Most kids practice—and have been caught by—sandlot tricks like hiding the ball and decoying a base runner with phantom fielding. In the major leagues, though, it is presumed that players are immune to such stratagems. Once or twice every season they show they are not, thereby adding fun to the game.
Thus, last week, in a tilt between the Yankees and the Athletics, a sandlot trick executed by professionals became a thing of beauty and joy to New York fans. With one out in the fourth inning and the score tied, Kansas City's 19-year-old second baseman Cletis Boyer was on first base. The hit-and-run sign was flashed, and Boyer was off running. Batter Joe DeMaestri lifted a routine pop fly to the left side of the infield. Most of the 21,000 Kansas City fans watched Yankee third baseman Andy Carey camp under the fly. But on the other side of the infield, young Boyer was sliding frantically into second base. Carey caught the ball and threw to first for an easy double play and the inning was over.
The play the fans saw as DeMaestri hit the ball was entirely different from the play Boyer thought was going on. Running with his head down, he saw Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto take a throw from second baseman Billy Martin, pivot neatly across second and throw on to first. It was a "phantom" double play. Boyer realized he had been tricked only after completing his hard slide. He then became thoroughly confused. He thought the ball might have gone to the outfield and started back toward first. When he did finally see the elusive ball it was in the glove of the grinning Yankee first baseman, Joe Collins.
"Everyone tries once in a while to get away with this sort of thing, especially when you have a young kid on the bases," Billy Martin later said, almost apologetically. "But it rarely works out this successfully. You anticipate a play like this. I saw he wasn't watching the ball and made out like I was scooping it up." Billy grinned. "Phil really put the finesse on the play with that pivot and leap."
The embarrassed Boyer declared, "You really learn by that kind of mistake." And then he added grimly: "It won't happen again."