Home - Understanding Baseball - Baseball Guide - Stories - Poems - Links

The Base-runner

Of the four departments of play, batting, base-running, fielding, and
battery work, the most interesting is base-running. It is the most
skillful, it calls into play the keenest perception and the soundest
judgment, it demands agility and speed, and it requires more daring,
courage, and enthusiasm than all the others combined.

Its importance as a factor in winning games cannot be estimated. We only
know that a team of base-runners wins game after game in which it is
out-batted and out-fielded by its opponents. No system of scoring has
been or can be devised by which a full record of this kind of work can
be kept. The system now in vogue, crediting the number of bases stolen,
is all right so far as it goes, but it covers only a small part of the
ground. Stealing bases is a part of base-running, but it is a very small
part, and to say that the player who steals the most bases is therefore
the best base-runner, is an altogether unwarranted statement. A quick
starter, speedy runner, and clever slider might easily steal the most
bases, and yet in general usefulness fall far behind some other player.

Beginning with the more mechanical features, the first qualification for
a base-runner is the ability to start quickly. The distances on a ball
field have been laid out with such marvelous nicety that every fraction
of a second is valuable. Almost every play is close, and the loss of an
instant of time is often the loss of the opportunity.

But to start quickly means more than a quick action of the muscles; it
means also that the brain and body must act together. The base-runner
who must wait to be told what to do will always be too late. By the time
the coacher has seen the point and called to the runner and the latter
has gotten himself into action, the chance has long passed. The player
must be able to see the play himself and act upon it instantly, without
waiting to be told.

Different runners adopt different methods for getting a long start from
a base. Some take as much ground as possible before the pitch and then
start the moment they see the first motion to deliver. Others stand near
the base, and when they think it about time for the pitcher to pitch
make a start. If they happen to guess aright they get a running start,
which is, of course, a great advantage. And if they guess wrong, the
pitcher is so taken by surprise that it is always possible to return to
the base before he can throw. Of the two methods I prefer the latter.
Remaining near the base disarms suspicion, and the runner is not tired
out, by repeated feints to throw, on the part of the pitcher.

In either case the practice of standing with the feet wide apart is
altogether wrong and in violation of every principle of quick starting.
Unlike a sprinter, a base-runner must be in shape to start in either
direction, and this can be done best and quickest by standing upright
with the feet almost together. A second qualification is speed. While,
as before said, mere speed will not make a base-runner, in the full
sense of the term, yet, other things being equal, the faster runner will
be the better base-runner. Straight away running is something to which
ball players do not devote sufficient attention. While, to a certain
extent, it is a natural gift, yet every man can improve himself greatly
by practice, and if the spring training of players included more of this
work, the result would certainly be an improvement in the base-running.
Notwithstanding the importance of starting and running and sliding,
there is absolutely no attention given these matters, and, consequently,
the majority of players seem to be entirely ignorant of the proper
form. It would be a good investment for some clubs to employ a
professional sprinter to teach their men how to stand, in order to start
quickly, and how to put one foot in front of the other in the approved

An important aid also to successful base-running is the knack of sliding
well. A player skillful in this respect will often save himself when he
seems caught beyond escape. Every runner should know how to slide if he
expects to accomplish anything at all, and every man will slide who has
the proper interest in his work. Some players do not do so because they
have never learned and are afraid to try, while others seem to care so
little for the team's success that they are unwilling to take the
chances of injury to themselves. As for the former class, a half hour's
practice on sawdust or soft earth will show them how easily it is
learned, and as for the latter, they should be made to slide, even if it
be found necessary to persuade them through their pockets.

Sliding, as an art, is of recent growth, though it has long been the
practice of base-runners to drop to avoid being touched. In view of its
present importance it is amusing to read, in an article written on the
subject some years ago, an argument against the practice indulged in by
a few players of sliding to the base in order to avoid being touched by
the ball.

The old style of sliding was with the feet foremost, but there are now
various methods employed. Many runners now slide head foremost, throwing
themselves flat on the breast and stomach. Some keep to the base-line
and slide direct for the base, while others throw the body and legs out
of the line and reach for the base with a hand or foot. Among those who
always slide feet first and direct for the base, Hanlon is the most
successful. He doesn't go down until quite close to the base, and then
does not at all slacken his speed. Connor also slides feet foremost, but
instead of throwing himself at full length, he maintains a sitting
posture, and each of his slides is the signal for a laugh from the
crowd. On account of his size and the weight behind his spikes, he is
always given the entire base-line without dispute. Williamson is a very
successful slider. He runs at full speed until near the base and then
throws his body away from the baseman and his feet at the base. The
successful runners who slide flat on the stomach are Fogarty, Tiernan,
Miller, Andrews, Brown and others. Of those who go in head foremost but
throw the body out of the line and away from the baseman, are Ewing,
Glasscock, Pfeffer, Dalrymple and some others.

