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The First Baseman






From the fact that the first baseman has more chances to his credit
than any other player, it might seem to the casual observer that his is
the most difficult position to play; but as a matter of fact most of his
chances are of a very simple nature, involving merely the catching of a
thrown ball, and an examination of the official averages will show him
leading in the percentages year after year. The possibilities of the
position, however, have been developing. For many years, and, indeed,
until he retired from the diamond, Old Reliable Joe Start was the king
of first basemen; but, unquestionably, the play of such basemen as
Connor, Commisky, and Morrill is a steady improvement, along with the
rest of the game. Especially has there been an advance in the direction
of fielding ground hits, and it is now not an unusual sight to see a
first baseman getting a hit in short right field, and assisting in the
put-out at first or second base.

The position demands a tall man. Such a one, by his longer reach, will
not only save many wide throws, but, because he is a good mark to throw
at, will inspire confidence in the throwers. He must be able to catch a
thrown ball, whether high, low, or on either side. As to the surest way
of catching, opinions differ; but as to the best way, everything
considered, I hold the same conditions to be true here as in the case of
the catcher; that is, for a high thrown ball the fingers should point
not toward the ball, but upward, and for a low thrown ball, just the
reverse. If the throw is off to either side, the baseman must shift his
position so as to be able to reach it, and if it is so far wide that he
must leave the base, he should not hesitate to do so; he should not
imagine that he is tied to the bag. Start was the first man I ever saw
who knew how to leave the base for a wide throw. He never took the
chance of a long reach for the ball, unless, of course, the game
depended on that one put-out and there was no time to leave the base and
return. He believed, and with reason, that it was better to first make
sure of the ball and then touch the base, than, by trying to do both at
once, see the ball sailing over into the side seats.

It is a difficult play when the throw is to the baseman's left, in
toward the runner, because of the danger of a collision with the latter.
To the average spectator who may never have had much experience on the
field, these collisions between players may seem trifling affairs, but
they are not so regarded by the players themselves. In the history of
the sport many men have been seriously injured in this way, and a few
killed outright. For two weeks once I was obliged to sleep nights in a
sitting posture as the result of a shock of this kind, and it was months
before I recovered entirely from its effects. To avoid a collision when
the ball is thrown in this way many good basemen stand back of the line
with the right foot touching the base, and allow the runner to pass in
front of them. There was one first baseman who used simply to reach in
his left hand and pick the ball from in front of the runner with as much
ease and safety as though it were thrown directly to him. I mean
McKinnon, poor Al McKinnon! What a flood of affectionate recollections
his name brings back. Kind-hearted, full of fun, manly, honest, and
straightforward to the last degree, he was one whose memory will always
be green in the hearts of those who knew him well.

In picking up low thrown balls which strike the ground in front of the
baseman, some become much more expert than others. One of the best, I
think, is Phillips, who played last season with Brooklyn, and is now
with the Kansas City Club. When the bound is what is called a short
bound, that is, where it strikes but a few inches in front of the
hands, the play is really not a difficult one if the ground is at all
even; but where it strikes from one to three feet beyond the hands, it
requires considerable skill to get it, especially if the ground cannot
be depended upon for a regular bound. In this latter case the bound is
too long for a pick-up and too short for a long bound catch; so that
the only thing to do is to calculate as nearly as possible where the
ball should bound and then try to get the hands in front of it. It will
be found easier to reach the hands as far forward as possible and then
give with the ball, that is, draw the hands back toward the body in
the direction the ball should take on its rebound. A player should never
turn his face away, even at the risk of being hit, for by watching the
ball all the time, he may be able to change the position of the hands
enough to meet some slight miscalculation as to the direction of the
bound.

In fielding ground-hits, the same rule applies to the first baseman as
to every other fielder; that he should get every hit he possibly can,
with the single qualification that he shall avoid interference with
other fielders. But as between a possible interference and a failure to
go after a ball that should have been stopped, the interference is much
to be preferred. There are some basemen who seem to think there is a
line beyond which it is forbidden them to go; they act as though they
were tied to the base-post by a twenty-foot lariat. Having fielded a
ground-hit, the baseman will usually himself run to the base; but
sometimes the hit is so slow or so far toward second or he fumbles it so
long that there is no time left for him to do this. In such case he will
toss the ball to the pitcher, who has covered the base. In making this
play a baseman should not wait until the pitcher reaches the base before
throwing, as it loses too much time, and he should not throw the ball at
all, because it makes a difficult catch; but he should pitch the ball
easily in front of the pitcher so that he and the ball will both meet at
the base. A little practice will make this play plain and simple, and
the advantage of doing it in this way will easily be seen.

There are times when, with runners on the bases, the play will not be to
first, but to second, third, or home. With a runner on first, many
batters try to hit into right field, because with the second baseman
forced to cover second for a throw from the catcher, the space between
first and second is left almost unguarded. But if the first baseman will
be on the alert for such a hit, and throw the runner out at second, he
not only balks the play but frightens following batters from attempting
the same hit. With a runner on third and not more than one man out, all
the in-fielders will play closer to the bat, so as to throw the runner
out at home on an in-field hit; in such case if the batter should strike
out, and the third strike be dropped, the first baseman should not go to
his base to receive the throw from the catcher, but meet it on the line
as near as possible to the plate. He is then able to touch the runner on
his way to first and to throw home if the man on third attempts to score
on the throw to first. It may be possible to make a double play by first
touching the runner to first and then throwing home; but if the runner
to first holds back and there is danger of the man from third scoring,
it is obviously best to throw home and cut him off, ignoring entirely
the runner to first.

Another point in which many basemen are remiss is in backing up. On all
throws from left or left-centre field to second base he should get in
line with the throw, and on all throws from the same fields to the plate
he should also assist in backing up, unless there is some special
necessity for guarding his own base.

There is a prevalent belief that it matters little whether a first
baseman can throw well or not, but a moment's consideration will show
the fallacy of this. There are some plays in which he needs to be a hard
and accurate thrower; with a runner on second and a ball hit to the in-
field the runner will sometimes wait until it is thrown to first, and
then start for third. In such case only the best kind of a return by the
first baseman will head him off. So also in long hits to extreme right
field he may have to assist the fielder by a throw to third or home.

It will thus be seen that there are points of play at first base which,
in the hands of an ambitious fielder, may be developed into very
considerable importance.





Next: The Second Baseman

Previous: Signaling



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