Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Art of Stealing First

Jean Segura of the Brewers has a lot to learn about running the bases. In a recent game against the Cubs, he demonstrated an alarming unfamiliarity with the rulebook. The 23 year-old Dominican shortstop stole second base on a 2-2 pitch to teammate Ryan Braun. Braun drew a walk and Segura took off for third shortly afterward. He should have waited until Chicago pitcher Shawn Camp delivered to the plate. Caught in a rundown between second and third, Segura seemed to lose all sense of where he was in space and time. Braun motored into second as is the standard practice. Completely befuddled, Segura joined him. Both players were tagged and, though the bag legally belonged to Segura, he trotted off toward the dugout believing himself to be out. When first base coach Garth Iorg informed Segura he was mistaken, he holed up at first. In an unparalleled display of impulsivity, he broke for second again and was thrown out. (Unbelievable!) Commenting on the unusual sequence of events, Umpire Tom Hallion said: "Technically, he stole second, stole first then got thrown out stealing second."

Surprisingly, the play was not without precedent. 

In a 1911 contest against Chicago, Tigers' infielder Germany Schaefer took off for second hoping to draw a throw that would allow his teammate Clyde Milan to deliver the winning run from third. Realizing what Schaefer was up to, White Sox catcher Fred Payne wisely held onto the ball. Before the next pitch, Schaefer took his lead on the right field side of the bag then "stole" first. ChiSox manager Hugh Duffy didn't like it and came out to argue. While he was yelling at umpire Tom Connolly, Schaefer again bolted for second, getting caught in a rundown. This produced the desired effect as Milan came racing home. Schaefer's gambit failed to pay off as Milan was cut down at the plate.  A future rule prohibited runners from moving backwards "for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty on the field."

At least Schaefer knew what he was doing. Segura (as the old adage goes) was like a deer caught in a set of oncoming headlights.

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