An expert base-runner will confine himself to no particular style, but,
being familiar with all, will use, in each instance, the one best
suited. Sometimes one style is best and sometimes another, depending
upon where the ball is thrown and the position of the baseman. I
consider Kelly the best all-round slider in the League, because he can,
and does, use every style with equal freedom.

The American Association has some of the finest runners in Nicoll,
Latham, Stovey, Purcell, and many others, but I have, unfortunately, not
seen enough of their work to speak accurately of their methods.

Though stealing bases is only a part of base-running, yet even this
requires considerable skill, and it is by no means always the fastest
runner who succeeds the oftenest. Much depends on the start, and much,
too, on the slide. I may be permitted to outline my own method: Having
reached first, I signal to the next batter when I am going to steal.
Then, standing near the base, well upright and with my feet together, I
try to get a running start on the pitcher; that is, when I think he is
about to pitch, though he has yet made no motion, I make my start. If he
does pitch I get all the ground that I would have had by playing off the
base in the first place, and I have, besides, the advantage of being on
the move. Every one who knows anything of sprinting will appreciate the
advantages of such a start. If the pitcher does not pitch I usually
manage to return to the base in safety. Having secured my start, I
expect that the batter will hit the ball, if it is a good one, into
right-field, in which case I will keep right on to third base; or, if it
is a bad ball, the batter will at east hit at it, in order, if possible,
to blind the catcher and help me out. In any event I put down my head
and run direct for the base, and in no case do I attempt to watch the
ball. It is a foolish and often fatal mistake for a runner to keep his
head turned toward the catcher while running in another direction. If
the ball is hit I listen for the coacher's direction, but if it is not,
I keep my eye on the baseman, and by watching his movements, the
expression of his face, and the direction he is looking, I can tell as
certainly just where the throw is going as though I saw the ball. If he
stands in front of the line I run back of him, and if he is back of the
line I slide in front. In every case, and whether I go in head or feet
foremost, I throw my body away from the baseman so as to give him the
least possible surface to touch with the ball.

There is an advantage in sliding head foremost, in that the runner, by
falling forward, gains the length of his body and the reach of his arm,
whereas in sliding feet foremost, he loses this. But if one always goes
in head foremost, the baseman, knowing what to expect and standing in no
fear of injury, will block the base-line. It seems necessary to
occasionally throw the spikes in first in order to retain one's right to
the line and command a proper respect from opposing basemen.

In order that the runner may not be continually cut and bruised by
gravel or rough ground he should protect his hips and knees by pads.
Some have the padding stitched to the inside of the pants, and for the
knees this is the better plan, though it interferes somewhat with the
washing of the uniform. But for the hips I prefer the separate pads,
which may be bought at any store for the sale of base-ball goods. The
best make is buttoned to a strap which hinds tightly the lower portion
of the body, and this latter feature is itself of great advantage; not
only as a matter of comfort and safety, but also for the sake of
decency, every player should wear one of these straps, the same as
athletes do in other branches of sport.

But, after all, the important factors in successful base-running are yet
to be spoken of, and the foregoing points are merely mechanical aids.
There is no other department of play in which intelligence plays so
important a part, and no matter how clever the player as a starter,
runner, or slider, these faculties will be of little value unless
directed by a quick perception and sound judgment. Indeed, they will
often serve only as traps to lead him into difficulty.

By its very nature a quick perception is an inborn faculty of the mind,
and while it may be developed by constant use, no amount of coaching can
create it. There are some players who are no more capable of becoming
good base-runners than of living under water, so unfitted are they by
nature. The power of grasping a situation and acting upon it at once is
something which cannot be taught.

In order, however, to know when a fair opportunity presents itself, the
runner must be familiar with the chances of play, and this comes only
from experience and close observation. A runner who is thoroughly alive
to all the possibilities of the game will see a chance and gain a point
where another of less ready perception would find no opening. The former
has learned to marshal at a glance all the attendant probabilities and
possibilities and to estimate, in the same instant, the chances of
success or failure.

