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Runner on third, one out, grounder to 3B-man

June 1, 2020

I’m going to try to keep this brief-- Joe Posnanski’s current series on

Baseball’s 60 Greatest Moments listed Eric Hosmer’s game-winning run home in the 2015 World Series as #32 yesterday, and it serves as a very late continuation of the conversations held on "Reader Posts" shortly after the Series (mainly in this thread here:​-that-grounder-to-3rd ), and on  "Hey Bill" from November 2-5 2015 (you can look that up yourself, in "Hey Bill" archives,  no link needed). It was a fascinating discussion because  it had the maximum possible disagreement on a judgment call: some people felt it was a no-brainer that Hosmer is dead out running unforced to home plate in that spot 90% of the time or better (and therefore he had no business even trying to score there) and others felt quite strongly that Hosmer had it all the way,  that it was a heads-up play on Hosmer’s part, and that even a much better throw from Lucas Duda could not have nailed him. This was Bill’s position, and he didn’t budge from it even after hearing loud and strong arguments to the contrary. Here’s his final word, from "Hey Bill" of 11/5/2015:


A good throw, he's still safe. It's a quarter of a second to catch the ball and apply a tag. By the time the catcher catches the ball--IF he catches the ball, which is questionable, but IF he catches the ball, he doesn't have time to apply a tag.


Joe Pos sees it otherwise. From his current article in The Athletic:

It was a move that would fail probably 80 percent or 90 percent of the time, maybe more. A good throw gets Hosmer by 15 feet. A slightly bad throw still gets him. Your best hope is that the other team is fooled or caught off guard, but Mets first baseman Lucas Duda was not.


My aim here is not to get between these two giants of baseball writing, but simply to bring this new article to your attention, and to reflect on its relevance to another, recent article of mine  , in which I discussed lengthily (and somewhat off the main topic there) a similar play, in which Jackie Robinson played the Eric Hosmer part and Eddie Mathews played the part of David Wright.

The plays are different (that game was a regular season contest in which Mathews was fielding a bunted ball to 3B, and so was much further from the third base bag when he caught it) with one essential similarity: Robinson expressed the point of similarity by saying that Mathews had to choose between keeping him on third base, or throwing out the batter/runner at first base. He couldn’t do both. If Mathews threw to first, then Robinson would score. If he held Robinson to third base, then the batter/runner would be safe at first.

Like the wide range of opinions on the Hosmer run on BJOL, my own opinions on these two very similar plays range so widely as to approach incomprehensibility, even to me. How can I possibly express admiration and awe for Robinson’s daring run while characterizing Hosner’s run as a brainfart? Those were and are my positions:  similar plays, identical results, Robinson smart, Hosmer dumb.

Seems sort of inconsistent, don’t it? The simplest reconciliation of these two contrary opinions is to attribute them to rooting interests: I’m a Brooklyn Dodger fan and a New York Mets fan, so the same play for and against my teams will be viewed by me as diametrically opposite.

Except I don’t think so. One key difference between the two runs home is that Jackie Robinson is generally thought to be one of the smartest, quickest, most athletic baserunners of all time, and Eric Hosmer is—well, he’s not Jackie Robinson. What I mostly admired about Robinson in that article last month was his confidence, his knowing exactly what he was capable of doing, and what Eddie Mathews was capable of doing, which is what made the play so smart. But Hosmer, in addition to not being Jackie Robinson, an affliction that so many of us mortals have suffered from, had zero confidence that he could score on that play.


"As soon as he went to throw the ball," [Hosmer] said, "my instinct was to go. It maybe wasn’t the smartest decision in the world. But that’s just how we played. When there were two choices, we made the aggressive move. It’s just what we were about. So he made the move to throw, and I took off. What was going on in my head? I can remember it very clearly. It was: ‘Oh, (bleep)! I guess I’m doing this. I guess this is happening.’ And once you’ve got that in your mind, the only thing to do is put your head down and go."


Before this quote, Pos had quoted the Royals third-base coach identically to Hosmer’s quote. Well, I think the two quotes are identical—it’s hard to be sure, because the key word in both is censored from the quote, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same exact word:

"As soon as he took off, I thought, ‘Oh, (bleep)!'"

