NEW YORK -- Even as Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson continue to pile up stolen bases, pitchers are trying to keep a leg up on would-be base stealers. The greatest success has come from the slide step, which is really a sly step aimed at cutting down stolen bases.
New York Yankees pitching coach Billy Connors is credited with developing the slide step a couple of seasons ago. Connors said it was a technique developed out of frustration.
"You always had to work on pitchers' moves," he said. "You had to change their delivery and do all different things. With this [slide step], you don't have to worry about it."
Connors explains the slide step this way: "What you're doing is cutting the guy's delivery down a little. Instead of lifting his leg way up, he's just going to step out. He's quickening his delivery. You get a baserunner, they've seen you're normal motion, and now all of a sudden you do a slide step, the guy goes 'uh-oh,' and he can't run. He's waiting for you to lift that leg. What that does is stop the guy from getting a running start."
Because the slide step differs from a pitcher's normal delivery, Connors said it cannot easily be analyzed by a runner. "With the slide step, you're not doing it every time," Connors said. "That's the beauty of it."
Seattle Mariners catcher Dave Valle said the slide step "makes ++ the pitcher two- to three-tenths of a second quicker to home plate. If a pitcher can get the ball home in one to three seconds, that's very good."
Kirk McCaskill of the California Angels said the slide step has been a revolutionary weapon against base stealers. "You see the pitchers that don't use it vs. those who do and there's a real difference," he said.
Why don't all pitchers go for the slide step? "There's a lot of guys who, when they first try it, go, 'Oh, I can't do this,' " Connors said. "Then all of a sudden they find out they can pick a guy off, stop a guy from running and see a guy thrown out by 10 feet at second base. Then they feel comfortable with it. "
Speedy Otis Nixon of the Montreal Expos said the slide step has been effective. "That's why you don't see 100 stolen bases anymore," he said. "You are going to see more in the 60 to 80 range from here on out because pitchers are tricky and using FTC more and more of this slide step."
Combating the slide step can be difficult, Coleman, of the St. Louis Cardinals, said. "It deals a lot with the mind," he said. "It puts a thought in the back of your mind that you could get thrown out."
For the prolific base stealers, the running continues. "You never stop running," the Houston Astros' Eric Yelding said, "because it your whole game, your whole livelihood. So you keep running and you know in your mind that sometimes they're going to get you. But it doesn't mean you stop."