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(A sequel to “The Battle of Base-ball")
BY C. H. CLAUDY
- CHAPTER IV SOME POINTS OF STRATEGY
THERE are things in a ball game not mentioned in the rules. A team made up of players who had never seen nor read of a game, and had never had any instruction outside of the rules, would have no hit-and-run plays; no squeeze plays; probably no men caught “flat-footed” off base; no double steals; no delayed steals; no shifting of the infield according to the runners on, the score, and the “outs”; no signaling; no signal-stealing; no hidden-ball tricks; no “stalling” tricks, by which a player is led to think a ball is fielded in one place when it is really fielded elsewhere—in fact, the very heart and soul of base-ball would be missing. The batter would hit or walk and patiently wait for his successor to hit or walk to advance him. Runs would be in exact proportion to hits, and outs would be made only in the stereotyped ways, and—nobody would care either to play or to see the game ! So it might be said, without much fear of contradiction, that the strategy of the game, the part played by brains and wits, is more to baseball than athletic ability to run, hit, field, or throw, spectacular and exciting as plays made only by strength, muscle, and skill must always be. In spite of the fact that many professional players complain that “there are no new plays,” while it is true that much of the strategy of base-ball has become so usual as to be, in many of its special turns, well known, there is always a chance to invent something new, to “pull off something different.” Indeed, this is one of the charms of the game. And if you sit down with a pencil, a piece of paper, a dozen small buttons for players, and work out some strategy of your own, you will only be doing what many a manager and player do in the effort to catch sight of a new angle of the game, and effect a play not generally known to base-balldom. Perhaps the easiest and most effective way to play base-ball on a sheet of paper, is to take up some play or some situation, in a game you have seen, and try to figure out, from what actually did happen, what might have happened had the strategy of the play been different. For instance, Fig. I shows an incident of a game played last year between Philadelphia and Brooklyn. In the fifth inning, this is the situation: there is one
out, a man on second, and the batter (Number 8 in the batting order) bunts. The catcher fields the bunt midway down the path to the pitcher. A throw to third or first will get a man—if it is in time ! “Therefore,” argues this catcher, “as I am equally distant from first and third, and want by all means to get the leading man, I will throw to third.” He does so, the runner slides around the third baseman, the other runner is safe on the “fielder's choice,” and the game goes merrily on—two men on, and only one out. The next batter, of course, bunts also, and with the bunt, the bunt-and-run play (or “squeeze”) is tried; the runner from third scores with a slide, the batter being put out at first base, making two out. But this brings the top of the batting order up again, the leading man hits a sharp single to right, the man on second scores, and the batting team gains a lead of two runs, which finally wins the game. Now, let us suppose that the catcher who started all this trouble had been a strategist as well as a stereotyped ball-player and thinker. His mental processes would then have run something like this: “I am equally distant from first and third. I can throw to third without turning. But the man from second has a long, long lead. I may not catch him. I am sure to catch the runner going to first. And that brings the opponents' pitcher to the bat, and there will be two out. He can't afford to bunt, he must hit. He is a weak batter. He has struck out twice already. It is much better to have the sure out, two out, a man on third, a weak hitter up, than two on, one out, a weaker hitter who can, however, bunt (with only one out), and a leader of the batting list on deck" (Fig. 2). The two diagrams show this simple little bit of strategy very clearly, and the boy who worked this out on a piece of paper, after seeing this particular catcher lose a game, himself shut off a winning rally the very next afternoon with just the play here suggested—which might be called “taking the safe chance.” Perhaps the simplest, best-known piece of baseball strategy is the “hit-and-run.” With a runner on first, the signal is flashed that the batter will hit, say, the third pitched ball (if he can). The base-runner gets as long a lead as he dares, and the instant the pitcher draws back his arm for the pitch, is off for second. If the batter misses the ball (as when the catcher has guessed the play and called for a pitch-out), the runner is making a straight steal; with perfect handling, he should be out at second by six feet or more. If the batter hits the ball, he may hit into a double play; he may simply “force” the man going to second; he may hit a plain sacrifice; or he may send the ball through the second baseman's position (second baseman having covered the bag to take the throw, as he sees the runner on first start), with the result that this runner careers on to third—which is really the whole object of the play (Fig. 3). Base-ball generals have lain awake nights devising ways to stop this play. Some of them are quite wonderfully conceived, indeed! A small lad I know came to me recently with a diagram and many smiles. “Why won't this stop it?” he wanted to know. “When the runner on first starts to steal, the second baseman covers second and the first baseman runs to the second baseman's position in the field.
And my little friend retired, crestfallen, to think up a better scheme. If the batter did hit over first base, with the first baseman drawn away to cover the second baseman's territory, the probable result would be an exciting play at the plate, and a man on third, and all resulting from what should only have been, normally, a sure out, or, at most, a short single.
Generally speaking, the “antidote” for the hitand-run is the “pitch-out.” A careful attention to the outs, the inning, the score, the desperation of the attacking side, the character of the man at bat (that is, what he has done before, that day), and, if possible, a reading of the hit-andrun signal, will tell the expert catcher when the hit-and-run is to be tried, and enable him to call for the pitch-out, which will give him a chance to nail the runner at second (Fig. 4).