It is not, however, always best to accept an opportunity when presented,
even where the chances of success are largely in the runner's favor. The
stages of the game must be taken into consideration, and what may be a
perfectly commendable play in one situation may be altogether reckless
and foolhardy in another. Therefore, the most important faculty of all,
the pendulum which regulates, and the rudder which guides, is judgment.
An illustration may make my meaning clear. In the ninth inning, with a
runner on first base and the score a tie, it may be a good play for the
runner to attempt to steal second, because from there a single hit may
send him home. But suppose that, instead of the score being a tie, the
side at bat is four or five runs behind, of what possible use will the
steal be now, even if successful? One run will do no good, and the only
chance of victory is in the following batters also getting around the
bases. But the hits or errors by which this must be accomplished will
also send the first runner home without a steal, so that in attempting
to steal he takes a chance which is of no advantage if successful, and
perhaps a fatal mistake if not.

Again, suppose there is a runner on third and none out and the batter
hits a short fly to the out-field, on the catch of which it is doubtful
whether the runner can score. If the next batter is a good hitter, he
will not make the attempt, trusting to the next hit for a better chance.
But if the next batter is weak and not likely to offer as good a chance
he may decide to try for the run on the small chance already presented.
These are only given as examples and they might be multiplied, because
the same problem will always present itself in a more or less imperative
form every time the runner has a play to make. The question he must
always decide is, Is this the best play, everything considered? It
goes without saying that he must answer this for himself. In conclusion,
I will describe some plays that may arise and venture some observations,
running through which the reader may discern the general principles of

There is an element in base-ball which is neither skill nor chance, and
yet it is a most important factor of success. It is the unseen influence
that wins in the face of the greatest odds. It is the element, the
presence of which in a team is often called luck, and its absence a
lack of nerve. It is sometimes spoken of as young blood, because the
younger players, as a general rule, are more susceptible to its
influence. Its real name is enthusiasm, and it is the factor, in the
influence of which, is to be found the true explanation of the curious
standing of some clubs. Between two teams of equal or unequal strength
the more enthusiastic will generally win. The field work may be slow and
steady, but at the bat and on the bases there must be dash and vim.

If, for example, it be found that a catcher is a poor thrower, or a
pitcher slow in his movements, every fair runner reaching first should
immediately attempt to steal second, and even third. This style of play
will demoralize an opposing team quicker than anything else, and even if
unsuccessful at first, and the first few runners be caught, it should
still be kept up for a couple of innings, because it will, at least,
affect the nerves of some of the opposing players, and if a break does
come, the victory will be an easy one. Every batter should be ready to
take his place quickly at the bat, and hit at the first good ball; every
runner should be on the move; and with plenty of coaching, and everybody
full of enthusiasm, it is only necessary to get the run-getting started
in order to have it go right along. This is the game that is winning in
base-ball to-day, as every observant spectator knows.

Base-running begins the moment the ball is hit. There are some players
who don't know how to drop their bats and get away from the plate. Some
stand until they see whether the hit is safe, and they run to first with
the head twisted around to watch the ball. The instant the ball is hit,
no matter where it goes, the batter should drop the bat and start for
the base; leaving the ball to take care of itself, he should put down
his head and run, looking neither to the right nor the left. Every foot
gained may be of vital importance, for in most cases the runner is
thrown out by the distance of only a few feet.

Some runners make a mistake in jumping for the base with the last step.
It not only loses time but makes the decision so plain to the umpire
that the runner fails to receive his fair share of benefit from close

A runner to first on a base hit or fly to the outfield should always
turn first base and lead well down toward second, so that if the ball is
fumbled or handled slowly or missed, he may be able to reach second. And
by hurrying the out-fielder he increases the probability of an error.

A runner should always run at the top of his speed, except in the single
case where he feels himself to be clearly within reach of his base and
then slackens up in order to draw the throw.

At no other time is there anything to be gained by slow running, and
often there is much to be lost. In the game spoken of elsewhere in this
book, between Providence and Chicago, which virtually decided the
championship for 1882, Hines was on first when Joe Start hit what looked
like a home-run over the centre-field fence. The wind caught the ball
and held it back so that it struck the top of the netting and fell back
into the field. Hines, thinking the hit perfectly safe, was jogging
around the bases when the ball was returned to the in-field. Start had
run fast and overtaken Hines, and the result was that instead of a run
scored, a man on third and no one out, both runners were put out and we
lost the game by one run, and the championship by that one game. A
player has no right to think this or that; his sole duty is to run
hard until the play is over.