Generally, you don’t have everyone on one team thinking "Oh, [bleep]!" or "Oh, #%@&!" or even "Oh, fooey!" when a smart play is being made by a member of that team. I guarantee you, no one on Robinson’s team, or in Robinson’s uniform, ever thought "Oh, [bleep!]" when he tried to take an extra base, not then, not ever. And I will tell you this, if Duda’s throw had been on the money to home plate (as 98% of his throws that season were) and Hosmer had been out, and the Mets went on to win that game and the Series, Hosmer would be immortalized alongside Bill Buckner, Fred Snodgrass, and Bobby Doerr forever.

But he lucked out. He got away with taking a tremendous odds-against gamble. And I credit him with scoring the run, and beating the spirit out of the Mets. Scoring that run took a lot of guts as well as all the good luck in the world.

In closing (thought I’d never get here, right?) I’m reminded of yet another play we’ve often discussed here, also in the ninth inning of a Series-ending game, the play where Mickey Mantle was caught off-base by the Pirates at the end of the 1960 Series. With one out and a man on third, Yogi Berra pulled a sharp ground ball to the Pirates’ first baseman who could have thrown to second base to force Mantle out and then taken the return throw to get Berra and end the Series, 3-6-3. Instead (somewhat inexplicably) the Pirates’ first baseman chose to step on the bag and then to tag Mantle. Almost without fail, a runner trapped in the base path with the first baseman holding the ball is pretty much screwed. He can’t advance to second base because the first baseman can throw 90 feet accurately much quicker than the best runner can run 80 feet, and he can’t get back to first base very well because he has to get there through the first baseman who needs only to lay a glove on him to end the Series.

But somehow Mantle did just that. He got back to first base safely, wriggling past the Pirates’ first baseman holding the ball in his mitt, and the runner on third scored the tying run. (Svet gornischt helfen, as we Latinists say—Mazeroski’s HR came in the bottom half of the inning.)  Some folks have attributed Mantle’s escape as brilliance on his part, clever baserunning that few men are capable of, but I’d call it more dumb luck. If you re-ran that play 100 times, I’d guess that Mantle gets tagged out by 98% of big-league first basemen. Maybe 99%.

B​ut like Hosmer, Mantle had the good fortune to pull off a rare play that almost never works, in the final inning of a World Series where, with slightly less good luck, he would be remembered with the All-Time Screwups of World Series History.








COMMENTS (25 Comments, most recent shown first)

Granting that Red Smith didn't have the benefit of replay, meaning that he (like me and everyone else) didn't have any chance to see the play except that one time in live action, he mistook important details about the play.

BTW, I remember very well my own immediate and lasting recollection of the play (prior to when the film came out).
I was a little off too, but compared to his, hardly.

What Red Smith wrote (BTW, thanks for quoting it!! It's very interesting):

.....Berra grounded out to Nelson, who stepped on first base for what he may have believed the final put-out....

Not clearly wrong, but for one thing, I never heard or read anyone else having thought this, my own immediate impression of the play (FWIW) had no suggestion of it, and now, with the benefit of the film, it seems pretty definitively that Nelson had no such thought.

......then gazed incuriously at Mantle...

Well how can we say much about that, but, best I can make of what Smith is saying and what we see in the film, I think that's pretty false too.

......sprawled face down a few feet from the bag....

A complete misperception or recollection on Smith's part.

As I had gathered at the time and indelibly recollected for decades, Mantle simply stopped in his tracks, and dove back to the bag.

BTW the thing I recollected incorrectly was that I thought the play happened a tiny bit quicker than it did. My recollection was that when Mantle stopped, he immediately dove back and under the tag. Actually he paused and (apparently) 'examined' for a split second, then dove back.

....Mickey wriggled like a snake back to safety as Nelson made a belated stab....

More fiction.
There was no wriggling (because he was never "sprawled face down a few feet from the bag"), and I'd say it's wrong to say Nelson's attempted tag was "belated" but I don't care much about that part of it.

Smith's account was misrecollected fiction.
9:48 PM Jun 5th
Steven Goldleaf
Well, I'd say that any rooter for the Yankees in that Series was entitled to a big bunch of sour grapes--the Yankees KILLED the Pirates, but the Pirates won the Series. It was maximally lopsided--according to Pythagoras, the Yankees won that Series easily.

