Gil McDougald came to the New York Yankees from the minor leagues in 1951 and was the Yankees' regular third baseman the next two seasons, though frequently switching over to fill in at second base. In 1954 he became the regular second baseman, filling in from time to time at third. In 1956 he became the regular shortstop, filling in now at both second and third. In all three of these demanding positions he has displayed extraordinary fielding ability; it is unlikely that any other man in major league history has played with such consistently high skill at so many infield positions. McDougald's success rests as much on his constant study of infielding as on his great natural physical attributes.
THE DOUBLE PLAY
SHORTSTOP Four ways to make the pivot
1. RIGHT FOOT, LEAP AND FLIP
2. ACROSS BASE TO RIGHT-FIELD SIDE
3. MOUND SIDE OF SECOND
4. BACKING OFF
SECOND BASEMAN Four ways to make the pivot
1. RIGHT FOOT, LEAP AND FLIP
2. MOUND SIDE OF SECOND
3. BEYOND BASE ON LEFT-FIELD SIDE
4. BACKING OFF
The infielder is always thinking of the double play, two outs. Because of this he is always thinking of the pivot, the relay of the ball from second base on to first. The pivot is easier for the shortstop because he comes into the bag moving toward first base. The second baseman, on the other hand, is usually moving almost directly away from first. He has to come to second, take the throw for the force-out, and then turn and throw back to the first baseman. He cannot be running as he takes the pivot. He must get to the bag and be set when the throw comes to him. Actually, the second baseman runs hard until he's four or five feet from the base. Then he jockeys in, sort of bouncing from one foot to the other, like a boxer, with his knees bent so that he can move either way for the throw. With the shortstop, it's different. He sprints for the bag, slows a little as he nears it, and then, when he sees where the throw to him is, sprints again and hits the bag at speed.
The second baseman has four standard ways of making the pivot (drawings above). The fastest way (1) is to jockey into second base, straddle the bag with your right foot just touching it, take the throw and make a fast fliplike relay on to first. As you throw, lift your left foot or leap into the air off your right foot to avoid the sliding base runner. If (2) the throw is to the pitcher's side of the base, hop to the left in toward the mound, drag your right foot over the bag and throw from inside the baseline. If the throw is to the left-field side of the base (3), hop to the right, drag your left foot over the bag and throw to first from behind the base. Finally (4), you can come into the base, tag it with your left foot, and then push back toward right field as you throw.
The shortstop (opposite page) has no standard pivot; there are many variations. The fastest way (1) is to hit the base with your right foot and make a fast flip throw to first, jumping in the air to avoid the runner. It's hard to learn, but it's quick and efficient. The most popular shortstop pivot (2) is to brush the base with your right foot as you slide across it to the right-field side. Throw on to first from outside the baseline. If (3) the throw comes on the pitcher's side of second, hop to the right, brush the bag with your left foot and throw to first from inside the baseline. Another way (4) is to come in, hit the base with your left foot and then back off toward left field as you throw to first.
The good double-play man pivots a number of different ways. Otherwise, baserunners will know where to slide to upset his throw and break up the double play.
DOUBLE PLAY Shortstop's throw
Feeding the ball to the pivot man on the double play is very important. Again, the shortstop's job is simpler than the second baseman's is. Basically, he has only one type of throw to make when he's feeding the ball to the pivot, and that's an underhand throw to his left. The throw should always go to the pivot man's letters, across his chest. That makes it easier for the pivot man to make a good relay on to first. I figure the better throw I make to him, the better throw he makes to first, and the better chance we all have to make more money. When the shortstop (or the second baseman, for that matter) is close to the pivot, the throw should be a layup, a simple, stiff-wristed, underhand toss to the pivot man's chest.
DOUBLE PLAY Second baseman's throw
If a second baseman is close to the bag, he'll use a simple layup like the one described at the top of the page. A little farther away he has to use a long layup, or else half turn and throw sidearm. I use an unorthodox throw that's sort of a backhand flip, the way I'd pass a basketball to a player on my right. I can backhand a ball accurately from 12 feet away, and I can get rid of it quicker and throw it faster than I can by laying it up. Beyond 12 feet or so, you have to turn and throw, a quick arm flip across your body. Far from second you turn the same way, but you cock your arm and put more shoulder into it. Never, never grab a ball in the hole to your left and spin all the way around to throw to second (see circle). That's flashy, but you'll find yourself throwing the ball into left field once in a while; once in a while is too often.