Base-runners, as they run well or ill, have much to do with the successful work of pitchers. The more runs the nine wins, the more easily the
pitcher can work; the less “lead” the nine gives
the pitcher, the more he must “put on the ball.” Similarly, with a close game, the least wobble in base-running tactics may mean the game—get
the PLAY AS it WAS PLAYED. Pitcher pitches, ball is bunted, catcher runs in and fields bunt, has an F.C., and elects to throw to third. Third baseman runs in on the bunt,
sees catcher is fielding it, scuttles back to third.
safe, since he was not forced, and baseman had to touch him. Meanwhile bunter gets safe at first. Next batter also bunts, a run is scored, man now on first gets to second, and the following batter (top of batting order) hits a single, when man then on second scores, making two runs, which
Then the ball, if hit toward the second baseman's field position, is stopped by the first baseman. And if there is no hit, there is some one on second to take the throw !” And that was all right as far as it went. asked the lad this question: “Suppose the batter hits directly over or just inside first base. Who is to field the ball then P”
ting caught off the sacks may not necessarily mean bad base-ball, but it is certainly an example of strategy gone wrong ! You remember, of course, the time Snodgrass, of the Giants, spiked Baker, of the Athletics, and there was such a howl raised about the New York player and his methods? Some one was anxious to stir up trouble, for, as every player knows, with the score a tie in the tenth inning, and the chance to score in sight, no player is bothering about another, or laying plans to hurt him. What the runner wants to do is to score Snodgrass was on second. Lapp was catching. He was letting the Giant base-runner take a long lead, and he was getting pitch-outs, too, to catch him if he stole. He wanted him to try to steal. And Snodgrass wanted to steal. But he was afraid—afraid with the anxiety which must come to him who knows that on his shoulders
to Snodgrass, had permitted him long leads, and then had frightened him with wide pitch-outs, which Snodgrass was in the best position to see. So he had Snodgrass “going back” with the pitch —and that is not the way to steal bases Probably in no place in a game is the strategic brain of the captain or manager worked harder than with the “acute situation” to deal with. The acute situation, as every one knows, consists in having a man on third and one on first. It is acute with none out, more acute with one out,
Pitcher pitches, ball is bunted, catcher runs in and fields bunt, has an F. C., and elects first base.
There being two out, he cannot bunt with any prospect of the play being successful.
Note for both diagrams: To avoid confusion, only the movements of
throw, and runner who bunted is out by yards. weak hitter, up. Being a weak
First baseman runs in, covers bag, receives But there are now two out, and the pitcher, a A hit is the only thing which will help. Compare with result as in other diagram.
layers who take part in the play are shown. . Of course every fielder
starts in on an expected bunt, and, once the man who is to field it is clearly seen by the rest, the basemen all cover their bags. These movements
are omitted in all diagrams for the sake of plainness.
rests, for the time being, not only the game, but perhaps a World's Championship. Finally Lapp had a passed ball. It may have been an intentional one—no one knows but Lapp. At any rate, it was short. But Snodgrass was not in position to take advantage of it—Lapp's evident alertness and those pitch-outs had made him nervous, and with every pitch he had started back a little toward second. He did so this time, then saw the passed ball, sprinted for third, crashed feet first into Baker, spiking him, was called out, and the Giants' chances went glimmering ! Whether the passed ball was intentional or not, whether Lapp let the ball roll a few feet from him in an attempt to tease Snodgrass into trying for third, or whether it was an incident of the game, matters not. The strategy of the Athletics' catcher had caught Snodgrass just as surely, for he had had his pitcher pay no attention
and most acute with two out, from the standpoint of the running side. Of course, to the defense, the more men out, the easier the play seems The situation is acute because there are so many ways of dealing with it, and so many different angles of the play. Thus, the man on first steals second madly, the catcher throws to second to catch the thief, the runner on third scores. Lovely 1. Only it is almost never worked that way in the Big Leagues. Generally, it is like this: the man on first starts to steal second, the catcher throws, the man on third starts home, the throw goes to short-stop or second baseman, who has come in to take the throw, the ball is returned, and the run is cut off at the plate (Fig. 5). But this short-throw play had not been worked more than a dozen times before managers began to go about the offense differently. Instead of starting for second like a sprinter doing the hundred-yard dash, the runner on first proceeded to jog, sometimes even to walk to second base ! This was awful, indeed Think of a club which permitted a base-runner to walk to second base ! Yet the quick throw to the shortstop coming in and his return to the plate did not do a bit of good against the runner who tried to steal second base slowly. He merely kept on jogging and laughed, and, of course, the man on third, seeing the man going to second so slowly, watched for the fielder coming in and made his run back to third instead of to home. Meanwhile, the minute the short-stop let the ball fly to catcher, the man going to first woke up and ran in earnest, and with his lead of half the distance, no catcher could catch him. Result, one stolen base—a hit now means two runs ! It took a little time for strategists to figure this out. But they did it. And the defense to the slow or “delayed” steal of second with a man on third, sometimes results in one of the prettiest plays in all base-ball. It consists simply in the short-stop, who runs in to take the short throw, holding the ball and making a motion to throw to third, which chases the runner back to third. Meanwhile, the short-stop is dancing over toward second base. Finally he throws the ball to second base, and the runner from first starts back to first again. He is either allowed to get back to first safely, or is run down, each fielder keeping a watchful eye on the man on third, and the instant he makes a break for the plate, leaving the man between first and second alone, and sending the ball home. Properly executed, this series of plays becomes spectacular in the highest degree, and it takes a cool hand, and an old one with the score book, to get all the “assists,” “steals,” “outs,” and “put-outs” properly credited. Although it is too complicated to diagram, it shows beautifully on the record, and on the field it illustrates base-ball strategy (as contrasted with straight-hitting and straight-running base-ball) in the highest degree. Have you ever sat in the stand and berated the pitcher for turning and throwing to first to keep an over-anxious base-runner glued to his sack, and scolded him for not, apparently, making any real effort to get the runner? . And then have you cheered mightily when the catcher threw to the first baseman, who caught the runner off with neatness and despatch? “Oh,” you may have said, “that catcher knows his business, at any rate | Nothing weak about his throwing down to first ' The pitcher could have done it a dozen times | He must be lazy. But, my l how that catcher did line that ball down He 's playing some ball, all right !”
