PART III: THE HIT-AND-RUN
The hit-and-run play is generally ascribed to the immortal John J. McGraw. McGraw certainly developed the idea in the beginning to prevent the slow runner and average hitter from becoming involved in a double play, but many modern strategists have completely forgotten just why and for what the hit-and-run was first devised.
Today you see the play used indiscriminately for slow runners, fast runners, good hitters, weak hitters and so on. Professional clubs should keep a record of their attempted hit-and-run plays, and figure up at the end of the season just how many times they worked, as against the times they failed for the following reasons: The batter swinging at a bad ball at the wrong time, a line drive hit directly to a fielder, a pitchout, the batter swinging and missing the ball, the runner or the hitter missing the sign, an infielder, moving to cover second base, fielding a ball that would have been a hit.
Now add to this the times the runner on first would have gotten to third even though the hit-and-run wasn't on. The club that keeps these records will find it has taken itself out of more innings than it created by successful execution of the McGraw invention.
GOOD RESULTS CAN BE BAD
On the other hand, thorough knowledge of the play and its potentialities, as well as the players involved, can bring good results from the hit-and-run. Usually it will work better with a right-field hitter of average speed and a fast runner on first. At the same time, it should not be overworked with the line drive hitter whose chances of drilling the ball can be lessened considerably by forcing him to swing at any given pitch. With a runner on first and less than two out, the good hitter must be expected to drive the runner to third, if not all the way home.
The natural hit-and-run play for most players comes under the following conditions—a runner on first or first and second, less than two out, and the count three balls and two strikes on the batter. Many advocates of the hit-and-run extol the virtues of the play with a count of three and one or two and nothing on the batter. I defy any manager or ballplayer who will keep a thoroughly accurate record throughout an entire season to state the hit-and-run has been beneficial to the club in general with those counts.
In the three and one situation, many batters, in their anxiety to protect the runner, swing at a pitch that would have been ball four. For the sake of discussion, let's consider that a good .330 hitter stands in the batter's box and the count goes to two balls and no strikes. Many players and managers claim that two and nothing is a good hit-and-run count. A complete season's statistics on this particular setup, however, will reveal that the hit-and-run actually has hurt the club more than it has helped—by at least three to one.
A CATCHER CAN CRIPPLE
With the hit-and-run called, the batter must be prepared to swing at the pitch regardless of where it is. The number of times the hitter is forced to swing at obviously bad pitches will more than offset the times the hit-and-run is successful in this situation. Any good smart catcher with the courage to gamble with wide curves and pitch-outs can cripple any club completely if it insists on using the hit-and-run play indiscriminately.