MLB Power Rankings: The 10 Dumbest Base Running Plays of All Time

Chris SbalcioCorrespondent IApril 19, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: The 10 Dumbest Base Running Plays of All Time

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    In professional baseball, knowing how to run the bases is something that is taken for granted.  It is assumed that anyone can figure out how to run around the diamond-shaped path on a baseball field's infield.  

    So, when players make mistakes on the basepaths, they stand out more than things like errors, or wild pitches, or other mistakes because everyone watching knows that even they could do that.  Sometimes these base running blunders are laughable, but sometimes they can change the course of baseball history.

    I have compiled here a list of what are, in my opinion, the 10 dumbest base running plays of all time, with each one getting dumber and dumber as the list goes on.  All of these mistakes could have easily been avoided if the players involved had thought things through or just focused a little bit on the task in front of them, but I guess the split-second decisions are what make baseball such a great, but complex game.

Josh Hamilton

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    So who didn't make the connection here as to why I am writing about the dumbest base running mistakes in history?  For those of you who haven't heard, the Rangers' reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton broke his arm sliding headfirst to home plate against the Tigers last Tuesday.  

    Why was this a dumb base running play, you ask?  Well here's what happened.  Josh Hamilton hit a one-out RBI triple in the first inning, bringing Adrian Beltre to the plate.  Beltre proceeded to pop out in foul territory in between third and home, but both Brandon Inge and Victor Martinez ran to catch the ball, leaving the plate unprotected.

    Josh Hamilton and Rangers' third base coach Dave Anderson saw this and Anderson instructed Hamilton to tag up and head home once the ball was caught.  Hamilton did so, but Martinez got back to the plate quicker than expected, and applied the tag to Hamilton before he touched home plate.

    This in itself was a dumb play, but what made it worse was Hamilton sliding headfirst, causing him to fracture his arm just underneath his shoulder.  The Rangers had the whole game left ahead of them.  They even had another chance to score Hamilton from third in that inning.  Now they don't have their best player for six-eight weeks.

Lyn Lary

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    In 1931 Lyn Lary was on Babe Ruth's good side, but Lou Gehrig's bad side.  You see, in an April 26 game against the Senators, Lou Gehrig hit a home run with Lary on first base.  However, Lary thought that the ball had been caught, and therefore did not run to second.  

    Gehrig was not paying attention, assuming Lary would be rounding the bases ahead of him, and passed Lary at first.  For those of you that don't know, if the rear runner passes the lead runner on the bases, the rear runner is called out.  So, when Gehrig passed Lary at first, he was called out, despite hitting a home run.  

    The home run was not credited to him, and he was only awarded a single for his efforts.  At the end of the season however, Gehrig finished the year tied for the home run title at with his teammate Babe Ruth, with each of them having hit 46 home runs.  If Lary rounds the bases on that play, Gehrig wins the home run title outright with 47 bombs, and the Babe finishes second with 46.  

    So, even though this was a dumb base running play, Yankees fans actually should thank Lary, because he allowed two Yankees to win the home run title that year, instead of one.

Herb Washington

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    Herb Washington played for the Oakland Athletics from 1974-1975, and over that span, he logged a grand total of zero at-bats.  You see, Herb Washington was actually a sprinter who used his skills to give himself a brief but successful baseball career as a "designated runner."  

    In Game 2 of the 1974 World Series, Washington was inserted into the game in the top of the ninth with one out to pinch-run for Joe Rudi, representing the potential tying run.  Washington was promptly picked off by the pitcher, Mike Marshall, leaving the A's down a run with two outs and no one on base in the top of the ninth.  

    Oakland would eventually lose this game to the Dodgers, but luckily for them it was the only game they would lose in their 1974 World Series victory.  So no harm, no foul, but still a pretty dumb move by someone whose only job is to run.

Alex Rodriguez

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    Alex Rodriguez, despite being arguably the best player in his generation, has always found a way to make himself look foolish on the field.  One of his more famous incidents was during Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox.  

    With Derek Jeter on first with one out, A-Rod hit a grounder to first fielded by Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo.  As Arroyo went to tag Rodriguez, A-Rod swatted at his hand, freeing the ball, which rolled down the right field line.  A-Rod went to second and was called safe, while Jeter came all the way around to score and cut the Yankees' deficit to 3-4.  

    However, Boston wanted an interference call to be made, and after discussion by the umpires, they rightfully got their wish.  Rodriguez was called out on the play, and Jeter was sent all the way back to first base.  

    What A-Rod should have done was treat the play like a play at the plate and run right over Arroyo, which would have been completely legal.  Arroyo probably would have still dropped the ball, and the momentum would have stayed with the Yankees instead of shifting to the Red Sox.  The Yankees would go on to lose that game, forcing a Game 7, and we all know how that turned out...

Babe Herman, Dazzy Vance, and Chick Fewster

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    One of the most famous base running blunders in the history of the game is that of the 1926 Brooklyn Dodgers.  This blunder is now known simply as the "three men on third" incident.  With Dazzy Vance on second and Chick Fewster on first, Babe Herman hit a long drive to the outfield.  