When a runner is on first and a hit is made he should run fast to
second, and if possible force the throw to third. Every such throw
offers an opportunity for error, and the more of these the runner can
force the more chances there will be in his favor. By getting quickly to
second he is in a position to go on to third if the ball is fumbled or
slowly handled, or returned to the wrong point on the in-field.

So, too, a runner on second, when a hit is made, should always force the
throw to the home plate, even if he does not intend to try for the run.
In order to do this he must run hard to third and turn the base as
though he really meant to go home. Any hesitation or looking around will
fail of the object. The throw home gives the player who hit the ball a
chance to reach second base.

In a game where there is plenty of hitting runners should obviously take
fewer chances than where the hitting is light.

It is usually advisable for a good runner, who leas reached first with
two men out, to attempt to steal second, because then one hit will
likely bring him home; whereas if he stays on first it will require two
hits, or two errors in succession, and these are not likely to come,
with two men already out.

The only times to steal third are, first, when there is only one out,
for then a hit, a sacrifice, or a long fly will score the run. If there
is no one out, the chances are that a runner on second will eventually
score anyhow, and if there are two out there is little advantage gained
by stealing third. It still requires a hit or an error to score the run,
and the same would probably score it from second as easily as from
third. Second, it may sometimes be advisable for a runner on second base
to steal third, even when there are two out, provided there is also a
runner on first. Because, if successful, the runner on first also gets
to second, and the result is two stolen bases front the one chance, and
a hit will now likely score two runs instead of one.

When there is a runner on second or third with no more than one out, and
the batter makes what is apparently a long, safe hit, the runner should
hold the base until he has seen, beyond a doubt, that the hit is safe.
If safe, he will still have ample time to reach home, while if, by any
chance, it be caught, he will nevertheless get third or home, as the
case may be. A couple of seasons back a New York runner was on third,
with no one out, when the batter made what looked like a home-run hit.
The runner on third, instead of waiting to make sure, started home; the
ball was caught and, though he managed to return to third, he did not
score, as he otherwise might easily have done. The next two batters went
out, the score was left a tie, and we finally lost an important game.

Succeeding base-runners should have private signals so that they may
communicate their intentions without apprising the opposing players. A
runner on first who intends to steal second should inform the batter, so
that the batter may hit the ball, or at least strike at it. A runner on
second should notify a runner on first of his intention to steal third,
so that the other may at the same time steal second. When there are
runners on first and third each should understand perfectly what the
other purposes doing so they can help one another with the play.

In such a situation the runner on first will generally attempt to steal
second, and if the catcher throws down to catch him there are several
things which the runner on third may do. First, as soon as he sees the
throw to second he may start for home, and if he has previously decided
to do this, he should take plenty of ground front third base. Second, he
may not start for home on the throw, but if the runner from first gets
caught between first and second, it will then be necessary for him to
try to score. For this purpose he carefully takes as much ground from
third as possible, while the other player is being chased backward and
forward. Finally, when the ball is tossed by the second baseman to the
first baseman, he makes a dash for home. The idea of waiting until the
ball is thrown to the first baseman is because the latter has his back
to the plate, and not only cannot see the play so well but must turn
around to throw. Third, if the circumstances are such that he thinks
best not to try to score on the throw, he should, at least, on seeing

the throw to second, make a strong feint to run in order to draw the
second baseman in and allow the runner from first to reach second.

There is a pretty play by which one run may be scored when there are
runners on first and second. It is, however, a desperate chance and
should only be resorted to in an extremity. The runner on first leads
off the base so far as to draw the throw from the catcher, and, seeing
the throw, the runner on second goes to third. Then, while the first
runner is playing between first and second, the runner now on third
scores as described in the preceding play, waiting until the ball is
passed to the first baseman. If the second baseman is a poor thrower it
may be best to make the dash for home when the ball is thrown to him.

A runner on second may receive a signal from the batsman that the latter
intends to try a bunt, in which case the runner will try to steal
third. If the bunt is made the runner reaches third, but if the bunt
does not succeed, the attempt draws the third baseman in close and
leaves the base uncovered for the runner.

Without particularizing further, it will be seen that a base-runner must
not only have some wits but he must have them always with him. Exactly
the same combinations never conic up, new ones are continually being
presented, and in every case he must decide for himself what is best. In
view of all the circumstances, he makes a quick mental estimate of the
chances and acts accordingly. Sometimes for-time will be against him,
but if his judgment is sound he is sure to be successful in the majority
of attempts.

Next: Curve Pitching

Previous: The Batter

Add to Informational Site Network