The play at first was endlessly fascinating. Mantle had about 1/20th of a second to decide whether to shit or go blind. There was no good play for him to make, but he made a terrible decision not to get trapped in a rundown, and as I keep saying, he lucked out by Nelson's failure to tag him out, which is what happens 99/100 or 49/50 or 19/20. A runner trapped off 1B like that is usually dead out, no matter what he does, no matter how like a snake he wriggles.
7:24 PM Jun 5th
Here's is another nugget from Red Smith (this one admittedly sounds like sour grapes from a NY sportswriter to me) from the chapter on the 1960 WS. He discusses that after the first two games in Pittsburgh, the Yankees were rather upset about the state of Forbes Field's Ready-Mix infield, but that Casey's manager in training, literally called Major Ralph Houk by Smith, stated that the "washboard" surface handicapped both teams equally, "but wouldn't it be hell to lose a World Series on a bad hop" Smith then notes how prescient this statement was, going so far as to state that it was "the pebble on the infield, not the Pirate's allegedly superior starting pitching, that decided the championship"​
1:44 PM Jun 5th
So for what it's worth. I just so happened to buy at an estate sale last year a book called "Red Smith's Sports annual 1961", the book's subtitle is "The oustanding events of all sports of 1960." Here is the paragraph Red Smith devotes to the play by Rocky Smith and Mantle. "With the score 9 to 7 against them, fortune turned a false smile on the Yankees. Singles by Bobby Richardson, Dale Long and Mickey Mantle got one run home, put men on first and third with one out. Berra grounded out to Nelson, who stepped on first base for what he may have believed the final put-out, then gazed incuriously at Mantle, sprawled face down a few feet from the bag. Mickey wriggled like a snake back to safety as Nelson made a belated stab, and the tying run scampered home"

So unpacking, did Rocky Nelson believe that the put out at first was the final out ?(or as MarisFan noted in the case of Mantle, did Nelson and Mantle both think that Nelson had caught the ball in the air, thus by stepping on first Nelson thought he got the last 2 outs of the game and the Series). That explanation would kind of explain why Mantle was so desperate to get back to first AND why Nelson decided to imitate the defensive "excellence" of Pittsburgh's other firstbaseman and not tag Mantle. I cannot believe someone didn't ask for an explanation (Did Danny Murtaugh come out an argue, for instance, did no sportswriter think to ask those questions after the game, I guess maybe Maz's HR was pretty much the post game talk and what happened in the top of the 9th kind of went away)
1:38 PM Jun 5th
In KC papers, they made it a point to mention that the Royals advance scouts were generally unimpressed with the infield defense of the Mets, in particular the arms of Duda and Wright (who admittedly was dealing with an injury).

I would say I wasn't necessarily disagreeing with either MarisFan61 or Mr. Goldleaf, but pointing out that I think it is important to remember what Mantle (or any baserunner) should be thinking in that situation. I am not quite old enough to remember (well I guess I am about 15 years too young to remember that series) but the real mistake in that whole sequence was by Rocky Nelson, who should never have stepped on the bag first unless he actually caught the ball on the base.
I just checked, because I had a feeling that the regular first baseman for the Pirates was Dr. Strangeglove himself (Dick Stuart), which is true, and the story would make a whole lot more sense if he had been the one who pulled the rock here, instead of Rocky.
12:59 PM Jun 5th
His point clearly was that it was a mistake for Mick to do what he did rather than getting into a rundown.

Sure, we'll let him speak for himself, but that's what it is.

Now do you know what I was talking about? :-)
4:16 PM Jun 4th
Steven Goldleaf
I think I'm reading him correctly, Maris, and I'll thank you to let him speak for himself if I'm not. As ever, I don't have the beginning of an understanding of what you're rattling on about.
3:20 PM Jun 4th
Steven: A couple of things:
-- You're misreading Bhalbleib. He did mean exactly what you're saying.
-- IMO you're wrongly lumping the Mantle play with common ordinary plays that have only the most general resemblance to it.

