Sunday 21 April 2013

Testing the Old Adage

You can't steal first base.

That's an old baseball truism. That saying is usually pulled out of the cliche drawer, and plugged into the conversation when a speedy young rookie comes up, swinging at everything. We hear about how fast he is, but when a player is batting under .200, he never gets a chance to show off his wheels? Why- because you can't steal first base. Once you're on first, stealing second is easiest, it's the longest throw for the catcher. Stealing third is all in the timing of the jump. Stealing home is as difficult as it is rare. Speed in baseball is a conditional threat. Unless you reach, you cannot run.

So, that's it: You can't steal first base.*

Yeah, I put that asterisk there. What fun would life be without exceptions to the rule? Even with an old axiom so obviously cut and dried, there's a way to steal first base. Not to any particular advantage, mind you, but it can still be done.

Jean Segura started this play on second, broke for third, and found himself picked off, and in a rundown. Then, he found himself standing face to face with Ryan Braun, who had also taken the opportunity to reach second base.

Then the fielder with the ball did what you should always do in this situation. Tag everybody you can, and let the umpire figure it out.
Hat tip to @gidget on Twitter
The umpire rules that Braun is out, as per the following rule:
(a) Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged and the preceding runner is entitled to the base, unless Rule 7.03(b) applies.
(b) If a runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner and two runners are touching a base to which the following runner is forced, the following runner is entitled to the base and the preceding runner shall be out when tagged or when a fielder possesses the ball and touches the base to which such preceding runner is forced.
Since Braun is not being forced to second on the pickoff, he's out by virtue of being the tailing runner. Now the funny thing is, the ball is live the whole time. If Segura is tagged while off the base, he is also out. I'm pretty sure the second glove slap from the infielder happens after he takes a step towards first, but it's a tough call. The umpire is trying to think about rule 7.03 (a), and he might not have been watching real closely for the tag there. I'm not sure I would want a replay here, because it would suck all the fun out of Segura heading back towards his dugout, then being told he should stop at first - because he's still a baserunner.

The story has more to it, of course. Courtesy of this recap from Rob Neyer. Go read it, there's another backwards base stealing tale from 1911 in there. 

The topper to the Jean Segura mix up is that he tried to steal his way back to second in the same inning, but was thrown out. Hope you were scoring at home!

What Mr. Neyer did not include in his recap was the immortal baserunning of Lloyd 'Shaker' Moseby. Captured here via YouTube clip. Shout out to @minor_leaguer and @truebluela for remembering this one.

I understand why Moseby is safe at both ends of this play. What I don't understand is why he goes back to first. The only thing I can conceive, is that he thinks the play is a fly ball, not a throw to second. Boggles the mind. In a good way, because just when you think you've seen it all.... baseball has another trick up it's sleeve.

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