The part of fan-free baseball nobody is talking about

Rob Bradford
June 25, 2020 - 11:06 am
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It's Baseball 101.

If you're playing first or second base and a baserunner starts stealing you yell, "Going!" or "Runner!" The idea, of course, is to alert the pitcher of an attempted stolen base.

"Now you can say that," said Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly on the Bradfo Sho podcast.

Huh? Major leaguers don't usually carry out such an approach?

No," Kelly responded.

"People do it in college. ‘Runner!’ You’ve been taught that your whole life. In the major leagues, you say ‘Runner!’ people look at you like an idiot like ‘Grow up, you’re in the big leagues.’ They can’t hear. So now everybody is going to be able to hear."

Welcome to a very subtle alteration that would seem to be coming in the new world of fan-free big league baseball. (Note: There still may be some teams who host fans at some point during the 2020 season, but the vast majority of clubs will be playing front of empty ballparks to begin with.)

"I think stolen bases in Major League Baseball will be down because guys can hear," the pitcher explained.

"When I was playing Little League or Pony Ball and it’s just your parents in the stands, literally the first baseman was like, ‘Hey, he’s about to steal.’ And you step off. But in the big leagues you have to be screaming it and the first baseman is the one looking like an idiot yelling, ‘His lead is big! His lead is big!’ Now it’s going to be like, ‘It’s big. It’s bigger. Are you going step off?’ It will be great. Growing up, communication in baseball …You don’t think people communicate. You watch a soccer game and you don’t know anything. Now you watch a soccer game without fans and you can hear guys talking. ‘One on you!’ ‘Left, left, left.’ Like pickup basketball. … You can’t hear in the NBA when music is playing and crowds are going. Now that part of the game is going to be so much smoother, so much easier. Communication in baseball is actually going to matter. Before it didn’t matter. It was more hand gestures and stuff. Now you can talk."

How much the ability to communicate without fans remains to be seen (and heard). In the United States, all we have to go by is the April 29, 2015 game at Camden Yards between the Orioles and White Sox when there were no fans in the Camden Yards stands. Coincidentally or not, on that occasion there were no stolen base attempts.

And while there have been plenty of games played in front of the sparse turnouts in places like St. Petersburg or Miami, Kelly still believes the prospect of a completely empty stadium will be a game-changer.

"I like fans," he said. "I like throwing in front of big crowds. But it’s going to be fun. Now you’re going to strike someone out and hear the hitter actually cuss. Like, ‘Damn!’ Now you hear the interaction. Now I’m not going to have so many guys steal second base on me with my slow leg kick because I’m going to hear the first baseman say, ‘Hey, his lead is too big bro. Step off!’ With all the fans you can’t hear anything unless I look over and see where the runner is at. Now, it’s 20 feet away and he can say, ‘Joe, this guy’s lead is huge.’ And I can be like, ‘Oh, you’re right, it is.’ So now I will be able to hear my teammates. A bunt comes and I’m like ‘I got it, I got it.’ You work PFPs all the time and you can’t ever hear so they’re like, ‘Scream it.’ Now I can just be like, ‘I got it’ and everybody will be able to hear it.

"It will actually be a lot easier for me. If you had to gamble I don’t think many people will be stealing on second on me because I’m going to be able to hear my second baseman say, ‘Hey, his lead is big. Getting bigger. It looks like he’s going to steal.’ And I can step off. It's going to be a lot different."