Deane: The oldest trick in the book

From SABR member Bill Deane at Our Game on June 9, 2015:

I first started “collecting” hidden-ball tricks in the 1980s. Employed as Senior Research Associate for the National Baseball Library from 1986–1994 and working on my own projects after hours, I spent hundreds of hours a year doing research for myself and others. Inevitably, I stumbled across interesting tidbits which had little or nothing to do with what I was working on, and I kept various lists based on these findings. Many of these feats, like three-pitch innings, and scoring from first base on a single, turned out to be not as uncommon as I thought. But the hidden-ball trick held up as a rare and remarkable event, roughly as uncommon as a no-hitter.

My project blossomed thanks to the internet and considerable help from others. To date, I have documented 264 successful executions of the HBT in the major leagues.
The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary defines the hidden-ball trick as “a time-honored legal ruse in which a baseman [I’d say “infielder”] conceals the ball and hopes that the baserunner believes it has been returned to the pitcher. When the runner steps off the base, he is summarily tagged out with the hidden ball.”[1] SABR member Eric Sallee gives a good explanation of what is required for the play to be successful, saying “the sun, the moon, and the stars all have to be in alignment in order for it to work:

1. Play cannot be ‘dead,’ i.e., time is not ‘out’;
2. The pitcher cannot be touching or straddling the pitching rubber;
3. The umpire has to be alerted or paying attention;
4. A bonehead runner must be willing to take a lead off a bag before the pitcher toes the slab; and
5. The bonehead runner’s teammates and base coaches all have to be asleep, as well.”

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Originally published: June 9, 2015. Last Updated: June 9, 2015.