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Signaling






But first as to the question of signs. Every battery, by which is
meant a pitcher and catcher, must have a perfectly understood private
code of signals, so that they may make known their intentions and wishes
to one another without at the same time apprising the opposing players.
The first and, of course, most important of these is the signal by which
the catcher is to know what kind of ball to expect.

There is no necessity of more than one sign for this, because all that
any experienced catcher asks is to know when to expect a fast, straight
ball; not having received the signal for this, he will understand that a
curve is to be pitched, and the difference in curve or speed will not
bother him after a few moments' practice. Until within a few years this
sign was always given by the pitcher, but now it is almost the universal
practice for the catcher to give it to the pitcher, and if the latter
doesn't want to pitch the ball asked for he changes the sign by a shake
of the head. I think the old method was the better, because it is
certainly the business of the pitcher not only to do the pitching, but
to use his own judgment in deceiving the batsman. He should not act as a
mere automaton to throw the ball; moreover, the catcher has enough of
his own to attend to without assuming any of the duties of the pitcher.
Of course, if the pitcher is young and inexperienced, while the catcher
is seasoned and better acquainted with the weak points of batters, the
latter will be the better one to signal. It may be thought that the
right of the pitcher to reverse the sign by a shake of the head
practically gives him the same control as though he himself gave the
signs, but this is not strictly true; it is impossible for the pitcher
not to be more or less influenced by the catcher's sign, and he will
often pitch against his own judgment. At least I found this to be true
in my own experience, and therefore always preferred myself to do the
signing. If the pitcher gives this sign he must be careful to choose
one that will not be discovered by the other side, for there are certain
players always watching for such points. Some years ago the Chicago Club
gave me the roughest kind of handling in several games, and Kelly told
me this winter that they knew every ball I intended to pitch, and he
even still remembered the sign and told me what it was. Chicago finished
first that year and we were a close second. That point which they gained
upon me may have cost Providence the championship, for they beat us
badly in the individual series. When I suspected a club of knowing my
sign I used a combination, that is, I gave two signs; either one of
them given separately was not to be understood as a signal at all, but
both had to be given together. I found this to work admirably, and it
was never discovered by any club, so far as I know. If it be agreed that
the catcher is to give this sign, it is still not necessary that the
pitcher be entirely influenced by him. The pitcher should rely upon his
own discretion, and not hesitate to change the sign whenever his
judgment differs from that of the catcher.

There are certain signs which the catcher gives to basemen when there
are runners on the bases, and with these, too, the pitcher must be
perfectly familiar, so that he may be able to pitch the ball in
accordance with what is about to be done. For instance, if the catcher
has signaled to the first baseman that he will throw there, he will
probably ask the pitcher for an out curve. In order, then, to help him
out with the play and give him plenty of room, the pitcher will not only
pitch the out curve asked, but he will keep it well out and wide of the
plate, so that it can't possibly be hit, and he will pitch it at the
height where it may be best handled by the catcher. So, too, if there is
a runner on first who is likely to attempt to steal second, he will
pitch for the catcher, and he should shorten his pitching motion so as
to give the catcher as much time as possible to throw. When runners
steal on a catcher it is oftener not so much his fault as the
pitcher's. It is almost impossible to make a clean steal of second, even
with a very ordinary thrower behind the bat, if the pitcher will not
give the runner too much start.

The pitcher should also receive a signal from the catcher notifying him
when to throw to second base to catch a runner leading off too far. This
point will, however, be noticed more appropriately under the duties of
The Catcher.

As for the other bases, first and third, the pitcher should look after
them himself without any signal from the catcher. I could always stand
in the pitcher's position facing the batter and still see out of the
corner of my eye how much ground the runner on first base was taking.
As the baseman is already on the base, there is no necessity of
notifying him of an intention to throw, so, watching the opportunity, I
would throw across my body without first having changed the position of
my feet or body at all. The throw is, of course, not so swift as by
first wheeling toward the base and then throwing, but it will catch a
runner oftener. Smiling Mickey Welch plays the point to perfection,
and last season caught many men napping in this way. Its advantage is
that it is entirely legitimate. Some pitchers, in order to catch a
runner at first, make a slight forward movement, visible to the runner
but not to the umpire, as if about to pitch. This, of course, starts the
runner, and before he can recover, the pitcher has turned and thrown to
first. Notwithstanding the strictest prohibition last season of any
motion even calculated to deceive the runner, there were umpires weak-
kneed enough to allow these balks.

The easiest men to catch are the best base-runners, because they are
always anxious to get away, and they take the most chances. An
ambitious runner will keep moving up and down the line trying to get his
start. The pitcher should not appear to notice him, pretending to be
interested only in the batter, but watching the runner closely all the
time. Suddenly, and without the least warning, he should snap the ball
to the baseman. If the pitcher will choose a time when the runner is on
the move away from the base the batter will be off his balance and may
be caught before he can recover.

For the third base it may be advisable to have a signal with the baseman
to notify him of a throw. It is very seldom possible to catch a runner
off third by a throw from the pitcher, though it may sometimes be done.
Clarkson and Galvin both accomplish it at times, though they always do
it by the aid of a balk. Clarkson's method is this: With a runner on
first and one on third, the man on first will usually try to steal
second, and if the ball is thrown there to catch him, the runner on
third tries to score. In this situation Clarkson makes a slight forward
movement of the body as though about to pitch, and the runner on third,
being anxious to get all possible ground, moves forward. With the same
motion, and before the runner can recover, Clarkson, by a prior
understanding with the third baseman, throws to the base, the baseman
meets the ball there, and before the runner has quite realized what has
happened, he is out. I have reason to know the working of this little
scheme, because I was caught by it in Chicago last season in a very
close game. The balk was palpable, and I made a strenuous kick, but
the umpire refused to see it that way.

A pitcher should not be misled by what I have said into too much
throwing to bases. He should throw only when there is a fair chance of
making the put-out; for all other purposes, as to hold the runner close
to the base, a feint will answer just as well and does not entail the
possibility of an error.





Next: Strategy

Previous: The Pitcher



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