The So-Called “Steal” of First Base
The supposed “steal of first” (from second base) took place three times in the major leagues during the 20th century. Like many nuances of the game, it probably took place in the majors during the 19th century and in the minors as well.
AUGUST 13, 1902 – Detroit at Philadelphia, A’s over Tigers 9-0
In the second game of a doubleheader on August 13, 1902 Harry Davis (on first) and Dave Fultz (on third) of the A’s attempted a double steal in the sixth inning. Davis is conceded second base as catcher so Fultz remains at third.
On Tigers’ George Mullin’s next pitch Davis returned to first base. Umpire Jack Sheridan allowed Davis to remain at first. Davis takes off for second again; this time drawing a throw. In the rundown Fultz scores and Davis is safe at second. Fultz and Davis are both credited with one stolen base for the game.
JULY 31, 1908 – St. Louis at New York, Giants over Cardinals 9-2
On July 31, 1908 the Giants’ Fred Tenney (on first) and Dummy Taylor (on third) attempted a double steal in the eighth inning. Tenney took off for second but could not coax a throw, so Taylor remained at third.
On the Cardinals’ Bugs Raymond’s next pitch Tenney returned to first base. Umpire Jim Johnstone allowed Tenney to remain at first. Then, Tenney takes off for second and makes it; Taylor does not score.
The Cardinals, especially Raymond, are livid not only about the farce but that the Giants would attempt a double steal up 9-2 in the eighth inning. This may have been exacerbated by the fact that the Giants pulled Cy Seymour, Moose McCormick, Al Bridwell and Roger Bresnahan from the rout highlighting their dominance over the Cardinals that day.
New York Times 8.01.1908
SEPTEMBER 4, 1908
Davy Jones recounted a story about Germany Schaefer “stealing” first base in a game while with the Tigers in Glory of Their Times. It is widely attributed to have taken place on September 4, 1908 in a game versus the Indians (Naps). The story goes like this:
September 4th, 1908: With a runner on 3B, Germany Schaefer attempts to draw a throw by stealing 2B, but the Cleveland catcher, Nig Clarke, holds on to the ball. With runners on 2B and 3B, Schaefer takes off for 1B and is credited with a stolen base. On the next pitch he takes off again for 2B and arrives safely, this time drawing a throw and allowing Davey Jones to score from 3B. Schaefer is credited with one SB.
The Tigers actually played the Browns that day. The Indians and Tigers did have a series from August 30 to September 3.
The principals listed in the story are Nig Clarke (catching), Sam Crawford (at bat), Jones (on third) and Schaefer (on first). Even considering the possibility that Crawford wasn’t the batter, it did not happen in this series. Nor was it mentioned in the newspapers which is odd for the fact that Fred Tenney pulled off the play several weeks earlier and was roundly noted.
8/30 – No Tiger stolen bases. Crawford was injured and was replaced by Jones. Schaefer batted second and Jones third, unlikely Jones would be on third when Schaffer is on first. Clarke did catch.
8/31 – No Tiger stolen bases. Schaefer bats second, Jones third. Crawford does not play but Clarke does.
9/1 – Cobb has the only steal of game. Schaefer bats second, Jones third. Crawford bats once for the pitcher in the ninth position at the end of the game. Clarke does catch.
9/2 – No steals in game. Clarke did catch. Schaefer bats second, Jones third, Crawford does not play.
9/3 – No steals; neither Jones nor Clarke plays.
To my knowledge, the game Jones cites (decades later) has not been verified.
AUGUST 4, 1911 – Washington at Chicago, Senators over White Sox, 1-0
In the ninth inning (first game of a doubleheader) of a scoreless game between the Senators and White Sox on August 4, 1911 Germany Schaefer does indeed “steal” first base.
Clyde Milan of the Senators opened the ninth with a double. Schafer then came up and bunted to first. White Sox first baseman Shano Collins pickup up the ball and threw to third trying to nail Milan. Schaefer and Milan were both safe.
Kid Elberfeld flew up. Schaefer stole second and then Doc Gessler struck out. Tilly Walker, 0 for 3, came to the plate. Schaefer surprised everyone when he turned around and jogged back to first base and stood there.
All were stunned and White Sox manager Hugh Duffy ran onto the field to argue with home plate umpire Tommy Connolly. Duffy then headed for base umpire Doc Parker. Parker refused to declare Schaefer out as he had not been tagged out.
While Duffy was arguing, Schaefer crept off first and took off as pitcher Doc White threw the ball to Collins at first. Collins ran towards Schaefer and then noticed Milan take off for home. Connolly called Milan out.
Washington protested the fact that Chicago had ten men on the field – Duffy being the tenth. Neither umpire had called time since the play was still ongoing as Schaefer was off his legal base.
The umpires ruled that Duffy was not a party to the play and thus the call stood – Milan was out. The Senators won in the eleventh, capturing Walter Johnson one of his many famous 1-0-victories.
Schaefer was credited with a stolen base.
Contemporary Rule 52 stated that “The base runner can only acquire the right to a base by touching it before having been put out, and shall then be entitled to hold such base until he has legally touched the next base in order, or has been legally forced to vacate.”
As noted, Schaefer was legally entitled to only second base. Off second, he merely had to be tagged out.
Washington Post 8/5/1911
Rule 7.08(i) was passed in 1920 addressing the purpose of Davis, Tenney and Schaefer’s “steal” of first stunts. It reads:
“After he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game. The umpire shall immediately call “Time” and declare the runner out; If a runner touches an unoccupied base and then thinks the ball was caught or is decoyed into returning to the base he last touched, he may be put out running back to that base, but if he reaches the previously occupied base safely he cannot be put out while in contact with that base.”