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The Short-stop

Originally, it is said, the short-stop's chief function was as tender to
the pitcher, though this soon became an unimportant feature of his work.
The possibilities of the position as a factor in field play were early
developed; such fielders as George Wright and Dick Pearce soon showed
that it could be made one of the most important of the in-field. But the
same legislation which almost crowded the third baseman out of the game,
affected materially the short-stop's work, and it is only within the
past couple of years that he has regained his former prominent place.

During 1887 there was more hitting to short than to any other in-field
position; though the second baseman averaged more total chances, on
account of a greater number of put-outs, the assists were in favor
of the short-stop.

The conception of the position has also undergone some changes, and
when, therefore, I say that the position is now played more effectively
than ever, it is not to assert that the players of the present are
better than those of the past, but simply that these changes have been
in the line of improvement, that the short-stop now makes plays never
thought of in former years--in short, that the development of the
position has kept pace with the rest of the game.

In the early days short-stop was played on the base line from second to
third, or even several feet inside the diamond; now it is played from
ten to twenty and sometimes thirty feet back of the line. The result is
a vast increase in the amount of territory covered; hits are now fielded
on either side which once were easily safe; short flies to the outfield,
which formerly fell between the in and outfielders, are now, many of
them, caught; the shortstop backs up the second and third bases, helps
hold a runner on second, and, on a throw from pitcher or catcher, the
second base is covered by him almost as often as by the baseman himself.
Playing so much further from the batter, he will make inure errors; he
can seldom fumble a hit and still make the play; his throw to first is
longer, and must therefore be swifter and more accurate; but for these
disadvantages to himself he is repaid many fold by an increased
usefulness to his team. All these features together make the position
very different from what it was some years ago, and in point of
effectiveness it has undoubtedly been improved.

A short-stop should be a player of more than ordinary suppleness and
activity. He has a large amount of ground to cover; he has to field
sharply hit balls on either side, and must therefore be able to start
and stop quickly; he is often obliged to stoop, recover himself, and
throw while running, and so has no time to get his feet tangled.
Moreover, his presence is often required at widely separated portions of
the field, with very brief intervals allowed him for making the changes.
He may have to field a hit to first from near second base, and at once,
in continuation of the same play, back up third on the return of the
ball from first base. Or, from a close in-field position one moment, he
may be called the next to far left-field to assist in the return of a
long hit. So that he needs to be awake all the time and able to transfer
himself without delay to that part of the field in which his services
are required. On account of the length of his throw to first base, and
because he is often expected to assist in the return of a long hit to
the out-field, he should be a good, hard thrower. He should also be able
to throw from any posture, because there are occasions when he has no
time to straighten up and pull himself together before throwing.

In chances for skillful plays and the employment of judgment, short-stop
is second to no other position on the in-field. He is tied to no base,
but is at liberty to go anywhere he may be most needed, and he is thus
able to make himself very useful at times, in plays altogether out of
his position proper. But to make the best use of these advantages he
must be possessed of some intelligence and a wit quick enough to see the
point and act before the opportunity has passed. Brains are as much a
necessity in base-ball as in any other profession. The best ball players
are the most intelligent, though, of course, natural intelligence is
here meant and not necessarily that which is derived from books.

The proper place for the short-stop to play will be governed always by
the particular circumstances, as explained in the preceding chapters
with reference to other in-fielders. If there are no runners on the
bases, regard for the batter alone will determine, but if there are
runners, this fact, and the situation of the game, must be taken into
consideration. A glance at the diagram of the field given in Chapter I
will show the usual position of all the fielders, but from these points
they may greatly vary. If the batter generally hits along the left foul-
line, the short-stop will play nearer the third baseman, and if, on the
other hand, the batter hits toward right-field, the short-stop will move
toward second, even going so far as to be directly back of the pitcher,
the entire in-field, of course, moving around correspondingly.

If the batter is a heavy runner, the short-stop may play a deep field,
because he will still have sufficient time to get the ball to first; and
so, also, if there is a runner on first, he may play well back, because
his throw then, on a hit, is only to second base. If he is covering
second base either to catch a runner from first or to hold a runner on
second who has already reached there, he must play near enough to the
base to be able to receive the throw. Or, if the attempt is to be made
to cut off at the plate a runner trying to score on a sacrifice hit, he
will play on the base-line or a few feet inside the diamond.

