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6-4-3 or 4-6-3?

Something for baseball fans to consider on this Super Bowl Sunday.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s Super Bowl Sunday—the High Holy Day of United States culture. Spectacle and wealth and violence and advertisement and religion and patriotism and sport all stuffed into a massive Twinkie and deep fried. Even though I haven’t watched a minute of football this season, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t planning on gorging myself on Cool Ranch Doritos and carne asada nachos while hoping for a Niner victory—not for me, but for my ninety-plus year-old grandpa born and raised in the Oceanview neighborhood of San Francisco. At one point or another, the NFL envelops us all.

To be honest, I hate football. I’ve grown out of the stage of trying to convince others that baseball is better than others. No matter what side you’re on, it’s an argument that everyone wins and no one wins. Hockey, the rink is too crowded. Basketball, their shoes are too squeaky. Soccer, why can’t you use your hands again? Football, oh my god, so many to choose from. I had all my criticisms locked and loaded in my youth, and of course, all of my points and counterpoints only reveal the greater truth of my ignorance. Now in my sage-thirties, I recognize that love is the opposite of competition. It’s what you think about and if you’re lucky, it’s also how you spend your time. If I can not watch baseball, or work on my grounders, or play catch with a friend, I can at least seriously consider the game.

So as we gather to worship at the buffet that is Super Bowl LVIII, let’s engage in one of the greatest debates in baseball: Which double play is better, 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 ?

I suppose it’s akin to the John or Paul debate? There is no real right answer, which is what makes it endlessly compelling.

6-4-3, or shortstop to second baseman to first baseman has a linear quality to it. The ball moves from left to right across the diamond, like reading the words on this page, or the most foundational sentence structure in the English language. Subject-verb-object. A-B-C. Watching the play unfold is like a line of dominoes falling, a clear and satisfactory sequence of events.

Because of this geometric shape, on a routine groundball, the shortstop can plant his feet, field the grounder, and sling the ball to second in one motion. The shortstop does not need to pivot, or twirl, or turn his numbers to relay the ball to second. Second base is glove-side, therefore the arm is already cocked, ready to throw. The 4-6-3 double play, or second baseman to shortstop to first baseman, has an uglier initial action. The routine ball to second requires a turn, the fielder must turn his back to the plate before firing over to the shortstop covering second base. That extra step feels consequential. The natural play is the throw to first because that is the direction the right-arm is already primed to throw in. The second baseman fielding it also means the baseball has to backtrack. It has to go back across the diamond through second to get to first, like flying from Detroit to Chicago to get to New York. It might be cheaper, but it’s not necessarily clean.

What the 4-6-3 has over its counterpart is the turn at second. The collision of ball, defender and runner converging at the bag contains some of the most exciting moments in baseball. A baroque twist of acrobatics and power. Feet airborne, limbs akimbo. Ozzie Smith vaulting over a sliding runner, their arm shielding their face as his cleats kick out, arm whipping the orb towards where the are eyes locked. So much focus and timing. Such grace born in such quick and charged moments.

San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images
World Series: Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals, October, 1982 Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Ozzie Smith Jumping over Pete Rose

The turn in the 6-4-3 has some of the same dangers without as much as the artistry. More physics than poetry. Before the Chase Utley rule, the second baseman was often blindsided by the runner, forcing him to jump-and-whirl in an attempt to avoid collision. Will Clark as Newton’s Laws manifest, an angry ball of motion who couldn’t give two flips about being forced out as he barreled into whoever happened to be in his way.

Dramatic, yes, but maybe not as balletic. o my eye, the 6-4-3 turn at second typically looks more mechanical. The second baseman is trained to receive the ball from the shortstop and cross to the inside of the bag, out of the basepath with a clear throw to first; or, tag the base with their front foot and be ready to throw from their already planted back foot on the outfield side of second base. Certainly timing is involved, and circumstances force the second baseman to glide across the base and perform an off-balanced relay on occasion, but that feels less common—or less cowboy-ish—than the shortstop chasing his momentum, running-and-gunning as he gallops across the bag.

6-4-3 or 4-6-3—it all adds up to two outs. But how you get there matters. Each play has its different idiosyncrasies, its own rhythm and angles and improvisations. Do you prefer the control of an underhand feed or the quirks of a shovel toss? The shortstop throwing to second against his momentum on a backhand or the contortions of the second baseman as he ranges up the middle?

Do you prefer your Brandon Crawford picking a short-hop or throwing on the run, his locks horizontal in the breeze as he drags his toe across second? But of course, maybe the most important and consequential defensive play in franchise history was a 4-6-3 double play. As San Francisco Giants fans are we obligated to prefer the variation initiated by the second baseman?

There is no wrong answer. Even if you’re feeling snarky and alternative, and choose the 5-4-3 or 3-6-4 or 3-6-1, like picking George or Ringo, it’s all good.

The only wrong answer here is football.


6-4-3 or 4-6-3?

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