I have been manager or assistant coach for my son’s teams for 5 years now. This season I am seeing a weird play that I have never heard of before but I can’t find any rule that prohibits it. It is made possible because my son has entered a level where there are no longer restrictions on stealing or advancing on wild pitches or passed balls.
The batter takes a fourth ball, but the ball gets past the catcher (call it a wild pitch). The runner takes off like a bat out of hell and rounds first, makes it to second before the catcher can make the play to second. It seems legal; the rules do not call the ball dead after a fourth ball (this level of little league plays with MLB rules with only the slightest modification).
I’m pretty sure this has happened in the big leagues, but it’s rare. A lot of the LL catchers I’ve seen just don’t have a strong enough arm to throw out a runner on a steal attempt. And sometimes they just lose track of the ball, or don’t hurry to find it if it gets lost behind the ump or around the screen.
In my brother’s little league a while back (12/13 ish), his teams SOP on walks was to tear off to 1st, then wrap it around to 2nd.
The ball was in play from my understanding till it got back to the pitcher, and most teams weren’t used to it, so it worked. And in general, the throw could be in time, but most coaches didn’t want to deal with a walk being turned into a man on 3rd due to a passed throw.
They’d get thrown out on that most of the time in my son’s league (10-12) unless the walk also occured on a passed ball/wild pitch. Most kids just aren’t that fast, and it’s normal to have the shortstop (and center fielder) backing up the second baseman on the throw. Even a bad throw would normally result in an out. That said, PONY and Little League have different rules so maybe there’s something in LL rules that would allow that to work regularly.
In this scenario, unless something weird happens, the ball is in play throughout. There’s no point between throwing ball four and commencing the next at bat in which time would normally be called, unless a player specifically requests and is granted time, or some bizarre play occurred, like ball four skipping out of the field of play or something.
If I understand correctly, there is a bit of an implied “time” once the ball is back to the pitcher in little kid baseball leagues. In LL, iirc, they can steal, but not lead off, so they’d have to get back to the bag once the pitcher has the ball.
Actually, more to it than that. The pitcher has to have the ball, a foot touching the rubber, AND the catcher must be in a set position (squatting and ready for the next pitch) in order for the runner to return to the base he’s stealing from. Until then, the runner can steal as much as he wants. If the pitcher (and/or catcher) seems shaky and his head is not in the game, doing this will wake them up in a hurry or otherwise it will be a long night for the inexperienced duo.
But, this strategy is done PRIMARILY when there might be a runner on third base (usually with no outs or one out, but rarely on 2 outs) when the batter takes ball four; the “walked” runner will then run hard (or even just trot to first and then run hard to second) to bait the catcher to throw to second. Then the runner on third will steal home when the catcher throws to second, scoring a run. Most kids don’t have enough relay speed to get the ball to second to tag and then throw back home, so it’s either a “sacrifice” or sometimes the throw doesn’t make it in time or is totally missed; nonetheless, now another runner is in scoring position again.
How to counter it? Two ways. Either the catcher holds the ball and lets the player advance to second or (which we have practiced this just for this occasion), the catcher pretends to bite on the steal but throws hard to his shortstop (who takes a few steps forward during the play) and does a quick relay back to the catcher for a tag at home. Catcher then relays back to third in case the other runner has plans to steal third. Funny thing is, after the tag at home, the catcher gets a lot more respect and the runner on second is kind of awestruck that we nailed their leading runner. One extra out and the leading runner is now on second instead of third. MWAAAAHAAHAHAHAHAA!!!
We mix it up a lot, sometimes we call it Aces when we hard throw it to the pitcher for the relay back to catcher, “Kings” when it’s hard-thrown to short, “Queens” to third basemen, and “Jacks” to second. If the other team hasn’t seen this before we usually pick them off nearly 95% of the time because we practice this a bit early on in the season and the other team usually assumes that our catcher had a bad release to the second basemen. Hilarity ensues afterwards when they find out what our real intentions are. Our kids (Majors: 10-12) have a grasp of this concept and could be successful with it.
When I played Little League (more than 30 years ago now), we had a variation on this. About halfway through the season, our coach told us that if we walked, we should jog to first base, then nonchalantly continue jogging on to second. I think he just wanted to see if we could get away with it – we didn’t make a habit of it. I did this twice, if memory serves.
The first time, I jogged my way into second base. The pitcher just stared at me the whole time, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. As I passed the second baseman on my way to the bag, he actually said, “Hey, you’re supposed to stop at first base.”
The second time was a game or two later, and the other teams had noticed what we’d done. I still caught the pitcher napping, but the second baseman for that team yelled “He’s going!” and I had to speed up and slide under the tag when the startled pitcher whipped around and threw the ball.
The OP doesn’t specify the age of kids we’re talking about, so it’s hard to say for sure. (I recognize that the league actually called Little League is a specific age group, but I usually assume when people say LL they mean all youth baseball.)
You’re correct in that actual LL forbids leading off. IIRC, it’s the level after that that leadoffs are allowed.
Yeah - we did that too. Kids at that age often get distracted easily and to throw someone out requires a precision throw. I still remember in an all-star game we did it to a team a dozen times. Even after 35 years it still didn’t feel right - they were not the same caliber as we were (from a small rural area) and we scored 20 runs in the first inning. Took the shine off it for me.
The age group we’re talking about is what our league calls AAA. This is basically 9-11. AA is 8-10; AA and AAA are player-pitch. A is 7-9 and is coach-pitch.
Leads are not allowed in any of these levels.
In A there is no stealing and no advancing on wild pitches or passed balls.
In AA stealing is allowed, except to steal home. You are allowed to attempt to take a base on a passed ball or wild pitch (they tend to call this stealing but technically shouldn’t be scored as a steal). You are not allowed to go home on a passed ball/wild pitch.
In AAA, it’s anything goes. However, at this age the batting and baserunning still tends to overwhelm the fielding and pitching, and I’m depressed to see most of the runs scored in a game as a combination of walks, steals, and advancing on wild pitches. We’ve seen multiple runs scored in a row on no hits.
At all of these levels the ball is considered dead at the end of a play when it returns to the pitcher’s glove and he is on the rubber, until he releases his next pitch. So at least you don’t have steals as the next batter is scuffing his feet around in the batter’s box.
I understand your frustration with the fact that at that age level a lot of runs will be scored just through steals, errors, and walks. Kids that age struggle a lot with fielding and aggressive baserunning will overwhelm almost any defense. It’s why so many coaches spend most of their time on fielding drills, especially relays.
I found an instance of Larry Walker striking out and getting to second when the ball got past the catcher:
“The Expos were held to three hits by Maddux (4-8) over the first six and two-thirds innings. Larry Walker then struck out for what would have been the final out of the seventh, but the ball got past the catcher, Joe Girardi, allowing Walker to go all the way to second on the passed ball.”
They get better at it. You should see a marked improvement even by next spring. It just takes them a while to adjust. I’m guessing your next level up is majors, and by then the fielding will dominate a lot of the hitting and some of the baserunning, or at least balance out.