Bhalbleib: That point isn't lost in the discussion; it's a common and key part of the discussion, really the whole thing of the argument that Mantle made the wrong play.
2:13 PM Jun 4th
Steven Goldleaf
Doesn't that make Mantle's attempt to get back to first dumb rather than smart, bhalbleib? Seems to me you're making the (strong) case that the smart play was for Mantle to get trapped in a rundown while MacDougald scampered across home plate, not to get any closer to the ball in Nelson's glove than he absolutely had to. Even a bad, slow, clumsy runner could have stayed in a rundown long enough to let MacDougald score--by running back to the base, wasn't Mantle risking getting tagged before MacDougald could score? In part, this is what makes me think Mantle's instinctive (terrified?) move back to first worked out well, but wasn't at all well thought out.

I don't remember Duda having a reputation AT ALL for having a weak or erratic throwing arm. He had a generally good reputation as a defensive first-baseman. The Mets got rid of Ike Davis (a good defensive 1B man) early in the 2014 season because Duda was an upgrade. What's your basis for claiming he was known to have a poor throwing arm? I never heard that.
10:32 AM Jun 4th
And by he in the last clause of my prior post, I mean Mantle. Should read if the runner crossed the plate before Mantle was tagged
9:14 AM Jun 4th
Duda had a bad arm, the Royals knew it, just like the year before they knew Lester never threw to first all season (a fact more universally known now). That is good advance scouting. It made the play by Hosmer a much better play than if a first baseman with a good throwing arm was playing.

As for the Mantle play, what is lost in the passionate discussion is the fact that once the first baseman stepped on first, Mantle's main goal wasn't to be safe (either at first or second), but to simply not be out long enough for the run to cross the plate. If the runner (who I suspect left on contact, therefore it wouldn't have taken much of a rundown for him to cross) crossed the plate before he was tagged it would have counted.
9:12 AM Jun 4th
Steven Goldleaf
The mere fact that you can cite from memory Ruth getting thrown out to end a World Series, Marc, shows that it IS remembered as a bonehead play. Of course Ruth's overall reputation is much greater than just that one play--whoever said that he's remembered only as a bonehead runner committing an All-Time Screwup? And of course, Mantle's reputation would (and has) survived his baserunning in the final game of the 1960 Series. I give him a lot of credit for athleticism, for understanding what his only option in that spot was, but he was still lucky to pull it off.
9:06 AM Jun 4th
Steven Goldleaf
No idea what you're talking about, Maris. Runners get caught off-base on a line-drive/groundball (that can't be distinguished until the catch is made) ALL the time, every week of MLB, I'd say, at least. 99% of them are tagged out, usually trying to return to the base (when the catch is judged a linedrive), sometimes trying to advance to the next base (usually when the ball is judged a short one-hopper). Mantle was unlucky to be in this no-win situation (nothing he did wrong to create it) and phenomenally lucky to get out of it unscathed. Of course, it took great baserunning skills to evade Rocky Nelson's tag, but any baserunner is going to be tagged out (I'd say 99% of the time) on that play, including Mantle. Maybe Mantle would get tagged 98% of the time, and Jackie Robinson 97%.
8:58 AM Jun 4th
(Please don't lump me in with "everyone"!) :-)
5:32 PM Jun 3rd
Everyone is forgetting a couple of simple points:

1) with Perez running down the baseline, Duda couldn't step directly towards home

2) Duda had to step into the infield towards second

3) Duda had to thrown across his entire body

4) from where Duda was standing to where he wanted to throw the ball, he essentially was throwing it behind him

5) Duda has to rush the throw

The odds of Hosmer getting thrown out were not as great as everyone thinks they were
4:11 PM Jun 3rd
I really would be interested for Steven or anybody to say what other plays ever in history were like what Mantle did.....

(the article implies that the play is a "type" of sorts; I don't think it is)
12:46 PM Jun 3rd
Steve: I don't believe in dying. :-)
11:57 AM Jun 3rd
Marc Schneider
"B?ut like Hosmer, Mantle had the good fortune to pull off a rare play that almost never works, in the final inning of a World Series where, with slightly less good luck, he would be remembered with the All-Time Screwups of World Series History."