All in-fielders, as well as out-fielders, should be willingly guided as
to the position to play by a signal from the pitcher. The latter,
knowing what kind of ball he is going to give the batsman to hit, is
best able to judge beforehand of the direction of the hit.

The short-stop should cover second base in all cases where there is a
runner on first and the batter is one likely to hit to right-field. This
allows the second baseman to guard the territory between second and
first, which he would not otherwise be able to do, and if the ball is
hit to him, he throws to the short-stop at second, forcing out the
runner from first.

He should also guard second when there is a runner on that base and the
baseman is obliged to play well off for a hit toward right-field. Of
course, he does not play on the base, but near enough to be able to
reach it if the pitcher or catcher wishes to throw there.

Another instance in which he may take the base is when there are runners
on first and third and the runner on first starts for second. One way of
making this play was described in speaking of The Second Baseman, but
it is believed that it may be much better done with the assistance of
the short-stop. With runners on first and third, the catcher signals
whether he will make a long or short throw toward second. When the
runner on first starts down, the second baseman runs inside the diamond
to a point in line with the base, and the short-stop goes to the base.
If the throw is long, the short-stop receives the ball and touches the
runner, or returns it quickly to the plate if the runner on third starts
in. If the throw is short, the second baseman receives the ball and
returns it to the catcher; or, if the runner on third does not start
home, the baseman may still have time to turn and toss the ball to the
short-stop to catch the runner from first. In deciding to give the
signal for a short or long throw, the catcher is guided by the
circumstances of the case and the situation of the game. If one run is
going to materially affect the result of the game, the throw will be
short, so that the ball may be surely returned to the catcher before the
runner from third scores. If the run is not vital, the throw may still
be short if the runner at third is speedy; but if he is slow and not
likely to chance the run home, the throw will be all the way to the
shortstop to put out the runner from first. The success of the play lies
in the fact that the runner on third can never tell, until too late,
whether the throw is to be short or long. The play was first made in
this way by Gerhardt and myself in 1886, and during the past two seasons
it has been tried in the New York team many tunes with the best results.
Each player must, however, understand his part and all work together. In
a recent game against Philadelphia, on the Polo Grounds, Crane, who had
never taken part in the play before, gave Fogarty a ball within reach
and he hit it through the short-stop position, left unguarded by my
having gone to cover second base.

On all hits to left and left centre-fields, the shortstop should take
second, allowing the baseman to back up the throw, and on all hits to
right and right centre the baseman will take the base and the shortstop
attend to the backing up.

In fielding ground hits the short-stop should observe the general
principles for such plays. He should, if possible, get directly and
squarely in front of every hit, making his feet, legs, and body assist
in stopping the ball, in case it gets through his hands.

If the ball comes on a short bound, he should not push the hands
forward to meet it, hut, having reached forward, give with the ball by
drawing back the hands in the direction the ball should bound. In this
way if the ball does not strike the hands fairly, its force will at
least be deadened so that it will fall to the ground within reach of the
player; whereas, if he pushes his hands forward and the ball does not
strike fairly, it will be driven too far away.

He should meet every hit as quickly as possible, so that if fumbled he
may still have time to recover the ball and make the play. In running in
to meet the ball, he must not forget the importance of steadiness, and
to this end should get himself in proper form just before the ball
reaches him. What is meant by good form may be seen by the above cut.
The feet, legs, hands, arms, and body are all made to assist in
presenting an impassable front to the ball.

If base-ball diamonds were perfectly true the bound of the ball might be
calculated with mathematical precision, but unfortunately they are not,
and these precautions become necessary.

There should be an understanding between the short-stop and third
baseman that the latter is to take all slow hits toward short, and as
many hard hits as he can fairly and safely field. The effect of the
baseman's covering ground in this way is to allow the short-stop to play
a deeper field and farther toward second base. Some players do not like
the idea of another fielder taking hits which seem more properly to
belong to themselves, but this is the correct way for a short-stop and
third baseman to work, and between two men, playing only for the team's
success, there will never be any dispute.