Pitcher delivers ball—runner on first starts with the throw. Second baseman, seeing runner start, covers second base. . But batter hits the ball through second baseman's position. He would field it if he was there, but he is covering second to take the catcher's throw in case batter fails to hit. As batter does make base-hit, runner, with flying start, continues to third, beats the throw in from outfield by a slide, and takes two bases on a single. Batter, of course, is safe at first.
Note: If short-stop covers bag, of course second baseman would field ball. But, then, if batter hits through short-stop's position, the same conditions obtain.
innings. The coacher seems crazy. The manager is elated. The stands cheer. The pitcher and catcher approach each other. “Tell him all about it now,” yell the fans. “Tease him a bit, he 's anxious,” is what the catcher says. So the pitcher pretends to be very watchful indeed, but throws rather lazily to first. The first baseman, who knows what those lazy throws mean, makes a great pretense of jabbing around with the ball, trying to reach an elusive leg as it comes sliding back. Perhaps he even pretends to be a little lazy himself. “You 're too quick for me,” he says with a grin, as the runner dances away, just a little farther. Then, when the pitcher, apparently disgusted at the violent yells from the stands to “Play ball !” “Go on with the game,” etc., does pitch, he pitches wide, the first baseman darts back to the bag with the pitch, the catcher, waiting, turns and hurls the ball down to first, and the runner, having been teased and excited into taking a long lead, is caught “flat-footed.” That is base-ball strategy, and the pitcher's lazy throws were as much a part of it as anything else, since they were designed to give the base-runner the idea that he could take liberties, get a little farther off, in his lead, every time, until finally, flushed with success and his agility in eluding being touched out, he dares just a bit too much, and then—zing ! goes the ball from the catcher, and the runner is out ! But even when “catching him flat-footed” is not possible, or, if tried, is unsuccessful, the lazy
poised on tiptoe, arms swinging; every muscle straining, first toward second, then back toward first; watching the pitcher like a hawk, and keeping an eye on the catcher, the first baseman, and his own coacher, all this is tiring to a baserunner. And half a dozen slides back to first will “take the edge” off any runner for the time being. It may slow him up but a quarter of a second in his run for second base when he does make it— but a quarter of a second means three feet! On the other hand, the oftener the pitcher can be made to throw to first, particularly if he can be teased into throwing hard, the more he “throws out of his arm,” and the less effective he is going to be later in the game. Which is another reason for a pitcher's not hurling down to first too hard, not to mention that always possible error in which an overthrow “throws away the game.” It is a curious thing, how much base-ball so many base-ball fans don't understand Of
HOW the hit-And-RUN is stopped.
Catcher guesses the play, and calls for a waste ball. pitch. Second baseman covers bag.
- Pitcher pitches outside the plate; batter cannot hit it. Runner on first starts with the Catcher gets ball, throws to second baseman covering bag, and runner is easily tagged out.
with Fig. 3 and see what happens when batter hits—this diagram shows exactly why second baseman (or short-stop, as case may be) must cover
bag whenever runner is seen to start with the pitch.
throws from the pitcher have their use. With none out, a man on first and the game young, a steal is not apt to be tried at once. “Wait and see if we can't hit a little,” is generally the order. But with two out, the man on first is going down to second if he possibly can: hence the greater alertness of the pitcher and catcher at that stage of the inning. Now, standing eight or ten feet from the bag,
one of them say, “Well, I 've been playing ball all my life, but that was a new one to me,” referring to something that happened during the day's play. But the fan who shouts advice and condemnation, more often than not, does not really know anything about the real play of the game at all. He can appreciate a strike-out, or a threebase hit, or a neat bit of fielding, and probably knows why, with one out, the score a tie, and a man on third, the left-fielder lets a long foul