October 2, 2009 • Baseball

The Priority System in Baseball

Who’s got the ball?

A collision or near-collision between two outfielders, two infielders, or an infielder and an outfielder can prove costly during a ball game. It usually occurs between a pair of determined, aggressive players, who fail to hear, see or take charge of an otherwise simple play.

Result: A serious injury. Remember that harrowing collision between the Yankees’ Gary Sheffield and Bubba Crosby in Game #5 of the 2005 American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels?

And how about the opposite side of the spectrum—the so-called Alphonse and Gaston act where overcautious and timid players gave the right of way to each other, with the ball falling safely between them?

The solution to this dilemma is setting up a system covering all fly balls and pop-ups. The two or three players involved immediately know who has prime responsibility, whose call takes precedence, and who should back away.

The system is based upon the following principles:

1. It is easier for an outfielder to come forward to catch a fly ball than for an infielder to go back. This is because the ball is drifting into the outfielder while it is drifting away from the infielder. Also, the outfielder, by moving in, will end up in better throwing position in case a base runner is tagging up and trying to advance.

2. It is easier for a shortstop to circle behind a third baseman than a third baseman to go backward. This is because the shortstop is playing deeper to begin with and has a better angle on the ball. For the same reasons, it is easier for a second baseman to circle behind a first baseman than for a first baseman to go back.

3. It is easier for a first or third baseman to come in on a pop-up rather than for a catcher to go out since the ball is drifting into the infielder rather than away from the catcher.

4. It is easier for a pitcher to come in for a pop-up than for a catcher to go out for the same reason. Pitchers may have the best shot of all on shallow bloops and bunts. On the youth or novice level, pitchers are almost always one of the team’s best athletes, so they should have no trouble fielding pop-ups and bunts.

There are also rules covering fly balls:

1. No matter how obvious it may be who should catch a fly ball, that player must warn the other players away.

2. When two individuals both go after a fly ball, the one who is called “off” must reassure the other player by telling him or her to “take it.”

3. Players chase all fly balls they can reach until someone else calls him or her “off” it. They should not automatically assume that someone else “has it.”

4. Wait until the ball reaches the peak of its climb before calling for it. Novice players – in their enthusiasm – often call for the ball “too soon.”

5. The centerfielder has top priority on balls reachable by him or her and another outfielder. The other outfielder should then go behind the centerfielder. There is always the possibility that the original fielder may “misjudge” the flight of the ball or a sudden strong gust of wind may carry the ball farther than they originally thought.

6. Also be aware of the sun. An outfielder may lose sight of a ball but if another player hustles to back him or her up, he or she may be able to come to the “rescue.”

7. Let the players involved determine who should catch the fly ball. Outside calls from the bench usually do nothing more than create confusion.

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