I rarely question the veracity of something an ex-MLB player says when he speaks within the sphere of his expertise. Such is rarely the case with Al Hrabosky, and that is no small secret among fans of Cardinals baseball. As of late, Hrabosky has taken a certain inexplicable disliking to the way some base runners are leading off from second base. He apparently sees the issue as one of simple logic, and I see it as an issue of ignorance of both science and geometry.
In Hrabosky’s utopia, I imagine that all people (women included) have an indelicate amount of facial hair and an ignorance of basic geometry. According to Al, the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. His premise regarding a runner leading off from second base is that it makes sense for the runner to take his lead directly on the imaginary “line” that connects 2B and 3B. Because Hrabosky considers this the shortest distance the runner can be required to cover, he believes any other approach to leading off does not make sense.
I contend that Al is unofficially the real and true idiot of Ballpark Village.
- The imaginary “line” that connects 2B and 3B is technically not a line for the purpose of baseball use, because there is no value in continuing on past the 3rd base bag. Instead, the 2 points (2B and 3B) define a line segment by providing both the end points necessary for the minimal definition to be met.
- More importantly, Al has limited his thinking in terms of a line as opposed to the plane that a baseball field effectively is. A runner may lead off from 2B and be 80 feet from 3B, but he does not necessarily have to be planted right on the imaginary line segment connecting the two bases. Most assuredly, the runner may gain a few advantages by moving to the outfield side of the line segment.
- If the runner moves to a point 80 feet from 3B that is several feet behind the line segment that runs most directly between the two bases, then he is most definitely a greater distance away from 2B than if he was standing right on the imaginary line segment. However, the greater distance required for his lead does not greatly compromise his ability to return to the bag, because there are at least 2 unintended consequences of this approach. First, the runner gains a better view of the second basement who will then not be able to move in the direction of the base unnoticed for a pickoff play. Second, the runner forces the shortstop to move back in order to gain a better view of home plate. If the shortstop opts to play close to the runner, then the runner can simply turn to watch both the pitcher and the shortstop simultaneously. If the shortstop plays farther from the runner, then a pick-off play becomes much more difficult to succeed in performing due to the distance the shortstop must cover to get to the base. Either way, the runner is unlikely to lose anything at all by moving back from the aforementioned imaginary line segment.
- The other more subtle point that Hrabosky’s repeated theories on this subject miss is the very slight advantage gained by the runner who may attempt to avoid a tag at 3B. When a runner is standing on the imaginary line segment between the bases, he basically sees his target as a short, square prism with a slightly rounded top. From a different angle – more specifically from a perspective behind the line segment, the target appears to have both a point and a side which are farther from the 3rd baseman’s potential tag than what would be the front of the bag from the direct perspective. By making the 3rd baseman reach more or force the defender to make a larger sweeping arc to apply a tag, the runner gains both a discrete portion of time and the chance that the pseudo-arc defined by the sweeping motion leaves the tag high on the backside of the base.
Admittedly, all this generalization means little, but it does imply that Hrabosky should probably stick to what he does best which is lulling Cardinal Nation to sleep with the dulcet tones of his misguided philosophies. He should probably leave the “shortest distance” stuff to others.
TIDBIT: The shortest distance between 2 points may or may not be a line. In some cases, it may be curved, because space itself curves.
FINAL BIT OF TID: Happy 4th Birthday to this very blog. Alright, it’s technically an anniversary of the actual day of birth, but you get the drift…..all 3 of you loyal readers out there. Many thanks.
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