It is always best, when possible, to use both hands to stop or catch a
ball; but sometimes a hit is so far to either side, or so high, that it
can only be reached with one hand. Therefore, a short-stop should
practice one-hand play so that he may be able to use it when the
emergency requires. He should never attempt it at any other time.

Having secured a batted ball, he should throw it at once, waiting only
long enough to regain his balance and make sure of his aim. The practice
of holding the ball for a moment and looking at the runner, whether done
to demonstrate the fielder's perfect sang froid, or to make a swift and
pretty throw for the benefit of the grand stand, is altogether wrong.
Generally, the throw will be to first, though sometimes there will be an
opportunity to put out another runner, in which case it will be to some
other base. In throwing to second or third, if he is near the base, he
should pass the ball to the baseman by an easy, underhand toss. It is a
difficult play to catch a thrown ball when the thrower is quite near;
besides, in making double plays by way of second base, any time lost in
tossing the ball will be more than regained by the quicker handling, and
there is the additional inducement of safety.

In making double plays to second it is almost always better to pass the
ball to the baseman and allow him to throw to first, than for the short-
stop to attempt to make the play alone. In 1882, a couple of weeks
before the season closed, the Providence Club reached Chicago with the
pennant all but won; one game from Chicago would have made it sure. In
about the sixth inning of the last game, with the score four to two in
our favor, the first two Chicago batters reached their bases. Kelly then
hit to George Wright at short, who passed the ball to Farrell, retiring
the runner from first, but Jack threw a little high to Start and missed
the double. With runners on first and third, the next man, Anson, hit
hard to Wright, so that he had plenty of time again for a double. But,
this time, instead of passing the ball to Farrell, as before, George
attempted to make the play alone. He touched second, but, by the time he
was ready to throw Kelly came against him, and the result was a wild
throw, and, to complete the disaster, the ball rolled through a small
opening under a gate and both runners scored. We were beaten finally six
to five, and lost the championship. It should be added that the game
would have been won again in the eighth inning but for the unpardonable
stupidity of one of the Providence base-runners.

By far the most difficult catch on a ball field is that of a ball hit
high to the in-field, because of the great twist to the ball. The
slightest failure to get the ball fairly in the hands will result in a
miss, and yet this is always greeted by derisive howls from certain
among the spectators. There are various styles of catching these hits,
but the position of the hands shown in the accompanying cut is believed
to be the best.

The hands should be reached well up to meet the ball and then brought
down easily in the line of its course. If the hands and arms are held
stiff, the ball will rebound from them as though it had struck a stone.
The use of a glove on one hand may be found helpful in counteracting the
effect of the twist. The short-stop is expected to try for all such hits
falling in his own position, and also all falling back of the third
baseman and in short left-field.

With runners on bases, a double play may sometimes be made by allowing
such a hit to first strike the ground. In order that the ball may not
bound beyond reach, it should be caught or picked up on the short
bound, and to do this safely requires a great deal of skill. It is a
pretty play, and often of invaluable service, and it should therefore be
practiced carefully until it can be made with approximate safety. The
short-stop must not betray beforehand his intention, but pretend that he
is going to catch the ball on the fly.

With all signals given by the catcher to the different in-fielders the
short-stop must be perfectly familiar, in order that he may be prepared
to do his part. If there is to be a throw to second or third he should
know it, so that he can be ready to back up in case the throw is wide or
breaks through the baseman's hands. So, too, he must know when to expect
a throw if he himself be covering second.

In all cases where a runner is caught between bases, the short-stop must
take part. If the play is between first and second or between second and
third, he and the second baseman alternate in backing one another up on
one side of the runner, while the other baseman and the pitcher do the
same on the other side. If it is between third and home, he and the
third baseman attend to one side, while the catcher and pitcher look
after the other. In every case the base runner should be run down as
quickly as possible, and always toward the base farthest from the home
plate, so that if an error is made the runner will gain no advantage.

In backing up other fielders a short-stop may be of great service, and
he should do this in every possible case, no matter where the play may
be. But the positions which he is specially bound to back up are the
second and third bases, not only on all throws from the catcher, but
from any other fielder, where it is possible for him to get in line with
the throw. He must not get too close to the baseman but keep a
sufficient distance back of him to make sure of getting in front of the


Next: The Left-fielder

Previous: The Third Baseman

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