By Cliff Corcoran
On Friday night, Blue Jays shortstop Ryan Goins stole an out from the Yankees and erased a runner in scoring position in an 8-1 Blue Jays win in Toronto. He did so by catching Todd Frazier with the ol' hidden-ball trick.
This is one of baseball's many great little quirks, a schoolyard play that remains well within the rules of the game and pops up every few years. If no one calls time out and the baserunners are sufficiently distracted, an infielder can hide the ball in his glove, stick close to the base, and hope the baserunner wanders off the bag before the pitcher straddles the rubber.
According to Bill Deane's 2015 book Finding the Hidden Ball Trick: The Colorful History of Baseball's Oldest Ruse, there have been roughly 265 occurrences of the hidden-ball trick in Major League history, but just five between 2000 and 2014. Here are those five, along with a few other notable examples.
Todd Helton gets Matt Carpenter, Sept. 19, 2013
The most recent successful hidden-ball trick I was able to find was this play from late in Carpenter's breakout 2013 season. Carpenter dove back into first on a pick-off throw, but forgot to call time before getting up to dust off his hands. Veteran Rockies first baseman Helton, then in his final season, faked the throw back to the pitcher, stuffed the ball in his glove, then tagged Carpenter on the backside as he wandered off the bag for the final out of the first inning. Helton, who hit his penultimate Major League home run later in the game, a 7-6 Rockies win, got that play in just under the wire; he played just eight more games in the Major Leagues.
Ian Kinsler gets Max Stassi, Aug. 20, 2013
Stassi, making his debut for the Astros, collected his first Major League hit to lead off the top of the fifth against the Rangers. With one out, Marwin Gonzalez hit a comebacker to Rangers pitcher Jason Frasor, who overthrew Elvis Andrus covering second base. However, the throw didn't miss Andrus by much, tipping off Andrus's glove and going directly to Kinsler, who was backing up the play on the infield dirt. Andrus, who fell forward in his attempt to make the play, kept his glove closed almost by accident. Stassi, who slid into the base, seemed to think Andrus had the ball and wandered off the bag as Andrus walked in on the grass toward the pitcher. That's when Kinsler raced in behind Stassi and tagged him out. Stassi had a less eventful single later in the game, a 4-2 Rangers win, but didn't reach base in his only other two Major League games that season.
Evan Longoria gets Jose Uribe, Aug. 10, 2013
This was a particularly brazen example. It started with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center by A.J. Ellis on which all three Dodgers runners advanced, including Uribe from second to third. The ball came back in to Rays first baseman James Loney near the mound, but with both baserunners bent over adjusting their shoes or uniforms, Loney flipped the ball to shortstop Yunel Escobar, who flipped it to Longoria, who was standing just behind Uribe in foul territory. Uribe didn't notice the throw at all, but third base coach Tim Wallach did and was in the process of telling Uribe to stay on the bag when Uribe adjusted his feet, briefly lost contact with the bag, and was tagged out the second out of the inning, effectively killing the Dodgers' rally (they won 5-0 anyway).
The Dodgers subsequently brought in magician Jason Latimer to teach Uribe a proper hidden-ball trick.
Julio Lugo gets Alberto Callaspo, June 8, 2007
This one barely qualifies, as veteran Red Sox shortstop Lugo didn't fake a throw or shift the ball at all. He merely held it hoping that Callaspo, still technically a rookie, would slip up. He did. Callaspo, then with the D-backs, had led off the bottom of the third with a single. On catcher Chris Snyder's subsequent bouncing-ball single into shallow right, Callaspo took a huge turn around second and just barely dove back into the bag safely ahead of Lugo's tag. Lugo held up his glove with the ball in it appealing for the call from the second base umpire, only to see Callaspo called safe. Lugo then took three steps behind Callaspo and waited. Callaspo failed to call time, and when he stood up, he briefly lost contact with the bag and was tagged out. Snyder would come around to score in the inning, but Arizona lost 10-3.
Mike Lowell gets Luis Terrero, Aug. 10, 2005
With the Diamondbacks down 6-5 to the Marlins, D'backs center field prospect Terrero led off the top of the eighth with a bunt single to third, was sacrifices to second, and moved to third on a single to left by pinch-hitter, and current union head, Tony Clark. The ball came back in to Marlins third baseman Lowell, who simply held the ball and sidled up to Terrero, hoping the rookie would make a mistake. Pitcher Todd Jones, aware of what Lowell was up to, went about his routine behind the mound, and when the pitcher picked up the rosin bag, Terrero took his lead, and Lowell applied the tag for the second out of the inning. Jones then snuffed out the rally by striking out Craig Counsell. The Marlins added four runs in the bottom of the inning and won 10-5. Here's Lowell's entertaining recounting of the play ten years later:
Ozzie Guillen is victimized twice in 1989
The following This Week In Baseball Clip shows future White Sox manager Guillen getting duped the same way twice. In each instance, Guillen dives back into first base on a pick-off play. The first baseman fakes a throw back to the pitcher. Guillen takes his hands off the bag and gets tagged out. The Brewers' Greg Brock does the honors in the first clip. The Tigers' Dave Bergman pulls the trick the second time, giving Guillen a solid blow to the helmet in the process. The latter incident occurred for the final out in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 7-5 White Sox win on Aug. 5, 1989.
Two years later, Guillen was again made victim of the hidden-ball trick, this time at second base at Fenway Park on May 13, 1991. The fielder who got him was Red Sox second baseman Steve Lyons, who had been Guillen's teammate during the previous two instances.
Dave Bergman gets Alan Wiggins, June 17, 1986
Mel Allen wasn't kidding when he called Dave Bergman the master of the hidden-ball trick in the clip above. Here's Bergman catching the Orioles' Alan Wiggins off first base for the final out of the third inning of a 6-3 Tigers win over Baltimore.
However, Bergman had a contemporary rival in hidden-ball excellence in Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett. Per Deane, the above two were the only hidden-ball tricks of Bergman's career, but Barrett (who was also master of the trick slide) pulled it off three times, doing so twice against the Angels in July 1985. The true master, however, was Yankees shortstop Gene Michael, who turned the trick five times in his career.
"I had five of them, but I could have had 15," said Michael, who passed away earlier this month. "If you did it too much, they'd think you were trying to be smarter than they were, so I stopped doing it."
Since Barrett, the only players to turn the trick twice have been second basemen Jeff Treadway, of the Braves, and Delino DeSheilds, of the Expos, and Giants third baseman Matt Williams. On both occasions, Williams asked the baserunner to step off the bag so that he could clean it. Harold Reynolds pulled the same trick on the late Darryl Hamilton during the latter's first spring training, as the two entertainingly recounted, and reenacted, here in the wake of the Uribe play:
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.