The hidden-ball trick is a pastime within a pastime. It’s one of the rarest, sneakiest fits of baseball strategy, and when it’s executed properly, it’s a thing of beauty.
The Carolina Mudcats, an A-ball affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, have sculpted a hidden-ball-trick Michelangelo. Here it is, from Wednesday:
To set the scene:
The Mudcats are playing the Buies Creek Astros. The Astros run a double-steal, and the catcher throws down to third base. Both runners are safe, for the moment.
But Mudcats third baseman Lucas Erceg has his head in the game. He glances toward his pitcher and fakes throwing the ball back to him, but he doesn’t actually get rid of it. Everyone on the Mudcats proceeds as normal, whether they all know the jig is up or not, and get set for the next pitch. But Erceg retains the ball, hidden away.
It takes 40 seconds after Erceg first catches the ball for the baserunner on third to finally take a lead and step off the bag. Erceg tags him immediately. We lack a wide video angle to prove this, but it seems that the Mudcat pitcher never stepped on the pitching rubber. As long as he didn’t, there’s no balk, and this is all above board. And if he did toe the rubber, congrats to the Mudcats on pulling off the perfect crime.
The Astros’ manager, Omar Lopez, argued the out call and was ejected
On the next batter, the Mudcats pulled off another unique bit of defense. This play also involved Erceg, though it wasn’t as intentional as the hidden ball.
Minor league baseball: the greatest sometimes.
For your enjoyment, here’s a supercut of big-league HBTs: