The worst part about writing the book was cutting it down. Early drafts were much, much longer than the final product, and even the final cut came down to my editor saying “I like this long chunk too much to cut, let’s go for it”.
This meant that a lot of fun stuff was left out, and I want to share those here in the hopes that you’ll like them enough to buy the book, which has the cream of the crop. (Pre-order now!)
The other problem, which I’m also going to try and address here, is there are many great cheating stories that I couldn’t find enough evidence for to include in the book, and I want to share those, too, and talk about how far I got if I researched them, and why they were left out, and how plausible they are.
The Story of Dick Williams and the Movable Second Base
Supposedly when he was leaving the Angels in 1976, he went out to one of the grounds crew and said “I don’t recognize you, are you new?” The guy said “Kind of, I’ve been around for a while (seasons/years).” And Williams said “Well, you can put second base back where it’s supposed to be, I had them move it two feet closer to first when I got here.”
Did Williams move the bases and, if so, how big of a difference would that have made?
Let me take the last one first. Two feet off a 90′ distance is significant – it’s a 2% reduction in distance, and that would indeed make it easier to swipe.
Say that it takes a player four seconds to go from his lead into second. Moving the base two feet closer reduces that to 3.9 seconds. That’s huge – teams time pitchers and catchers in order to determine how long their delivery time home and their time from catch to throw arrival at second is, and then knowing the speed of the runner, can make decisions on whether to send them. A consistent tenth of a second advantage sounds tiny, but in execution it could be huge. If one side knew and the other didn’t, that’d be a big advantage.
Did the Angels steal more? In 1973, they stole 59 bases (and were caught stealing 47 times), and only Sandy Alomar was any kind of threat on the basepaths. In 1974, Williams came in and managed the team for 84 games, and they stole 119 (and were caught another 79 times). 106 attempts went up to 198, but their success rate wasn’t great. In 1975, Williams’ first full season, we’d expect to see them steal like crazy, and they did – 220 stolen bases, 108 caught stealing (328 attempts!). 1976, he’s fired ninety games into the season, and they stole 126 and were caught 80 times. 1977, his first year gone, it’s 159-86.
1973 (no Williams) – 106 attempts, 56% success
1974 (half-season) – 198 attempts, 60% success
1975 (full season) – 328 attempts, 67% success
1976 (half-season) – 206 attempts, 60% success
Unfortunately, personell turnover makes this tough. Sandy Alomar was the team’s only real stolen base threat in 1973, but hardly played for them in 1974. Morris Nettles stole 20 bases in 1974 and 1975 but was gone in 1976.
Look at a player like Jerry Remy, a guy with speed. You’d expect that the team would make maximum use of their advantage by having their fast players attempt steals more often. But Remy’s attempts aren’t unusual in 75/76 compared with later years when Williams is gone.
The counterexample here is Mickey Rivers, who started to steal a lot more when Williams came to the Angels, peaking with 70 SB and 14 CS in 1975, and after 1976, post-Williams, throttling back significantly. Leroy Stanton’s the same way.
And that jump in success is interesting. I’d say statistically, this is plausible.
However, in practice, the chances he pulled this off take a hit.
First, moving second towards first seems to require that you move 3rd base towards home, too, creating a rectangle:
+-----+ | | +-----+
Where first-to-second and third-to-home are 88′ and home-to-first and second-to-third remain 90′. Otherwise, you could look straight over from second and third base would be off the line. But in total, it’s not that huge of an area reduction that it’d be obvious – 7,920 sq ft in the shaved version, 8,100 in the other. That’s enough that you probably wouldn’t notice it if you were looking at the whole diamond.
But what if you had an on-the-field view that would be particularly well-suited for this? For parts of three seasons, opposing catchers looked straight past the mound, a viewpoint they’d have grown used to over years and years, thousands of games, and seen that second base didn’t lineup directly behind the pitcher’s mound.
Catcher ----> mound ----> second base ~64' ~64'
Two feet’s not going to line up from behind home plate. They could see, for instance, that instead of being about in the middle of the rubber, it was off towards the right.
But how much? I broke out the geometry and figured that it’s under a degree difference. Here’s the thing, though – the whole pitching rubber takes up about two degrees of their vision. So where second base is usually exactly in the center of the rubber as they look out, a two foot move means it jumps all the way to one side. I think they’d catch that. And catchers, as a lot, because they’re often enlisted in cheating, do tend to have a good sense for this kind of thing.
I was also unable to find any anecdotal evidence, in papers or biographies, for this story. However, I did hear it fairly late in the process, so it’s not like Tommy John’s ball-scuffing, where I could really go to town on it.
To sum up, then –
Could it have happened? It’s possible
Is it likely to have gone unnoticed for that long? I don’t think so