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Aug 06

Speaker’s Step back

This interesting article about Tris Speaker ran in 1917.

An observing friend who accompanied me to a ball game last season watched Ray Chapman, leading base stealer of the Cleveland Indians steal second base with a scanty margin. Tris Speaker was at bat. After the umpire’s decision had been made be turned to me and asked: “Why did Speaker step back so far back of the batter’s box when Chapman started to steal?” The question interested me because not one fan in a thousand would have seen anything but the swift-footed Chapman. The fact is that Speaker probably has a great deal to do with Chapman’s wonderful base stealing record. Chapman beat out Ty Cobb this year on the paths. When he steps back of the plate he is pulling one of the smoothest pieces of split second baseball in the game.
The step or two he takes throws the catcher back just that much farther. It is legal but it makes
the pitcher throw two or three feet farther to the catcher and the catcher’s throw as much farther to second. The fraction of a second taken in the extra feet the ball must travel means a great deal on a close decision. It may mean three feet to the base runner and that three extra feet may mean an extra base and a ball game. It is one of the little things in baseball, seldom noticed by the fans
in the stands which makes the ball player great instead of merely mediocre. Really great managers nowadays are demanding speed and more speed. The player who can cut a
half a second off a run between bases is very valuable.

It should be noted that Speaker stood deep in the box so his step back would have made the catcher shift since Speaker, no doubt, would have been out of the batter’s box.

In 1926, Dutch Leonard accused Speaker and Ty Cobb of betting/throwing the 25 September 1919 game.

Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis would investigate and clear the two, although it is pretty clear that a bet was placed on the game, not illegal at that time. Ban Johnson saw the matter differently and forced Speaker and Cobb to quit. Speaker’s time in Cleveland was up, but he would soon be on his way to Washington.