Now you see it, now you don't.

By Jon Tayler
May 04, 2017

The hidden ball trick is a neat bit of history from baseball's dusty past, a remnant of a time when the game was a blend of stocky athleticism and parlor tricks. It requires the intricate setup of a Marx Brothers routine (who, it should be noted, used the hidden ball trick as the setup to a bit in their 1930 movie Horse Feathers) and for the player playing the trick to have the easy charm of a con man, selling the runner the whole time on business as usual when it's anything but.

Every now and then, a major leaguer will try the hidden ball trick, with some degree of success; a handful of players—Matt Williams and Mike Lowell chief among them—managed to pull it off more than once. It's always fun to see it happen, and that's especially true in the case of the latest swindler: Lucas Erceg, a third baseman for the Carolina Mudcats, the Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. But what makes Erceg's successful flim-flam move so excellent is just how much patience it requires—the tension building is exquisite.

Let's set the stage: two runners on, one out, and the Mudcats ahead, 2–0, on the Buies Creek Astros in the top of the seventh. Astros rightfielder Kyle Tucker swipes third on a double steal, with the throw getting to Erceg just a hair too late. But Erceg doesn't give up there. He fakes the throw back to the pitcher, and then begins the waiting game as he lingers at his position, shuffling dirt with his feet and luring Tucker into a false sense of security. Pitcher Wuilder Rodriguez is in on it, too, as he pretends to take the rubber. And as time passes, Erceg waits ... and waits ... and waits, until finally, Tucker steps off third; Erceg races over to tag him for the second out.

It's a master class in deception from Erceg, but a special shoutout to his dedication; like a magician of old, he doesn't rush the trick, holding out for 40 entire seconds before unveiling the prestige. It's quite simply wonderful.

The Mudcats went on to win, 3–0, thanks in no small part to Erceg's trickery. The Astros, for their part, saw their manager get tossed for arguing the caught stealing/pickoff at third base.

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