My wife is Canadian, and had probably watched a grand total of three hours of baseball in her entire life by the time I met her. I, on the other hand, had probably averaged three hours of baseball per day since I was eight years old. Needless to say, the first time we watched a baseball game together I had some serious explaining to do.
She prides herself in being a quick learner, able to pick up foreign concepts swiftly and effectively—and my baseball tutorial was no exception. She figured out things like the infield fly rule, the dropped third strike, and the check-swing appeal with significant aplomb.
But there was one rule she just could not figure out: that stupid fake-to-third-throw-to-first move.
I sat there for what seemed like hours trying to go into the nuances of balks and stolen bases. I felt like Christopher Walken trying to explain baseball to his son Brendan Fraser, who has lived in a bomb shelter his whole life and never seen a game, in the brilliant 1998 comedy, Blast From The Past.
The conversation continues later off-camera (OC, if you’re a pretentious screenwriter)…
My wife took a similar approach, asking questions like “why” and “how”, that no true baseball fan can ever answer. “Because that’s the rule, that’s why!” I replied, questioning for the first time the game I’ve played and followed as long as I can remember.
Finally, because I was visibly getting worked up, she pretended to understand. But both she and I knew that there was no reasonable explanation as to why the third-to-first move is not only legal, but also used pretty much every time a righty is on the mound with runners on the corners.
So when fellow SportSpin writer J.D. Hollis tweeted me the news that the legendary move might actually be deemed illegal, I could see where Major League Baseball was coming from.
But, to be honest, I haven’t really heard a good explanation as to why it should be illegal. In the article Boone Logan, a left-handed reliever for the New York Yankees, says that righties shouldn’t be allowed to fake to third because lefties aren’t allowed to do it. Apparently he thinks that’s not fair.
Any right-handed pitcher, such as myself, scoffs at the idea of lefties complaining about pick-off moves being unfair. A lefty, with a runner on first, is allowed to lift his front leg as if he’s throwing to the plate, move his body toward the plate, and then veer off slightly at the last second to make a pick-off attempt to first base. Not to mention the fact that a lefty gets to stare directly at the runner the whole time.
A righty has to face third base, contort his neck sideways to even have a chance of seeing the runner in his peripheral vision, and once he lifts his front leg he must deliver to the plate. Because he must!
Lefties have a much easier time picking off runners at first, as the percentages indicate, so I don’t see how they can complain about righties being able to make a move that catches maybe one runner a year napping at first.
And what about that move to second (both lefties and righties are allowed to do it) where you lift your leg as if you’re going to the plate then quickly make a Baryshnikov pirouette and throw to second base? Are we going to make that illegal as well? How else would this guy make a living?
Plus, if we get rid of the third-to-first move, how else are we going to determine who the worst baserunners in the league are? And what about the fans? What other reason will they have to boo with runners on first and third? They need to boo at something.
The point is that although the first-to-third move makes no logical sense, neither do a lot of things in baseball. It’s part of the game, we have all come to expect it, and it gives the fans and players a thrill once every season when it actually works.
Besides, if baseball got rid of all the rules that make no sense, we’d have nothing to sit down and try to explain to our wives.