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Pieces of Our Past: November Week 2

Pieces of Our Past: November Week 2

Making Every Pitch Count: Pitch Counter Among the Tools of the Trade for Little League Umpires


Four balls for a walk and three strikes for an out were established in baseball in 1889, five decades before the birth of Little League Baseball. The need for an umpire to count the number of balls and strikes per player resulted in a tool known as a ball-strike indicator.

An indicator used by a Little League umpire is on display in the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in South Williamsport, Pa.

The indicator records the number of strikes, balls, outs and the inning.

Umpires are directed to use the indicator as a tool, not a crutch. They are directed to “refrain from holding your indicator in front of your eyes after every pitch.”  Instead, umpires are trained to change an indicator without looking at it and when they do look at it, umpires are to hold it by their left hip and “glance down to see the count.”

In the mid-1800s, indicators changed from season to season as the rules for walks and strikeouts varied. At one point, the ball count was as high as nine in 1874. By 1887, the numbers changed to five balls and four strikes before settling to four and three, respectively, in 1889.

The indicator is part of an exhibit that features Howard Gair, who served as Little League’s umpire-in-chief for many years, and Frank Rizzo, who umpired all of the Little League World Series games from 1947 to 1988.

During his tenure, Mr. Gair umpired 495 Little League games starting in 1940. Mr. Gair went on to become perhaps the best-known amateur umpire in baseball history.

Mr. Rizzo was umpire-in-chief for many years after Little League moved from Williamsport across the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to its complex in South Williamsport in 1959.

This research was made possible through a General Operating Support Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The Museum is located at 525 Route 15 Highway, just south of Williamsport, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and by group appointment from Labor Day through Memorial Day. Its hours are extended during the summer season. The facility is accessible to the disabled.

Rates are $5 for adults; $3 for those 62 and older; $1.50 for children between the ages of 5 and 13. There is no fee for children 4 or younger. Group rates and tours are available. The Museum also offers birthday parties and after-hours facility rentals.

The Museum is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days.

For more information, call the museum at (570) 326-3607; or visit http://www.LittleLeague.org/Learn_More/museum.htm.