Basepath stop and go signs are answer

John Steadman

April 19, 1993|By John Steadman

What the Baltimore Orioles need, in the aftermath of player congestion, is a turnstile that allows only one occupant per base. If not a turnstile, which costs money to be installed, then one of those manually operated "stop and go" signs fastened to a pole that are used to control traffic and prevent pile-ups when roads are under repair.

No doubt, if need be, one of the State Highway Department employees could get a leave of absence and take over at third base on a temporary basis. He might, in the interest of assisting the home team, volunteer his services to the Orioles or else show coach Mike Ferraro how to correctly turn the sign by taking him to the work site for on-the-job training.

The Orioles must be told if the red side is visible it means stop; the green side means to proceed. Hopefully, they'll be able to comprehend the signals and not tie up traffic. Such an endeavor will work effectively unless the base runner is color-blind.

If this isn't considered practical, then Ferraro could have a hank of rope and tether the players, holding the line when they are to be restrained and releasing them when it's the appropriate time to run. He would be a "flag man," so to speak.

Manager Johnny Oates might also call a special meeting and take the team around the bases starting at home plate and then proceed to first, second and third. This wouldn't be precedent-setting because Hall of Fame member Burleigh Grimes, when he managed, would occasionally take his players on a tour of the base paths so they could discover the exact location of home plate and visit each bag in proper sequence.

Saturday, the Orioles invaded the "avenue of the bizarre" when they had three runners on third base. Simultaneously. Instead of scoring, it meant, for reference's sake, Mike Devereaux actually singled into a double play. After Devereaux's hit, Jeff Tackett, Brady Anderson and Chito Martinez wound up sharing third base.

Then catcher John Orton, of the California Angels, leaving nothing to chance, tagged all three runners. The inning was over. Rather than runs on the scoreboard, the Orioles' gaffe was instrumental in a 7-5 loss. It's a moment to remember in Orioles' history.

Ferraro says the crowd noise was such that Tackett didn't hear his order to "go home" and, instead, tried to reclaim third. But it was already taken and this caused baseball's ugly version of what results in a pileup on the base lanes.

The Orioles, it's appropriate to point out, came close to duplicating what happened to the storied Babe Herman and the 1926 Brooklyn Dodgers while they faced the Boston Braves. Neither team is doing business in its original franchise city but that's a postscript to the incident. The Dodgers, of course, were a zany crew during that era and fully earned the nickname, Daffiness Boys, that befit their reputation.

The Dodgers, though, fared better than the Orioles. They scored the winning run out of the confusion. Technically, Herman had doubled into a double play. A Baltimorean and former Oriole, Wilson "Chick" Fewster, father of the later day Johns Hopkins University lacrosse All-America and coach of the same name, was involved.

With the bases loaded, including Fewster, the liner by Herman went deep to right. The runner on third scored easily but Dazzy Vance, who had been on second, thought the ball might be caught. He broke belatedly, rounded third, got halfway and went back.

But Fewster was already there, not anticipating Vance's return. Herman, meanwhile, running hard, figured he had a triple. At that point, one-third of the Dodgers team was on the same base and Eddie Taylor, the Braves' third baseman, tagged them all.

Herman, though, suddenly tried to go back to second and was out. The comedy of errors evolved into a momentous part of baseball lore, especially a follow-up story by author Quentin Reynolds, who sometime later was seated in the last row of the Ebbets Field grandstand.

He looked out on the street to see a fan arriving late for the game. "Better hurry up," he was told. "You're missing something big. The Dodgers have three men on base." "Yeah?" cried the late-arrival, "Which base?"

The incident provoked such humor that in 1951, authors Ira L. Smith and H. Allen Smith, wrote a book with the title, "Three Men On Third." The Orioles have now written a sequel, an updated version.

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