When Jimmy Rollins held up his hand toward Mets baserunner Josh Thole last week, it meant by every indication that the ball was no longer in play–in this case, a bunt gone foul. Thole, who had steamed into second base on R.A. Dickey‘s sacrifice attempt, started jogging back to first.
The problem, at least as far as Thole was concerned, was that Dickey’s ball was still live, having been laid down perfectly inside the line. Cliff Lee threw the ball to Rollins, who relayed it to first baseman Jim Thome just ahead of a desperately diving baserunner. (Watch it here.)
“Jimmy put his hands up, like ‘Come in easy. You can come in easy,’ ” said Thole after the game in the Newark Star-Ledger. He later continued: “I looked at the umpire, and got a weird stare from him, and then I looked back and the ball was on his way to first. I didn’t know what else to do. I just kept running.”
If Rollins’ gesture was intentional (and with the shortstop failing to address the issue after the game, there is little reason to think that it wasn’t; see a screen grab at Philly.com), he added an entry to a sizeable section of Code dealing with gamesmanship. At its core: Get every advantage you can, in any way possible. Such plays are known as dekes (short for “decoy”), and although Rollins’ example wasn’t typical of the genre, it wasn’t quite original, either. From TheBaseball Codes:
In a 1972 game between the Giants and Padres, Johnny Jeter stole a base so easily that there was no throw. He dived headﬁrst into the base anyway, a clear sign that he hadn’t looked in to follow the action. Seeing this, San Francisco shortstop Chris Speier pounced. “Hold up, hold up—foul ball,” he said nonchalantly. Astonishingly, the ploy worked. Jeter started back to ﬁrst base, Giants catcher Dave Rader ﬁred the ball to second, and Jeter was tagged out. “Oh shit, was he pissed,” said Speier, grinning at the thought more than three decades later.
This gets to the heart of the issue. Had Jeter—or Thole, 40 years later—been paying attention, neither would have gotten snookered.
“I don’t think any baserunner should fall for a deke,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “There are things I’m supposed to be doing when a ball is put in play, so how can you deke me? A ball is hit, and I’m supposed to know where that ball is at all times. And if I run blind and get deked out, whose fault is that? Is that the inﬁelder who deked me out, or is that my fault for not knowing what’s going on?”
The problem for Thole was that he had been paying attention.
“I knew the ball was fair,” he said in the Star-Ledger. “I even looked down. You can go watch the video. I checked in. The ball was on the floor. I just took off running back to first. I’ve got no other explanation . . . I don’t know what I was thinking.”