound a mandatory feature in all existing and future ballparks. Early mounds were fitted with plaques with an inscription composed by Carnegie himself: “Commerce. Industry. Progress. – A. Carnegie.” Any park that chose not to comply was torched by Pinkerton detectives. The aptly named “Death Ball Era” had begun.
As you sit in the Baseball park this weekend watching the lanky, emaciated ball-tossers craft their cowardly sorcery atop the Mound, remember the crimes of Harland Abbott James. Remember the 23 men who died, not including the police, who brought it upon themselves. Remember that every “pitch” thrown is a fat wad of spittle falling upon the graves of those who died fighting for labor rights. Shout, “Fuck the Mound” at anyone who will listen. We are in the 120th year of the Death Ball Era. Don’t let there be a 121st.
Mr. Baseball is a baseball historian and fan. He lives and works in the United States.
Illustration by Jim Cooke