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To catch a feed on the outfield side of the base or to avoid a runner coming straight in, Richardson quickly shifts from his straddle position. He drags his left foot over the bag as he takes a hop-step to his right and moves behind second. He then braces with his right foot, steps out with his left and relays to first.
The next most common double play is from second to short to first. National Leaguers feel Second Baseman Charlie Neal of the Los Angeles Dodgers is the best at this play. Certainly nobody starts it quicker. Neal believes that a slight innovation he made in his fielding style in 1952 saves much time. On balls hit to their right, almost all second basemen run in an arc toward the ball. That is, they run back and to the right so they can then come in on the ball, field it squarely, turn toward second and throw. "I go after the ball on a straight line," Neal says. "That way my body is already twisted toward second when I pick up the ball. The other way you are facing home and have to turn to make the throw. But I can throw sidearm to second without making a step toward the base." This conserves a fraction of a second and helps explain why the Dodgers have been consistently at or near the top of the National League on double plays in recent years.
Shortstop Maury Wills likes to take Neal's throw as he crosses the bag, or even an instant before. A shortstop has an easier relay to make than the second baseman, because he is already moving toward first base when he catches the throw from the second baseman. Ideally, Neal's throw is letter-high and on the center-field side of second. "This puts the ball right in throwing position," Wills says. "A good feed is the most important part of the double play because there are a lot of things to consider in a short time. You always want the feed in the same spot. That way you don't have to do any extra thinking or adjusting."
As soon as the ball is hit along the ground. First Baseman Norm Larker moves to the bag. "I face second and keep my heels against the side of the bag," Larker says. "I don't hold my glove up for a target—the guy throwing knows where the base is."
One of the most exciting double plays is from third to second to first. There is nothing slow about any double play, but the two long throws in this one heighten the suspense. Added to this is the fact that any ball that a third baseman can convert into a double play must have been hit hard, demanding some fast fielding by the infielder. John McGraw once said, "A third baseman does less thinking than anyone in the game—he doesn't have time."
Ken Boyer, the very quick third baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals, does his thinking in advance. "Coaches teach you to take a step toward second as you throw, but I don't do that any more," Boyer says. "I just whip the ball across my body toward second. You don't have time to step and aim. I throw for the bag, but I try to make the toss so the second baseman can see the ball coming out of my hand. It's a lot easier if he can pick up the flight of the ball from the start." For three of the past five years Boyer has led all major league third basemen in double plays.
Cardinal Second Baseman Julian Javier gets a fast start toward the bag as soon as the ball is hit to Boyer. To slow down so he will be balanced for the feed and relay, he uses the short, choppy steps that most pivot men employ as they approach second. Javier likes Boyer's throw chest-high and on the first-base side of second. He touches the bag with his left foot as he catches the ball and makes his relay throw to first with a sidearm motion.
The most difficult of the four types of standard infield double plays—first to short to first—involves the fewest men. The main role is that of the first baseman. He must field the ball, throw to the shortstop at second and get back to first base to take the return toss. Vic Power of the Cleveland Indians has few peers, now or ever, in working this play. Jimmie Dykes, Cleveland manager, recently paid Power what he considered the supreme tribute by saying, "He's as good as Sisler ever was, and I've seen them both play."
Like most double-play experts, Power is deceptively skillful. He, too, has his own style. Instead of facing home and catching the ball between his legs in the prescribed manner, he backhands it. As he does this his right foot is pointed toward second. This sets him for his throw to Shortstop Woodie Held. Power pivots a little more on the ball of his right foot as he brings his arm back for a strong overhand throw. In this way he blends into a single smooth, fast motion what most first basemen use two or three time-consuming moves to achieve.
"Then I peek over the right shoulder as I finish throw and I find out where first base is," the Puerto-Rico-born Power says. "I don't turn the head all the way. I keep the eyes on the ball and I make quick steps to the back until I get to the base. I lucky maybe, but I never miss the bag yet."