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Don't get defensive about stolen base indifference

Sep 22, 2009, 11:55 PM EDT

If I write this story and no one cares, should it count? (Don’t answer that please!)

I think of this after seeing an interesting story by the New York Times’ Jack Curry on the only time a stolen base doesn’t count as a stolen base: When the defense doesn’t care.

You may have already known this, but the “defensive indifference” rule has been around for 89 years. The people over at Elias actually keep track of them.

Usually this only comes into play late in a ballgame when the leading team doesn’t bother to stop a runner from stealing a base, preferring to keep its defense in place and focus on getting the final outs of the game.

So when a runner swipes a base under these conditions, “defensive indifference” is called, and the runner is not credited for a steal. I guess it’s sort of like when people leave their junk on the sidewalk with an attached sign reading “free.” If you take the junk, the previous owner can’t turn around and call the cops on you.

While some players might think that is hardly fair – after all, football and basketball players are free to pad their stats late in blowout games – the general consensus among those interviewed by Curry (including Carlos Beltran) don’t seem to mind.

“If the first baseman plays 50 feet behind me, there’s no way that’s a steal,” Beltran said. “As a base runner, I wouldn’t want that.”

And don’t worry baserunners, if you fall down and are tagged out, you won’t be charged with a caught stealing.

Hirdt noted that Rule 10.07(h) states that a runner cannot be nabbed with a caught stealing if he would not have been credited with a steal if he had been safe.

Fair is fair – after all – if they don’t care.

  1. Jerrold Gilbert - Sep 23, 2009 at 6:12 AM

    I don’t like that rule. I don’t think it is fair to the runner who can’t be sure an attempt won’t be made to tag him out. He takes the risk, & he should get the reward. Rule 10.07(h)is meaningless. Of what consolation is it to the runner that he won’t be charged with a caught stealing if he is still out. In fact, that rule proves the point that the defense must not have been completely indifferent, & so it was a real risk. The same risk would be there if the defense was willing for the runner to take the base but he fell down & was too easily put out for the indifferent defense not to tag him.What problem was the rule supposed to solve? Too many stolen bases?

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