Babe Ruth got thrown out for the last out of the 1926 World Series trying to steal second base. I don't think he is remembered for an All-Time Screwup. I think Mantle's reputation would have survived.

I agree with Maris that calling it lucky is unfair. A lot of players probably would not have had the wherewithal to realize they could simply return to the base after Nelson took the force off. I see lots of players making fundamental mistakes in the field or on the bases.
8:59 AM Jun 3rd
Re: the link. Copy-paste works, i.e. it preserves the colon.

Ten years after his death, someone walking past the graveyard will happen to mention either Jeter's defense or Mantle's return to first, and Maris will rise from the ground like a vampire and set the record straight.
6:22 AM Jun 3rd
Pardon my saying so :-) but your analysis of the Mantle 1960 play is, well, deficient.

You ain't seeing it right in its complexity.
In fact, you ain't seeing it right in simplicity either.

Simply put, you must not understand the play.

A couple of things:

-- First, your saying that Mantle "had the good fortune to pull off a rare play that almost never works".....

Let's admire that for a second. :-)

If it's a rare play that almost never works, that means you feel there have been some other plays like it.

While I'm asking mostly rhetorically, since as I see it there has never been any play of note that has been like it, before or since -- but I'm genuinely interested in what you might offer.

-- Second: You're ignoring a key thing about the play. You're assuming an after-the-fact thing.
You are assuming it was clear to the baserunner that the first baseman (Nelson) didn't catch the ball in the air.

With how the play happened, it wasn't possible for him to know.
What Mantle did was a thing that could work whether the ball was caught in the air or not.

There are obvious possible counters to that, but also countering-counters, so forget it. :-)
You could say that if Nelson caught the ball in the air, all he needed to do was step on first. But, besides his not necessarily knowing for sure either, he wasn't right there to step on the bag.

You could also say, Mantle didn't have time to think of all that -- like, how it would be if the ball was caught in the air or if it wasn't. You could also say that even if there were time, he wouldn't necessarily have had the intellectual analytic ability to parse it out.
All of which could be true -- but that's exactly why we need to respect instinct. You don't know that the instinct of a player like Mantle, or potentially any player, doesn't take a great deal of that into account.

In short: Your take on the play is limited, a bit blind, and, in its confidence, annoying.

If I sound intense about it, it's because I regard Mantle's play as extraordinarily great -- maybe oddly, perhaps the greatest play of his career, certainly the most awesome (in the literal sense of the word) and memorable of any play of his that I ever saw, and I'd say up there with any play by anybody.

So yes, I take it personally. :-)
But even take the emotion out of what I have written: You don't get the play.
6:56 PM Jun 2nd
Making the right choice is a big part of what performance is. But somehow seeing an opportunity for making a great play "...against all odds..." and having the ability, desire and balls to pull it off...that's more than just spectacular, that's the stuff of legend.
5:03 PM Jun 2nd
Here's another try at getting the URL right:

No idea if this will work. It looks correct in Mike's post, but for some reason it loses the colon on the way to the address bar. If this attempt doesn't work, follow the instructions in the previous post.
8:15 AM Jun 2nd
The URL is malformed. Click it, and after you get the "can't be reached" message, add a colon after "https".

It looks to me like a very close play if the throw is perfect. Hosmer would still have a shot at avoiding the tag, though I think I'd bet on it being made more than half of the time. Percentage-wise, I'd say it's worth a try, especially considering that, even if he's out, the Royals are still leading the series 3-2. If the throw is good but less than perfect, which is very possible if not probable, he scores.

In other words, I think both James and Posnanski are wrong.
8:10 AM Jun 2nd
this site can't be reached

1:27 AM Jun 2nd
I am going to split the difference between Bill and Poz. Film of the play is here:

The circle around home plate has a radius of 13 feet, so where it crosses the baseline is 12 feet from the nearest edge of the plate. Hosmer is just about to that point when the catcher lunges for the ball. So it is obvious that a good throw would not have had him by 15 feet. Given Bill's quarter of a second and, say, 28 ft/sec for running at full speed, it would seem that a really good throw would have had Hosmer. But an OK throw would have probably not been good enough.
2:24 PM Jun 1st
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