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The pièce de résistance of all infield tricks is the hidden ball. "I've never pulled it off, although I try a couple of times every year," says Grich. "The third base coach or somebody will usually yell and spoil it. I don't know how Gene Michael did it with the Yankees, but he worked it successfully four or five times a year. He's not about to tell me how. now that he's manager of the team. But that's the one remaining goal of my career—to pull off a hidden-ball trick."
Some first basemen arc good at it, Spencer and Mayberry among them. With Ron LeFlore, then of the Tigers, on first, Spencer, a Yankee, once instructed his pitcher to throw over eight times in a row. LeFlore didn't even notice that the eighth time Spencer kept the ball, and when LeFlore stepped off, Spencer had him. Mayberry uses a different approach. "Big John is so nice and easygoing," says Grich, "you don't suspect anything when he asks you to take your foot off the bag to kick the dust away—until he tags you."
Grich was exaggerating, but he wasn't far from the truth. Mayberry once nailed a Minnesota rookie by asking him to step off the base for a minute so Mayberry could use the bag as a prop while tying his shoe. Mayberry took his glove off—with the ball in it—hee, hee!—and while lacing up, he tagged the rook.
But you don't have to be an experienced hand to pull it off. Kansas City's young shortstop, Tim Ireland, did it to Cincinnati 10-year veteran Larry Biittner in a spring training game this year, killing a Reds rally in the 11th. After receiving a relay throw from the outfield, Ireland kept the ball in his glove instead of returning it to the pitcher. A few moments later he simply sneaked up behind Biittner, who was leading off second, and tagged him out to end the inning. "It's just a logical thought process," said Ireland. "You play all your life and see guys off base. No big deal."
Then there is the Goodrich Blimp School of Trickery. Last year in a game between the White Sox and the Yankees, Chicago rookie Outfielder Rusty Kuntz was on first when Alan Bannister hit a ground ball just inside the first-base line. Yankee First Baseman Bob Watson scooped up the ball and touched first. In the meantime, Shortstop Fred Stanley signaled to Kuntz, who had left with the pitch, to hold up because the ball was foul. As Kuntz casually walked back to first he was tagged out to complete the double play. "I couldn't even be mad at Stanley." said Kuntz. "It was brilliant." Kuntz was soon sent down to the minors for more seasoning. Chris Speier of the Expos tried the same thing on the Cubs' Mick Kelleher a few years ago, and Kelleher didn't think it was brilliant. "I thought it was bush," he said.
Catchers have their own bag of tricks. They'll try to coax strikes from the umpire by ever-so-smoothly pulling their gloves into the strike zone as they catch a pitch that's a bit off the plate. Gary Carter is highly, or lowly, regarded for his deftness at this, as are Jim Sundberg, John Stearns, Bob Boone, Steve Yeager, Joe Ferguson, Barry Foote, Johnny Bench and Rick Dempsey. Art Kusnyer, a former catcher and the bullpen coach of the White Sox, reveals how it's done. "Jerking the glove sideways or pulling it down won't work. The ump won't fall for it. But if I caught a pitch on the corner with the palm facing out, I'd flick my wrist and turn the glove in, so it would be perpendicular to the pitcher. It was just an illusion, but it helped sometimes."
Catchers also have no qualms about doctoring the ball for their pitchers. Birdie Tebbetts used to wear thumbtacks in his shin guards for those very special occasions, and the late Elston Howard would help Ford, when the heat was on, by putting mud in the ball's seams or scratching it on his shin guards. Kusnyer claims that he could scuff a ball simply by scooping up a low pitch and slamming it off the ground quickly so that the umpire wouldn't notice. "I've also loaded up for pitchers," says Kusnyer. "A little K-Y jelly on the forearm just above the wrist."
Catchers also chatter to throw a batter's concentration off. Thurman Munson was very good at this, as was Ray Fosse. "Thurman would talk a little rough at times," says Fosse. "My psych was praise. Brooks Robinson, I remember, came, to bat once, and I said, 'Here's my idol, the greatest third baseman in the history of baseball. I love your style. You're poetry in motion.' He turned around and threatened me."
"When you're talking to the catcher or the first baseman, it's hard to concentrate on the third-base coach," says Al Oliver of the Rangers. "But then, you don't want to seem antisocial."
Outfielders don't get as many opportunities for trickery as infielders and catchers do, but they do the best with what comes their way. Sometimes an outfielder will try to freeze a base runner by pretending he's about to catch a fly ball even though he knows he can't reach it. One of the cagiest outfielders is Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas, who says, "I've worked that maybe 10 times. I was taught by the master, Ken Berry. The reason I learned my lesson so well is that he put a decoy on me when he was with the Angels. I was on first base and a bloop was hit to center. I froze, and he caught me by 85 feet." Berry is also legendary for carrying an extra ball in his back pocket. When Berry was with the White Sox, the story goes, he once leaped for a home run that made it into the first row of outfield seats. Berry didn't catch the ball, but he did pull the second ball out of his pocket and hold it up. The umpire ruled it a catch. Cub outfielders have been instructed to pretend they've lost the ball in the Wrigley Field vines. That way, sure triples become ground-rule doubles.