The simplest of the three out-field positions is the left-field, and one
evidence of this is seen by the fact that a left-fielder almost
invariably leads in the averages.
If fielding were the only consideration, the man who was the surest
catch, who could run the fastest and throw the longest, would be the
best man for the left-field position; but other points enter into the
question. A team, to win, must have hitters as well as fielders, and it
is therefore usual to fill up the outfield with good batters, even at
the expense of a slight weakness in fielding.
Considered simply as a fielder, the occupant of the left-field should
have a good eye to judge a ball hit in the air. The moment the hit
is made he must be able to tell its direction and locate the place where
it is going to fall. The best fielders acquire a remarkable skill in
this respect and are able to decide these things at a glance. The
fielder who is obliged to keep his eye on the ball all the time it is in
the air will not cover nearly so much ground as the one who is able to
put down his head and run until near the ball. Particularly is this true
of a fly hit over the fielder's head. The player who attempts to run
backwards or sideways for the ball, or who turns his back to the ball
but keeps his head twisted around so as to see it, will not begin to get
the hits that a man will who is able to locate the hit exactly and then
turn and run until he has reached the spot where the ball is going to
fall. If the eyesight is good any fielder can learn to do this, all it
requires being sufficient practice and plenty of confidence.
Another qualification for a fielder is the ability to start quickly and
run fast. The player who excels in these respects will, of course, get
more hits than one who starts and runs slowly.
Next, he must be a sure catch on a batted ball, no matter in what shape
he may be obliged to take it, whether running toward or with the ball,
and whether it be high, low, or on either side. Many fielders are sure
of a ball if they can get it in a particular position or at a certain
height, but this is not enough, for it is not always possible to do
this. A player who feels himself weak on any point should practice and
practice upon that particular thing until he has mastered it. If he can
catch hits on his right better than on his left side, let him practice
catching only on the left; if he is weak on hits over his head, he
should have some one bat to him thus, until he has overcome the
weakness. Any failing of this nature may be corrected by practice.
A fly ball should never be caught holding the hands and arms rigid. The
fielder should reach up to meet the ball and then bring the hands down
easily with it. There are some balls hit to the outfield, as well as to
the in-field, which the fielders cannot possibly reach with both hands
but may be able to get with one. In a game played to-day (May 7th),
between New York and Indianapolis, Hines, of the latter Club, made a
marvelous one-hand catch of a hit that would otherwise have been good
for three bases; and the effect of that one play off the first New York
batter was so bracing to the rest of the Indianapolis team that it
probably accounted for the strong and winning game they afterwards
played. So that, while discountenancing one-hand plays when two hands
may be used, I still think every fielder should practice one-hand
catches, to be prepared for such a play when it becomes necessary.
In fielding balls hit along the ground, the fielder should not wait
until the ball comes to him, but run in to meet it as quickly as
possible. Then, if fumbled, he may still have time to get it back to the
infield before base runners can take an extra base.
The instant an out-fielder gets a ball in his hands he should throw it
to some point in the in-field. The habit of holding a ball is extremely
dangerous. If the bases are clear and a single base-hit is made the ball
should be sent at once to second base. If there is a runner on first, it
should be thrown to third base, because if sent to second a bold runner
will sometimes keep right on to third. If there is a runner on second
when the hit is made and the left-fielder secures the ball quickly, he
should throw it to third, because most runners will over-run that base
in order to draw the throw to the home plate, and a quick throw to the
base will catch them before they can return.
The left-fielder is expected to back up the second and third bases on a
throw from first base or right-field. He should also back up third on a
throw from the catcher, and to this end must be on the look-out for the
catcher's signal. He must also back up the centre-fielder when that
player runs in to meet a hit, for, though he may not be able to get in
front of the ball, he will still be able to recover it quicker than the
centre-fielder in case it gets by the latter. He should also get near
the centre-fielder when the latter is trying for a high fly, so that if
the ball is missed he may assist in sending it quickly to the in-field.
As soon as a fielder has decided that he can get to a hit and has made
up his mind to take it, he should call out loudly and distinctly, I'll
take it. That gives every one else warning to keep out of the way, and
avoids the chance of collisions. On the other hand, if he is running for
a hit and hears some other fielder call out, he should reply, quickly
and clearly, Go ahead. That gives the other fielder confidence, and he
need not hesitate or take his eye from the ball to learn the location of
other fielders. If this very simple rule is observed there will never be
any collisions, nor will any hits that should be caught be allowed to
drop between fielders.
On all long hits out of the fielder's reach he should go after the ball
with all possible speed and return it to the in-fielder, who has gone
out to help him back with the ball. If he misses a fly he should get
after the ball at once and send it to the proper point on the in-field,
and not walk after it simply because he has missed it.
Andy Leonard, of the old Bostons, was, in his day, one of the best of
left-fielders. He was particularly strong on balls hit over his head,
which he always took over his shoulder while running with the direction
of the hit. He was also a remarkably bard and accurate thrower.
Next: The Centre Fielder
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