The infield shift is a generic term used in baseball to describe a defensive realignment from the standard positions to blanket one side of the field or another. Used primarily against left-handed batters, it is designed to protect against base hits pulled hard into the gaps between the fielders on one side.
Originally called the "Boudreau" or "Williams" shift, the strategy is often associated with Ted Williams, but it was actually first employed against Cy Williams during the 1920s. It was later used against Ted Williams during the 1946 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cardinals as a defensive gimmick by St. Louis manager Eddie Dyer to psych out and hopefully contain Boston slugger Williams. It was devised by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau on a blackboard between games of a doubleheader in July 1946 to halt Williams' hot hitting. "I always considered The Boudreau Shift a psychological, rather than a tactical victory," wrote Lou Boudreau in his book, Player-Manager. The shift has been employed since then to thwart extreme pull hitters (mostly lefties), such as Barry Bonds, Ryan Howard, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz, and Mark Teixeira.
Implementing the shiftEdit
Typically the third baseman moves to the left where the shortstop plays; the shortstop plays to the right of second; the second baseman plays between first and second and usually on the right field grass; the center fielder plays right-center; and the first baseman and right fielder hug the foul line. Sometimes the third baseman, rather than the shortstop, will play to the right of second, allowing the shortstop (usually the team's best infielder) to remain near their usual position. While this is the most common type of defensive shift seen in baseball, there are numerous variations that can be implemented according to the hitting ability of the batter. For example, an effective defensive shift against Joe Mauer would have the infield shifted for a pull-happy left hander, and the outfield shifted for a pull-happy right-hander, due to Mauer's tendency to pull nearly all of his groundballs, and hit nearly all of his flyballs to the opposite field.
As the infield shift leaves some areas less covered than others, the batter who hits toward those areas may obtain better results than against an un-shifted infield. A stark example occurred in a 1970 game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants: Giant Willie McCovey bunted hard down the third base line when the shift was on. With no one covering third, Willie Mays, on first at the time, came all the way around to score, while McCovey reached second for a double.
As early as 2015, the Commissioner of Baseball considered banning the shift, with some MLB managers expressing agreement, although there is no consensus on such an idea. In 2019, the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, as part of an agreement with MLB to test experimental rules, has banned the shift by requiring two infielders to be positioned on either side of second base.
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