Baseball pioneer.

In his thirteenth season in the minor leagues, Tony Thomas makes history.

His name is Tony Thomas.

He is an outfielder for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the independent Atlantic League.

Last week, in the Atlantic League All-Star Game, he did something nobody has ever done before in a professional baseball game.

You may recall the Atlantic League is the league that has an agreement with Major League Baseball to try out new rules, like moving the mound back one foot (which it had initially planned to do this week after their All-Star Game but now will do at the beginning of next season), electronic umpiring (which they debuted in their All-Star Game and will continue using for the remainder of the season), and putting a runner on second to start extra innings (which no baseball fan anywhere in any part of the world wants to see happen), as well as making the bases bigger (why, so players can find them easier?)

But there was one new rule they are trying, and they debuted that in their All-Star Game as well. And Tony Thomas was the first to do it.

He was the first baseball player to steal first base.

Yes, that is now a thing.

The experimental rule allows the batter to take off for first base on any pitch that hits the dirt. In his first plate appearance of the game, with the count 0-1, the next pitch was high and got past the catcher. As the ball rolled all the way to the backstop, it suddenly occurred to Thomas that he could run to first. So he did. And he made it.

Thus, becoming the first batter in the history of baseball to steal first base.

The real news here isn’t the stolen base of first. The real news here is MLB has a commissioner who may not have ever watched an actual baseball game, and if he did, he certainly didn’t enjoy it. Because he is doing everything he can to change the rules in fundamental ways.

Who knows if this will ever make its way to the top. And one could argue that change is always met with skepticism and resistance. But here are three more new rules the Atlantic League is implementing for the second half. Pretty radical rules, I might add.

1.The pitcher is required to step off the rubber in order to attempt a pickoff. Apparently, the element of surprise is— what?—unfair? So now he needs to more clearly signal his intention and not make the pickoff. On a play that is supposed to be a surprise. Maybe he should send a telegram first. “My dearest baserunner, as I take pen to paper, thoughts of deviousness explode in my head. I am intending to pick you off first base. So, with receipt of this paper, you have been formally notified of my intention to throw to first base in an effort to keep you from taking too great a leadoff. Anxiously awaiting the favor of your reply.”

2. With two strikes, the batter is allowed one foul bunt. Any foul bunt after that is a strikeout. Not sure why this is necessary. Bunting has almost disappeared from major league baseball anyway. Maybe this will bring it back. “Hey, pitcher, the count is 0-2. Hang on, let me try something. Throw me a pitch over the plate, I want to see if I can bunt it. Oh, that didn’t work. Never mind, okay, still 0-2. Go ahead and pick up where you were. Thanks for letting me try.”

3. Make the check swing more “batter friendly.” No details have been given on defining what that means. Maybe they will simply ask the batter’s agent if his client really meant to swing. And if he did, was it really his fault? What about his upbringing? Was he from a broken home? Could there be socio-economic conditions that precluded him from swinging at pitches that a batter from a more privileged home would not have swung at?

And, of course, stealing first. The Rougned Odor rule. If you cannot earn your way there, think of some way you can join all the cool kids who are getting to go to first while you are stuck in the dugout watching them have the fun you can’t have. “Stupid baseball rules, having to get a base hit in order to get to first? Who made up that rule? I’m running there now and you can’t stop me.”

And that is basically how Tony Thomas, thirty-three-year-old career minor leaguer, who up until last Saturday spent his entire baseball career in virtual anonymity, ran his way to baseball immortality.

And, with that radical act, he started the beginning of the end of baseball as we know it.



Justin Verlander (10-4, 2.98) vs. Ariel Jurado (5-4, 4.23)

Game time: 2:05