Hidden ball trick
A fielder may employ the hidden ball trick when a runner is on base. Variations of the play exist: they all involve a fielder holding the ball without the runner's knowledge, waiting for the runner to lead off of his base, and then tagging the runner.
In high school and collegiate baseball, the pitcher must be completely off of and away from the pitching rubber. It is also a balk(NFHS R6-S2-A5) if a runner or runners are on base and the pitcher, while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate, makes any movement naturally associated with his pitch, or he places his feet on or astride the pitcher’s plate, or positions himself within approximately five feet of the pitcher’s plate without having the ball. In professional baseball, under Rule 8.05(i), a balk occurs if the pitcher is standing on or astride of the pitching rubber without the ball. As play after a foul ball, hit batsman, or time out, must not resume until the pitcher is on the pitcher's mound, the infielder cannot use these times to obtain the ball.
For the trick to work, the fielder (generally an infielder) must get the ball while the ball is in play, and a runner must not realize that the fielder has the ball.
Variations of the play have involved miming a throw to the pitcher once the infielder has the ball, then standing at his position waiting for the runner to stray. Variations have involved hiding the ball, either in the glove or elsewhere. At least one player achieved success with the tactic by neither hiding the ball nor waiting: one variation involves, after receiving a throw to his base, miming a throw then re-tagging a runner very quickly, to catch a baserunner who merely takes his hand or foot off the base after a slide.
While variations exist, use of the play in major league baseball is somewhat rare. Some say that the hidden-ball trick has been pulled fewer than 300 times in over 100 years of major league baseball.
A first baseman may attempt the play after a pitcher, in an attempt to pickoff a runner, throws to first. The first baseman then fakes the throw back to the pitcher while keeping the ball in his glove, and if and when the runner leaves the base, tags the runner. Dave Bergman is a former first baseman who pulled this off on multiple occasions. A second baseman could attempt a similar play after a successful steal of second base, having received a throw from the catcher.
Former second baseman Marty Barrett also performed the trick successfully more than once. After a runner reached second base on a ball hit to the outfield, and after receiving the throw in from the outfield, he faked a throw to the pitcher while retaining the ball. To aid the deception, Barrett took the throw with his back to the runner, then placed the ball between the back of his glove and one of his fingers: this way, he exposed his glove to the runner without the ball in the pocket, suggesting that he did not have the ball. Other players have hidden the ball in their armpit.
Former third baseman Matt Williams used a different technique. On more than one occasion, he asked the runner to step off the base so that Williams could sweep the dirt off it, then tagged out the runner when the runner complied. This worked twice.
Former third baseman Mike Lowell also made the trick work twice, each time after a throw in from the outfield. The key to Lowell's success was acting, placement, and waiting: acting as if nothing was on, standing away from the bag but not too far from it, and waiting, at least 10 seconds, until the runner on third took a few steps.
On June 8, 2007, shortstop Julio Lugo of the Boston Red Sox caught Alberto Callaspo of the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, third baseman Lowell, Lugo's teammate, claimed it was not a true hidden-ball trick since the pitcher did most of the work "selling" the trick. Before Lugo caught Callaspo, Lowell laid claim to the last successful hidden-ball trick and held that position for eight years to the day. Lowell's occurred on August 10, 2005, when he, then on the Florida Marlins, caught Arizona Diamondback Luis Terrero, with reliever Todd Jones on the mound. Lowell also caught Brian Schneider of the Montréal Expos in 2004.
Third baseman Bill Coughlin was reputed to have been the master of the hidden-ball trick. Although not verified, Coughlin reportedly pulled it off seven times. He first succeeded on May 12, 1905 against Hobe Ferris of the Boston Red Sox. He did it again on September 3, 1906, catching George Stone in the first inning. In Game 2 of the 1907 World Series, Coughlin caught Jimmy Slagle with a hidden-ball trick, the only one in World Series history until Dick Groat of the St. Louis Cardinals pulled the hidden-ball trick on Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees in the 1964 World Series. The play went from Germany Schaefer to Coughlin.
Willie Kamm was considered another master of the hidden-ball trick. On April 30, 1929, in a game against the Cleveland Indians, Kamm was involved in a rare triple play involving a hidden-ball trick. The Indians had baserunners on first and second bases when Carl Lind grounded out to the shortstop. Johnny Hodapp, who had been on second base, tried to score but got caught in a rundown between third and home. Charlie Jamieson advanced to third. Kamm retrieved the ball and tagged both runners, whereupon the umpire ruled Hodapp out. Kamm then hid the ball under his arm and waited for Jamieson to step off the base. When he did so, Kamm tagged him out to complete the triple play.
On July 12, 2013, San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera attempted to execute the hidden-ball trick on San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval after Sandoval hit a double. As pitcher Sean O'Sullivan walked onto the mound and Sandoval took his lead, Cabrera, while holding the ball, tagged Sandoval. However, Sandoval had requested and was granted time by second base umpire Laz Diaz immediately after his double. Because O'Sullivan never assumed his position on the pitcher's plate with the baseball, the umpires appropriately never called "Play" and Cabrera's tag of Sandoval was therefore not legal. The Umpire Ejection Fantasy League explains this is why a hidden-ball trick may never be executed after a base hit, mound visit or other event in which "time" is called: in order to put the ball back into play, the pitcher must engage the rubber and if the pitcher engages the rubber without the ball, it is a balk pursuant to Rule 8.05(i).
On August 10, 2013, in a Tampa Bay loss to L.A., 5–0, Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays's third baseman pulled the trick in the fourth inning on Juan Uribe. With the bases loaded and no outs, A.J. Ellis flied out to center field, with Andre Ethier tagging to score, Uribe tagging to third and Skip Schumaker tagging to second. Tampa first baseman (and former Dodger) James Loney cut off center fielder Wil Myers' throw at the mound, flipped to shortstop Yunel Escobar, who flipped to third baseman Longoria standing several feet behind third base, out of Uribe's line of sight. Longoria just stood behind the bag looking bored and kicking the dirt for several seconds before he got his chance. "I was watching it, and I didn't know what to do to stop it," said pitcher Zack Greinke, who was on deck. "I didn't want to yell at Uribe, because I might get him off [the bag]. I didn't know what to do. He just lifted his foot for a tenth of a second and Longoria was ready for it. As Uribe shifted his weight and took his foot off the third-base bag, Longoria snuck from behind and slapped Uribe's thigh with a tag. Longoria looked over his shoulder at umpire Angel Hernandez, who called Uribe out for an 8-3-6-5 double play. In an after-the-game hint from his teammates, Uribe was presented with a baseball shoe taped to a base.
On September 19, 2013, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton caught Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals for the final out of the first inning in a day game at Coors Field. Helton, who days earlier had announced his retirement after 17 seasons with the Rockies, tagged Carpenter after faking a throw back to pitcher Roy Oswalt following a pickoff attempt. Carpenter was dusting his hands after a head-first slide when he stepped off the back side of first base towards 1B umpire Bill Miller. Cardinals first base coach Chris Maloney was unable to help Carpenter before Helton got him with a poking tag. "I've been wanting to do that for 17 seasons. Now I can cross that off my bucket list," said the 40-year-old Helton, who at the time was the oldest active professional athlete in Denver. The Rockies went on to win 7-6 in a 15 inning game that was the second-longest in Coors Field history.
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