Baseball coaches clearly need to spend practice time on pitching, hitting and fielding. They need to be careful, however, not to stop there, according to Paul McGloin, the owner a private instruction facility and an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Base running is taken for granted,” McGloin said during a presentation at the Joe Maddon and Friends Coaching the Coaches Clinic this past December in Hazleton, Pa. “It’s one of our most under-coached areas.”
McGloin and Maddon, the Chicago Cubs’ manager, presented a program called “Developing an Aggressive Base-Running Plan” at the clinic in Maddon’s hometown.
“You can’t win championships at any level unless you have a dependable short game and responsible base running,” said McGloin, the owner and head instructor of Electric City Baseball Academy in Scranton, Pa. “If you are exceptional in those two areas, you’re going to be better off than a lot of teams you go against.”
At the highest levels, responsible base running is a matter of not giving away potential runs. But on baseball’s lower levels, a well-executed running game can be more productive.
“Base running on the high school and junior college level, you can do a lot of damage in regards to scoring runs,” Maddon said. “You put more pressure on the other side.
“The teams that fail to teach base running are missing out on a lot of runs. You can force a lot of mistakes. There are so many things you can take advantage of during the course of the game — first and third, stealing home — but you have to practice it.”
McGloin referenced a quote from Rickey Henderson, who stole an MLB record 1,406 bases, when explaining one of the ways in which a dangerous running game can help a team.
“What I try to teach kids is when you’re out there, even if you're not going to steal, make them believe that you’re gonna steal,” Henderson said.
That’s when mistakes happen, according to the instructors.
In order to avoid mistakes while running, there are many finer techniques that coaches and managers can make themselves aware of and, in turn, share with their players.
Particularly on the younger levels and when players are using lead offs for the first time, it’s necessary to break running the bases down into just as much detail as any other part of sports. Instruction should include which angles a player should lead off from and return to bases on during pick-off attempts, ideal footwork when making turns to continue to another base, reading pitchers’ moves, and more. Players understand when they will be expected to run in specific game situations.
Conditioning can be incorporated into base-running drills, but it’s important players understand there is more going on that just running.
“If you’re really into base running, you should be doing it at the beginning of practice,” Maddon said. “Too many times, it has become punitive. It can be done for emphasis at the beginning, as well as conditioning at the beginning of practice.”