    As he was rounding second, the third-base coach yelled at him to go back, because Fewster had not yet reached third.  Vance, who had just rounded third, misunderstood and headed back to third.  Fewster continued towards third, and Herman ignored the instructions and continued to third.  

    So now, Vance, Fewster, and Herman are all standing at third base, and the third baseman gets the ball.  Fewster and Herman are tagged out, and Vance is deemed safe.  The Dodgers could have had runners at second and third with nobody out and a run in, but instead they had a runner at third with two outs; definitely a dumb play.

Lonnie Smith

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    Lonnie Smith was a member of the 1991 Atlanta Braves, who played in one of the greatest World Series of all time against the AL Champion Minnesota Twins.  

    In the famous seventh game of that series, Lonnie Smith reached first base with none out in the top of the eighth inning.  The next batter, Terry Pendleton, hit a line drive double to left field.  Although it appeared that Smith should have been able to score on this hit, he stumbled at second base, and only reached third base.  

    He claimed he had lost sight of the ball in the ceiling of the Metrodome, but replays show Twins' second baseman Chuck Knoblauch pretending to receive the ball from the left fielder, deceiving Smith.  Despite having runners at second and third with none out, and then the bases loaded, the Braves did not score in that inning, and would lose this famous contest 1-0, with the Twins walking off in the bottom of the 10th, an inning that never would have occurred had Smith scored in the eighth.

Jeremy Giambi

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    Next up is one of the most famous plays of all time.  In Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, with the A's holding a 2-0 series lead, Terence Long hit a double with a man on first.  Yankees' right-fielder Shane Spencer air-mailed the throw home sending it over the heads of both cutoff men, but then something amazing happened.  

    Out of nowhere, Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter ran in and cut off the throw, scooping it to catcher Jorge Posada, who applied the tag to Giambi before he touched home plate.  It was an extremely close play that may have been decided by one small factor.  

    Jeremy Giambi did not slide into home, instead electing to run through (as you can see in the picture).  Had he slid, the chances of him being called safe would have been astronomically higher.  The A's would eventually lose this game 1-0, and then lose the next two games and the Series to the Yankees.  

    If Giambi slides home, the game would have been tied and anything could have happened in extra innings, but he didn't, and the Yankees would go on to return to the World Series for the fourth consecutive season.

Fred Merkle

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    Fred Merkle is the youngest player on this list at the time of his base running blunder.  Still a teenager at the age of 19, Merkle essentially cost his team, the New York Giants, a National League Pennant.  

    On September 23, 1908, in a game against the eventual World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, Merkle was on first with Moose McCormick on third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied.  The next batter, Al Bridwell, singled home McCormick, but Merkle, caught up in the excitement, did not touch second base and instead went to celebrate with his teammates.  

    Cubs' second baseman Johnny Evers noticed this, retrieved the ball, tagged second, and appealed to the umpire, who called Merkle out, nullifying McCormick's run.  By this time, the fans had stormed the field and play was impossible to resume, so the game was declared a tie. 

    The Giants and Cubs would finished tied atop the National League standings, and a one-game playoff was played to decide which team would win the Pennant.  The Cubs would win this game, eliminating the Giants.  Had the Giants won that September 23 game, the one-game playoff would have been unnecessary and the Giants may have won the same 1908 World Series that the Cubs proceeded to win.

Babe Ruth

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    When I first read this one, I have to say I was shocked.  Most people think of Babe Ruth as the best player to ever play baseball, but it's doubtful many of them know about a certain base running mistake he made in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series.  

    The Yankees came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth in that game, trailing 3-2 to the Cardinals.  The first two batters made outs, and Babe Ruth then worked a walk to head to first base as the potential tying run.  The batter was Bob Meusel, a .315 hitter that year.  

    On the first pitch of the at-bat, the Babe tried to steal second.  Needless to say, Ruth was caught stealing after Meusel swung and missed, ending the game and the 1926 World Series.  This is, to this day, the only time in the history of the game that a World Series was ended on a caught-stealing.

Ruben Rivera

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    Ruben Rivera is known for two things.  First of all, he is the cousin of the greatest closer of all time, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera.  In fact, he made it to the majors because his cousin insisted the Yankees to sign him.  

    However, what he is most well known for, unfortunately, is his now-infamous base running incident.  I felt it was absolutely necessary to include the video of Rivera's adventure around the bases because honestly I don't know that I can describe it to the point where someone could visualize it without seeing it.  

    Rivera gets completely confused around second base, at first unsure about what is happening in the outfield, where the outfielder misplays a line drive.  Once Rivera realizes that the ball is still in play and no out has been recorded, he heads to third, but forgets to tag up at second.  He goes back to do that, and then heads to third, where it looks like he will be out by 10 feet.  However, the third baseman misplays the ball and it kicks away from him.  

    Rivera should have stayed where he was and been thankful to not be out, but he gets greedy and tries to score the winning run, and is finally thrown out by about five feet.  I'm not a huge Jon Miller fan, but he called it pretty accurately when he said that this was "the worst base running play in the history of the game."