As the Major League Baseball season is due to open in a few weeks, we would like to take a look at an issue that has often been ignored over the course of the storied history of the sport. As this Chabura will attempt to uncover, there is one major element of the game that has often been taken for granted, an error that we hope to correct herein. As this issue is a huge one, we will likely not be able to cover all details this week (don't hold your breath waiting for Part II). As always, please remember that we are not a qualified poseik, and all umpires' decisions are final.

Rule 4.01(b) of the Major League Baseball Handbook states that "a player, having safely reached first base, may reach second base without another batter reaching base by 'stealing' said base during one of the ensuing at-bats..." This rule is further applied to the stealing of both third base and home, and is paralleled by a virtually identical formulation in the Official Little League Handbook, Rule 12.004(c), section 4.

While nothing more is said in the rule books, this point raises an extremely troubling question: Based on the gemara in Bava Kamma 97, we rule that karka einah nigzelet. What this means is that the act of stealing does not apply to land (as opposed to moveable objects). This being the case, how can we ever have a situation where a base is stolen? To answer this question we have to analyze several aspects of the case. First, we will have to see what the essence of the problem of karka einah nigzelet is. Second, we will have to assess the degree to which a base is considered to be part of the ground. Finally, we will have to take a look at various types of bases at various levels of competition.


The easiest solution to our problem will be to follow the view of Sifrei and Ritva, who hold that one can steal land. However, as we do not follow this opinion, it behooves us to figure out why land cannot be stolen and how those details square with the facts of our case. The first possible deficiency of stealing land is that there is no action involved. A classic case of land-theft occurs when one individual moves onto the land of another individual and refuses to relinquish his newly-established claim. However, no action is done to the land itself. In this regard, stealing second base is very similar - while the base runner may be moving at a relatively high speed, the fact remains that all that he does is stand on a base that he had not earned via a hit or walk. This being so, he can stand there as long as he wants, but he still has not executed any action necessary to effect an act of stealing.


The issue gets much more complicated when we look at the commentaries on the Tur (C.M. 376). According to the Perisha, one who steals land is a "gavra gazlan d'rabbanan," meaning that the individual is defined as a thief, even though the theft is ineffective and the object does not change ownerships. The Sma makes a similar comment, claiming that in such a case the individual violates a negative commandment, but does not fully violate the commandment not to steal. He also holds that land cannot actually be stolen. What results from these views is a very interesting situation, one that plays out on the two levels of the sport. While the person who steals the base can get credit on the stat sheet for having stolen it, as he is defined as a thief within the parameters of this particular case, the base itself is not considered to be stolen, and thus his team would not seem to benefit from his action.

We next must consider the view of Rashi in Shevuot 37b. He claims that the problem with stealing land is that it never fully comes into the position of the thief. He demonstrates this by approaching the issue from the other end, namely the requirement of a thief to return that which he has stolen. Since the land has never moved, it is as if it is already returned, and thus it is as if the theft never fully happened. This creates a complicated situation for us, as baseball does not have a mechanism by which a stolen base can be returned. Even further, it is unclear who the original owner of the base was. If the entire fielding team fills the role of "owner," then we enter into a situation of shutfin, or partners (the full explication of this issue is too broad for our present forum). If the owner of the base is the individual who owns the actual stadium (assuming, again, that it is not owned by a group), then there may be grounds to allow the stolen base to stand. How so? Since the owner profits from such an occurrence, as it tends to generate fan interest and thus increase ticket sales and profits, we can perhaps postulate that the base-stealer actually acquires the base from the owner with the tovat hana'ah (resultant benefit) that comes about due to his actions.

Finally, we will mention the view of Netziv. He posits that there may be a violation of stealing land since the thief denies the owner the full ability to use his own land. Thus, he has removed it from the owner's domain, and the only question is whether or not he has been able to acquire it for himself. In this light we must note MLB Handbook Rule 135.28(q) which says that if two runners occupy the same base at the same time, one or both of them may be tagged out. As a base is intended to be a safe haven from the tags of the opposition, this rule seems to show that a runner standing on a base denies any other runner the opportunity to occupy that base to the fullest extent and to enjoy all privileges that result from such occupation. Taking both of these factors into account, it would seem that we have a situation potentially similar to that produced from the views of the Perisha and Sma, namely that the base has clearly been stolen qua the original owners, and thus the runner may be credited with a steal in the box score. However, as we cannot state for certain that he has done enough to bring this base into his own possession, it is possible that his team is still legally considered to have a runner on first base and not on second, despite the fact that he is physically standing on second base.


The next main focus that we will take is whether or not second base is even considered to be part of the ground to begin with, or if it really falls under the category of moveable objects. To fully understand this part of the discourse, we must find an analogue in the gemara that can best serve to bring to light the nature of a base.

It would seem that a Succah offers us the possibility of getting to the bottom of this issue. Is a Succah considered to be land or is it considered to be a moveable object? On the one hand, the gemara in Succah 28b tells us that we must relate to the Succah as a permanent abode during the course of the holiday. As houses generally do not move (the recent relocation of the Empire Theater in New York notwithstanding), this would seem to be able to be extended to say that a Succah is considered to be land (since anything that is connected to land gains the status of land as well), a view assumed by Rav Akiva Eiger. On the other hand, Maharam and the Magen Avraham note that, practically speaking, it is possible in many cases for one to drag or even lift up a Succah, a fact that would logically lead to the conclusion that a Succah falls under the category of moveable objects! Thus, our dilemma becomes which set of factors do we privilege in this case: do we care more about how one relates to the object or do we care only whether or not the object can actually be moved?

At this point, we have to consider the various types of bases that are used at different levels of baseball competition. On the major league level, the bases are made with spikes on one side so that they can be securely rooted in the ground. However, that does not necessarily produce a situation of total permanence. As several newspapers point out, Rickey Henderson, upon stealing his 1,000th career base, was able to lift the base out of the ground and hoist it over his head, an act that would seem to lend support to the view of the base as a moveable object. Nevertheless, most views invoke the principle of "ein meivi'in ma'aseh listor," namely that we do not bring in one solitary case for the purpose of uprooting what otherwise seems to be a solid halacha. Thus, the conclusion would seem to be that bases can be judged as land.

Little league competition presents a thornier problem. Due to issues such as having to play in public parks where the league does not have exclusive rights, the bases are generally carried around by the coaches from game to game, and are merely placed at the appropriate spot on the basepaths come game time. As such, they are easily moved when a player slides into them, and can easily be relocated to another part of the field. Our question here is whether we consider the specific inadequacies of this situation or whether we simply claim that the major league model holds for all levels of play, regardless of the particular set of details. This question has yet to be dealt with by any of the major Acharonim, and thus is left open for discussion.


As usual, this topic has grown a bit out of my control. Thus, I will stop here for the week. Tune in next time for another exciting edition of Chabura...Not!!!

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