Sunday, June 24, 2012

Some thoughts on base stealing

This posting stems from a combination John and I had on the subject of base stealing. While in the future I may report on the history of this, I’d like to first examine what is essentially an anomaly in this otherwise very organized sport. Allow me to explain…

One of the fundamental truths of baseball is that nothing can happen until the pitcher throws the ball. We’ve all heard colour commentators and baseball pundits say this innumerable times. Every time the ball is in the pitcher’s hand and he steps onto the rubber, the game stops. A silent conversation takes place between this player and his catcher with maybe some kibitzing from the manager all accomplished through an arcane system of sign language. When this has taken place, the pitcher winds up and lets the ball go. Only then does something take place and the game continues until the again steps on the rubber.

Baseball is all very organized and controlled and this one particular point of every game. Mayhem may well take place on the field in between these breathing spots, but when the pitcher is once again in possession of the ball, everyone can stop and take stock as to what did or didn’t happen in between.

Except for base stealing.

Base stealing is like the bad child in the room. If baseball is about controlled chaos, stealing is like bad behaviour done behind a parent’s back, like when you used to whack your brother behind the head while dad’s or mom’s attention was elsewhere. When your offended sibling squawked, you’d be sitting there with an angelic expression on your face. Stealing a base is sort of like that.

Consider this: how many other rules are there in the game that have been put in place to allow something chaotic to happen? Baseball rules are all about restoring order. There are strict rules about pitching out. When a fleet of foot runner is on base, all four umpires keep their eye on the pitcher to make sure that he isn’t indulging in any proscribed monkey business to confuse the baserunner. At its basic level, nothing can happen in baseball unless it involves the baseball – except for base stealing. This particular play is very much about trying to pull a fast one on the other team.

How did this happen? Why was it allowed? It almost has the feel of something greasy being done. Base stealing sort of bends all the other rules of the game, and yet it’s not only allowed but encouraged. The umpires actually have rules to help the offensive team steal another ninety feet.

It’s a very odd thing in such an otherwise organized sport, don’t you think?

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