PART VI: BASE-RUNNING STRATEGY (CONT.)
No amount of clubhouse coaching will ever complete a base runner's education. Constant practice, intelligent observation plus experience are the only routes to success.
A play which many times victimizes, of all people, the inte ligent and hustling base runner, occurs when, with men on first and third, one out and the infield back, a ball is hit on the ground to the second baseman—not quite hard enough for the routine second-to-short-to-first double play. Realizing he can't throw to second and complete the double play, the second baseman rushes the ball, tags the runner and throws to first for the third out.
Base-running strategy in this case demands that the runner on first—on all ground balls hit to the second baseman—hold up immediately. This does not mean he takes three or four more steps in the direction of second base and then holds up. He must train himself to hold up at once. Until one has experienced this particular play, it just isn't conceivable how easily the second baseman can scoop up the ball on the dead run, overtake the runner and flip to first to complete the play.
On another base-running play that occurs with runners on first and third and no outs, base runners have been told that the man on third must always go home. Most of the time the defense will concede the run and take the double play, hoping it will break the back of that particular inning.
This play becomes more than routine, however, in the late innings of a ball game with the "big" run on third. With the infield pulled in, or even halfway in, and only an average runner on third, a ground ball many times means the out will be made on the runner trying to score from third.
Close appraisal of this situation leads me to conclude that the runner on third should not try automatically to score on all ground balls.
On a slowly hit ball down the first or third base line, when it's obvious a double play is impossible, the base runner on third should hold close. By holding, he forces the defending team to make the out, probably at first base, leaving the offensive team with runners on second and third.
Base runners who slide into first base cheat themselves out of a step or more on a close play. To say never to slide into first base is wrong; but to say seldom slide into first certainly is correct. Upon rare occasions a base runner may detect or sense a semiwild throw from an infielder that will pull the first baseman off the bag. If the base runner is alert enough to slide, then, and then only, does the play become worthwhile. You might be lucky enough to see one player in 5,000 heads-up enough to pull this play.
I firmly believe no player ever will become a really great base runner if he thinks he can depend on coaches telling him what to do. He must develop his judgment and timing to an extent that allows him to run the bases on his own—99% of the time. In that moment it takes for a coach to relay any given sign, the opportunity for any daring on the base paths—and it is well to remember they don't arise often—has passed into eternity.