There’s a fine line between unsportsmanlike behavior and good old-fashioned trickery, particularly on the baseball field. For example, most baseball purists—ourselves included—lost a fair amount of respect for Alex Rodriguez back in 2007 when he shouted “I got it” while running past Toronto third baseman Howie Clark, who let the ball drop. Three runs scored. Bush league, A-Rod.

The hidden ball trick, on the other hand, is as old as the game itself and, in our opinion, no more unsportsmanlike in its deception than throwing a 59 mph change-up when a batter is anticipating high heat.

THE TRICK TO THE HIDDEN BALL TRICK

The Goal: Make the runner think the pitcher has the ball and tag him out when he takes a lead off the base.

The Moment: Directly following a base runner beating a throw to second or third (since there needs to be a compelling reason for the ball to be in the fielder’s glove to begin with).

The Foils: 1) If the pitcher is standing on the rubber, a balk is called. So the pitcher must kill time walking or stretching off the mound. 2) If time is called at any point, play cannot resume until the ball returns to the pitcher, who must be on the mound. 3) If the trick is too good, the umpire may not be looking. (Though in this case, he called the runner out anyway.)

The First: Third baseman Bill Coughlin against Hobe Ferris on May 12, 1905. Coughlin pulled it off seven times in his career.

The Last: Third baseman Mike Lowell against Luis Terrero, who represented the tying run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Executed to perfection…

Hats off to the oldest trick in the book…

—C.B.S.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • C. Brian Smith