BALL HANDLING The glove
Some fielders like a "flat" glove, others a "deep" glove. Personally, I don't like a deep glove, one with a deep pocket and plenty of web. I think it only gives the ball a chance to get buried. I like a flat glove, one with less padding, so that your hand is conscious of the ball. It's a sort of fingertip control. An old rule, but one that a lot of ballplayers forget, is the one about using two hands to catch the ball. Never catch a ball with one hand except when it's absolutely unavoidable. The reason is that when you use your gloved hand and throwing hand together, you have much better control of the ball, and you'll make less errors.
BALL CONTROL The grip
It's a good idea to hold the ball with your fingers well spaced to avoid throwing sliders. If you grab the ball with your fingers too close together, the ball tends to slide off one side or the other and curve a little. That makes it that much tougher for the player you're throwing to. Throw straight, and throw the same way all the time. Always throw to the letters, even when you're warming up before a-game. What's practice for? You're trying to get things right. Well, why throw anyplace else? An infielder should get in the habit of always throwing right to the center of the chest, whether it's a layup or a long throw.
FIELDING The bunt play
One of the common plays in baseball is a barehanded pickup and throw of a bunt or a very slow roller. But that's the wrong way to do it. You should never use your bare hand to field the ball; there's too much chance for error. There's always a little moisture, a little slickness in the grass. Even on a bunt or a slow roller, use both your glove and your throwing hand to pick up the ball. It may take a split second longer, but you have control of the ball and your throw will be more accurate. Racing in and scooping up a bunt barehanded looks nicer, but I'll guarantee that you will miss more over a full season by using your bare hand.
THROWING The long throw
The long throw is more complicated than the simple feed to the pivot man because it has farther to go. I throw mostly with just my arm, across my body, sort of a push throw. You can get rid of the ball fast that way, which is a good idea. You don't have to throw as hard, and the man catching the ball has a better chance of handling it, particularly if your throw is off a little. Don't throw too hard. A hard throw can louse up an infield; you get one from a guy, and the next time you're waiting for a throw you find yourself bracing to catch it. That throws your timing off, and can ruin a play.
THE TAG The one right way
The proper way to tag a base runner is to sweep the ball across the line of his slide. To set the glove down and let him slide into it is to invite him to kick the ball out of your glove into the outfield. Stand with your feet on either side of the base, an inch or two behind the front edge and never in front of that front edge. You get the throw, which should come in low. If the runner is sliding in, sweep the ball in an arc down across his foot and up again. If you have to wait, don't plant your glove. Hold it cocked to one side, and time your sweep. When he slides, snap it down and across his foot. Keep the glove folded around the ball so that if he kicks it all he'll do is push the ball deeper in the pocket.
THE TAG Throws from the outfield
Tagging a runner out on throws that come in from the outfield is sometimes a lot tougher than tagging a man on attempted steals. The runner and the ball often approach from different directions, where on a steal both usually are coming toward you. You have to take the throw, turn and sweep your glove across the runner's foot all in one motion. The sweep tag is the same, but you don't have time to worry about planting your feet.
THE RUNDOWN Do it fast!
I can't stand to see this play go more than two throws. It's sort of an obsession with me, especially if I'm in it, because if it goes more than two throws it means we did it wrong. The runner should never, never get away in a rundown, no matter how great he is. Phil Rizzuto was the best I ever saw in a rundown, along with Jackie Robinson, but I used to say to myself, if I was in that rundown Phil wouldn't get away. If you do it right, it's impossible for the man to get back to base safely.
The basic idea is always the same, no matter what bases the runner is caught between. Turn him back toward the base he came from; the instant he commits himself you've got him. Assume a runner is caught off first, definitely out in the open. If the shortstop has the ball at second base, he keeps it. If the first baseman has the ball, he throws it to the shortstop and trails the runner by three or four feet. The shortstop runs full speed right at the runner, his arm cocked high. He doesn't throw unless the runner commits himself toward first. Then he throws to the first baseman, who makes the tag. If the runner does not turn back, the shortstop will run into him and tag him. If two men are on base and one is hung up, run him down fast, but keep an eye on that other runner. If he breaks for the next base, you should get both of them out.
