“Excited and Nervous Players are Easy to Beat”

22 Feb

Ty Cobb shared his base running philosophy with writer Frank Menke in 1921, as part of a series of “As told to” articles for the King Features Syndicate.  Menke said of Cobb’s revelations:

Frank Menke

Frank Menke

“While it is of the most vital interest to youngsters, it also furnishes splendid reading for the adult fan, for it details the methods which Cobb used to reach baseball greatness”

Cobb’s view of base running seems appropriate for his personality:

“Keep in mind that when you are on bases you are fighting practically alone against nine men.  Every player on the other team is there for the purpose of killing you off before you can advance further.  You are faced by desperate odds, and the only chance you have for success is increasing watchfulness and alertness in taking advantage of every advancement chance that comes to you”

He was also clear about who owned the base paths:

“The baselines belong to the runner.  The baseman has no right to block your way.  According to the rules, you are justified in sliding into any baseman who tried to bar you progress illegitimately.  But don’t play dirty baseball.  Never run into a baseman unless it’s absolutely necessary.”


Cobb stressed the importance of knowing four things every time he reached base: whether the catcher had a strong arm, the pitcher’s ability to hold a runner, the “trickiness” of the first baseman and how good each infielder was at taking throws and tagging base runners:

“You learn those things by observation.  Utilize every minute on the bench in studying the other players.  Learn what they can do—and what they can’t do—by watching them.  Then, when your time comes to run the bases, you’ll be ‘smarted’ up.”


“Upon arriving at first, it is usually a splendid thing to bluff a steal immediately.  That will enable you to learn whether the shortstop or the second baseman will cover the bag.  You can use that knowledge to your advantage when you are sliding into the bag… While on the bases, always keep yourself facing the man with the ball.  Maintain a position so that when the ball goes into play, you can advance to the next bag, or dart back to your own, as may be necessary, without an iota of lost motion.

“Worry the opposing infield—and especially the pitcher.  Keep racing back and forth.  Get a tantalizing distance off your bag but never too far so that you can’t get back in safely. Bluff steals. That helps to rattle the pitcher—and that’s what one of your chief aims should be.  Get the other fellows excited, and as nervous as possible.  Remember that excited and nervous players are easy to beat.”


“Hesitation in base running is fatal.  Once you make up your mind to steal and the signal has been passed to your mates, don’t hesitate.  If you hesitate, all is lost.  For hesitation loses you a second or so and the difference between a putout and a successful steal usually in less than a second of time.”

He also provided sliding tips:

“Practice feet-first sliding…You’ll need to slide practically every time you attempt to steal.  Try short slides first, while running only at a moderate speed.  Then try longer ones.  As you acquire the knack of successful long slides from slow runs, increase your running speed.  As you increase your speed, go back first of all to the short slide and gradually work up to the long slide from a full-speed run.

“When hitting the dirt, aim to land on the side of your leg, with most of the weight and impact upon the fleshiest part of the upper hip.  Keep your legs rigid. Otherwise, they may double over and break.



“Protect your arm when sliding.  Keep it clear of the underside of your body.  Otherwise, they may double up under the body and be broken or seriously injured…Never try to slide between a baseman’s legs unless it is absolutely necessary.  He spreads his legs for the main purpose of trapping you as you come in.  Try to hit the bag on one or the other side of him.

“Having reached your base in safety, get up quickly.  Don’t loiter.  Be ready to shoot for the next base.  How do you know—unless you are on your feet and watching—that the baseman hasn’t muffed the ball or that the catcher hasn’t thrown wildly to the outfield?”

In the end, Cobb was making the case for his style of play at the dawn of baseball’s new age:

“Keep your brain at work…Take chances but not foolhardy ones…Keep your eyes open—be alert—always.  Never fail to take advantage of the other fellow’s misplay…They win ballgames.  A run made on an error isn’t as spectacular as a home run.  But it counts as much in the total.”

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