Hershberger: On stealing first base

From SABR member Richard Hershberger at Ordinary Times on July 23, 2019:

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball has been in the news of late.  This is a minor league, but an independent league.  It is not part of Minor League Baseball, nor are its teams affiliated with major league clubs.  This is not to say that it isn’t chummy with Major League Baseball. It has partnered with MLB, volunteering to be a testing ground for various ideas for rules revisions.  This managed to get it in the news.

The most flashy experimental rule is to allow the batter to “steal” first base on any ball not caught by the catcher. This is to say, on a wild pitch or passed ball. The scare quotes are because the play does not seem to be scored as a stolen base, but as a fielder’s choice.  It is being called a “steal” to convey that running is optional, but it isn’t really a steal.  Rather, it is a creative reinterpretation of the dropped third strike rule.

The dropped third strike is a vestige of very early baseball. Originally, the dropped third strike rule and the regular third strike rule were one and the same. The pitcher stood next to the batter and tossed the ball upwards. The batter hit it on the way down. If he managed to swing and miss three times, the ball was in play anyway. This was a pace of play issue, keeping the game moving even when the batter was truly hopeless. While ball was in play, the pitcher was right there to pick it up, so this wasn’t a strategy any batter would adopt on purpose. Over the years the pitcher moved into the middle of the infield and a catcher was positioned behind the batter. The rule remained the same: If the batter swung and missed three times, the ball was in play. The difference was that the catcher was in position to catch the pitch. This put the batter out, just like any fielder catching a batted ball.

Read the full article here: https://ordinary-times.com/2019/07/23/on-stealing-first-base/

Originally published: July 24, 2019. Last Updated: July 24, 2019.