THE SHORTSTOP The wide, wide range
Shortstop is the hardest infield position because it has the widest range and the longest throw. How far the shortstop can go to his right or to his left helps to determine how closely the third baseman can protect the foul line or the second baseman the right-field hole, without leaving a base-hit gap between their positions and the shortstop's. One of the first things a shortstop has to learn is how far he can go into the hole to his right and still be able to throw the runner out at first base. And he should learn to jockey in quickly (left) on ground balls that are hit right at him, so as to get the long throw to first off as fast as possible. You can't wait for them to come to you, as you can often do at second or third.
GAME SITUATIONS Variations
The major league infielder follows standard playmaking procedure most of the time, though you always check with your manager to make sure what he wants. What you do in certain situations (such as men on first and third, nobody out) depends on such things as your manager's orders, naturally, and what inning it is, and whether you're ahead or behind, and by how much. But it also depends on little things you've learned about yourself, your teammates, your opponents: how fast the man on third can run in relation to how well you can throw to the plate; whether your second baseman can be completely depended on to make a good pivot on the double play. This detailed knowledge is a major part of your equipment in playing successful big league ball.
Wrong way to feed a layup to the pivot man is the flashy, two-handed, glove-waving lob illustrated here. To some fans this may look like a good play, but it isn't. It makes it harder for the pivot man to pick up the flight of the ball.
Right way to lay the ball up to the pivot is to make your throw clean and simple. Arch the ball as little as possible so that it goes in a straight line to his chest. Give him your hand, and then let it follow through after the ball. Far right: to allow quick movement either way on ground ball, don't spread feet too far apart as you await pitch.
Second baseman's throws to the pivot man (left) are shown here in a composite illustration. Close to the base he merely lays the ball up. Farther out he can use unorthodox backhand flip described above. Beyond a dozen feet from the bag, he turns toward the base and throws sidearm. He never turns completely around, as shown in the circle above.
Fingertip control of the ball (left) means that you try to field the ball up on the fingers of the glove, where you can really feel it and control it. When I take the ball deep in the pocket (right), it seems to get itself lost in there.
Spread fingers well apart on ball (left) when you throw, to avoid curves and sliders. You haven't time to feel for the seams. The drawing on right shows the way the ball is held for quick backhand flip on throws to the pivot man.
The tag is made by sweeping the glove, holding the ball, in an arc down and across the lead foot of the runner sliding into the bag. Never, never permit the runner to slide into your glove.
The sweep tag gives the fielder a momentum that helps him to leap out of the way of the runner after he makes the tag.
Decoy a runner on throws from right field by standing casually until the last split second before the throw comes in.
On left-field throws, anchor your left foot next to the base, then pivot on it as you sweep your glove around for the tag.
Be alert for the smart base runner who may slide wide and grab the base with his hand on throws coming from left field.
Hold the ball high as you drive the base runner in a rundown. This allows you to throw the ball at exactly the right instant, without any hesitation.
Never hide the ball in a rundown. You want to be sure that the other fielder sees the ball all the time, so he'll be ready the moment you throw.
Schematic diagram shows that First Baseman Skowron threw ball to McDougald, who ran at runner, turned him, then tossed to Skowron for tag.
On plays in hole short-stop will brake sharply on his right foot (circle) after backhand stop at full speed.
Third baseman cuts to left to field grounder, as shortstop, going far to his right, backs up the play.
Sequence drawing shows shortstop fielding ground ball at extreme left end of his range, behind second base. Second baseman backs up the play as shortstop, still running, throws to first.
Range of the shortstop is huge. Ground balls hit within big pie-shaped sector are, except for bunts, his responsibility. Dotted sector A shows the area he covers behind third baseman, sector B his range in or out, sector C his scope to and beyond second base.
In the early innings, men on first and third and none out, you go for the double play if you think you have a reasonable chance of making it. You give up a run to obtain two outs and empty bases.
Given the same situation in the ninth, you play in, throw home to cut off the run (with a chance for the double play at first). Only one out and two on base, but you still have that score tied up.
Playing at home with 3-1 lead, men on second and third, none out, play back, hold man on second and get the out at first. If you come out of this inning tied up, you feel good: you're last to bat.
Playing at home with 3-1 lead, men on first and third, none out, 99% of managers would let the run score and go for the double play. With the bases empty and two out, you're in excellent shape.
RICHIE ASHBURN ON OUTFIELDING AND BASE RUNNING
In the May 19 issue the fleet-footed Phil explains how his speed is aided by knowledge