The All-Star Game is one of baseball's two annual events—the World Series is the other—when hundreds of thousands who are not devotees of the sport are prepared to give it some attention. For them—whether they be in Baltimore in the flesh or watching the national telecast, whether ladies pressed into service by the enthusiasm of their kin or men whose ordinarily casual interest in the game is heightened by the importance of the event—we offer these tips to heighten their enjoyment of the afternoon of July 8.
?Keep score. It has something of the challenge of a crossword puzzle, and it does more to explain the ramifications of the game than all the guides in the world. Like chess, it takes only five minutes to learn, though a lifetime to perfect. Ask the fan next to you to show you how.
?A smart batter will often try to hit "behind" the runner, that is, to the right field side. A ground ball in that direction is less likely to result in a double play, and a base hit through to the outfield almost guarantees that the base runner will be able to go all the way around to third base.
?"Lost him," you'll hear the TV announcer say, or the fellow in the next row. Means the pitcher, working carefully on the batter, threw ball four, thus giving friend batter a base on balls and, for the moment, victory in their personal duel.
?The checked swing is almost always confusing. The batter rips his bat around hard enough to brain a moose, yet the umpire calls the pitch a ball (if the pitch is outside the strike zone). Why? The umpire has decided it was not a swing (and thus a strike) but a half-swing. What is a swing, a half-swing? There is no official definition of either, but the accepted difference lies in whether or not the batter's wrists "break" during the swing. And whether they do or not is entirely up to the umpire to decide.
?"Quick hands" and "good hands" and "great pair of hands" are variations of the same clich�", which describes a fielder with superior reflexes and a high degree of eye-hand coordination. Such a fielder ( Luis Aparicio is one) is a delight to watch, so forgive the clich�.
?"Great wrists" or "wrist hitter" is a parallel clich� for those batters who flick the bat like a fly rod (watch Henry Aaron, Nellie Fox), whereas others ( Bill Skowron, for instance) bludgeon the ball.
?The white bag that pitchers so often resort to is the resin bag, a small porous sack of, yes, resin, a slightly sticky substance that gives the hand a better purchase on the ball. Batters also use a resin bag.
?The "take sign" is a signal from the manager to the third-base coach to the batter, and it means "Don't swing at this pitch." This is almost invariably the case if the batter has a count of three balls and no strikes, the theory being that the pitcher, wild for the moment, may continue wild and give up ball four. Even if he throws a strike the batter is still in a dominant position. Of course, a weak batter may also be given the take with a three-and-one count. If the pitcher then throws a second strike the batter is entitled to turn and glower at the manager.
?The "hit sign" is given when plans are set for the "hit and run." On this the runner on first takes off with the pitch; the batter is obliged to hit the ball, wherever it is pitched, in order to prevent the catcher from throwing the runner out at second. Ideally, the batter will hit the ball safely and the runner, with his head start, will gain an extra base. When executed by a deft batter (say, Harvey Kuenn) behind a good base runner, it is a lovely play to see.