Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dissecting a photo of a steal of home

Monte Irvin steals home in the first inning of the first
game of the 1951 World Series.

The above photo was moved Tuesday by The Associated Press as part of its coverage of the death of Hall of Famer Monte Irvin. I can't help but be intrigued by it.

Note, for example, the catcher's box. It's not the rectangle we're used to seeing now; it's a trapezoid. When, I wonder, did that change? Did catchers ever actually set up in the far reaches of that box?

Note, too, where catcher Yogi Berra is. He's taken a giant stride forward -- and he's still a couple of feet behind home plate. I infer from this that Berra (and his catching colleagues of the era) set up further from the plate than do today's backstops.

Then there's the sheer audacity of the play shown. Irvin was the Giants' cleanup hitter. It's the first inning of the first game of the World Series. The batter, Bobby Thomson, is just off one of the most famous home runs in baseball history ("The Giants win the pennant!"). I doubt there is a cleanup hitter today who would consider stealing home in such a situation -- or, for that matter, a manager who would allow it.

And why, you might ask, is Thomson on the ground? Let me set the stage, courtesy of the play-by-play to be found on Baseball Reference. Facing Yankee starter Allie Reynolds, leadoff hitter Eddie Stanky grounded out, and Al Dark flew to right. Hank Thompson walked, and Irvin singled. Whitey Lockman then hit a ground-rule double, scoring Thompson, which brought Thomson to the plate. Reynolds was a right-handed pitcher, and he was presumably using the windup. When he saw Irvin break for the plate, he fired the pitch up and in, forcing Thomson out of Berra's way (and if he hit Thomson, the play is dead and Irvin has to return to third). But as you can see here, Irvin is into his slide as Berra is catching the pitch, and Berra has a long way to go to get the tag on Irvin.

The steal gave the Giants a 2-0 lead, and they won 5-1. But the Yankees won the series in six games.

1 comment:

  1. That WS was just before I became a baseball fan.