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The Third Baseman

In the early days of the game, when the pitching was slower and fair-
foul hits were allowed, the third base position was the busiest and
most difficult to play of the in-field. But the changes in the rules,
which did away with fair-foul hitting, and those which introduced the
present pace in pitching, have taken away much of the third baseman's
importance. Most of the in-field hitting now is toward short-stop and
second base, and the best of third basemen are not able to average over
three or four chances to a game. But, though the amount of his work has
been diminished, it still retains its difficult nature. The length of
the throw to first, and the short time given him in which to make it,
occasion many wild throws, and if he fumbles the ball at all, the
opportunity is lost. Fleet runners who hit left-handed, and others who
merely bunt the ball, can be caught only by the quickest and cleanest
work; so that, everything considered, it is not surprising to find the
third baseman generally at the foot of the in-field averages.

A third baseman, like a second baseman, should be a man of at least
average size, and Denny, who is by long odds the best in the profession,
is a large man. He will have a longer reach for both thrown and batted
balls, he will be a better mark to throw at, and, by reason of his
superior weight, he will have more confidence in the face of reckless
base-running. But not every player of proper size who can stop a ball
and throw it accurately to first is capable of becoming a good third
baseman. The New York team of 1887 demonstrated the odd fact that a man
who seemed entirely unable to play second base, could yet play third in
good style, while another who was but an average third baseman could
take care of second equal to any one. The explanation probably lies in
the fact that the positions require men of different temperaments. At
second base a player of nervous tendency grows anxious waiting for the
ball to come, and by the time it reaches him is unable to get it in his
hands, while at third base, where the action is much quicker, such a man
is perfectly at home, because he is not given time to become nervous.
The same curious fact is seen when an infielder is changed to an out-
field position; he finds it impossible, at first, to stop ground-hits,
because they seem never to be going to reach him, and he is completely
rattled by the long wait. For the same reason the most difficult hits
which an infielder has to handle are the slow, easy, bounding balls that
under ordinary circumstances a child could stop.

The proper place for a third baseman to play must be governed by the
nature of the case. For an ordinary right-hand batter, likely to hit in
any direction, and no one on the bases, he should play from fifteen to
twenty feet toward second and several feet back of the base line. For a
very fast runner he should move nearer the batter, and, if there is
danger of a bunt, he may even have to play well inside the diamond,
though, as before said, all such hits should be attended to by the
pitcher. For a batter who hits along the foul-line, he will play nearer
his base, and for one who invariably hits toward right-field, he will
move around toward second base, going, in some instances, even as far as
the short-stop's regular position. For left-hand hitters he will
generally have to play nearer the bat, because these players always get
to first quicker than right-hand batters. They are five or six feet
nearer first base, and by the swing of the bat they get a much quicker
start. If there is a runner on third and not more than one out, he will
have to play near the base before the ball is pitched, the object being
to give the runner as little start as possible, so that he cannot score
on a sacrifice hit. When the ball is pitched the baseman runs off to his
proper position, unless, of course, he has received a signal from the
catcher to expect a throw.

The third baseman should go after not only all hits coming within his
position proper, but also all slow hits toward short-stop, for the
latter is sometimes unable to field such hits in time to make the
putout, on account of the longer distance he plays from the home base.
The baseman should, however, avoid useless interference with the short-
stop, and he should not put down one hand or otherwise balk that player
on a hit plainly within the latter's reach.

Having stopped a batted ball, he should throw it as quickly as possible
after having regained his balance, so that if the aim be slightly
inaccurate the first baseman may have time to leave the base and return.
If there is a runner on first, the baseman's throw will be to second;
this will, at least, cut off the runner from first, and possibly a
double play may be made, if the ball can be sent to first ahead of the
striker. If there are runners on both first and second at the time of
the hit, he may either throw to second for the double play as before,
taking the chance of catching two men, or he may make sure of one man by
simply touching the third base, forcing out the runner from second.
Finally, there may be a runner on third and not more than one out, in
which case, if the runner on third starts home, he will usually try to
cut him off by a throw to the catcher, though possibly he may still deem
it best to throw to some other base. In any case, what is the best play
he must determine for himself, and he will expedite his decision by
having a thorough understanding of the situation before the play arises.

The third baseman should receive a signal from the catcher when the
latter intends throwing to him to catch a runner napping. The runner
always takes considerable ground in order to score on a slow hit to the
in-field, or on a short passed ball. By a signal, received before the
pitcher delivers the ball, the baseman knows that the catcher will
throw, and during the delivery he gets to the base to receive it. And
here, again, the best base runners are oftenest caught because they take
the most ground. If the batter hits at the ball the runner takes an
extra start, and a quick throw to the base will very often catch him
before he can get back. It should, therefore, be understood that, in
every case when the batter strikes at the ball and misses it, the
catcher will throw to third, whether or not he has previously given the
signal. In touching a runner the baseman must not run away from him; he
must expect to get spiked occasionally, for, if he is thinking more of
his own safety than of making the put-out, he will lose many plays by
allowing runners to slide under or around him.

Next: The Short-stop

Previous: The Second Baseman

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