Nobody in the long history of baseball ever craved the spotlight more than the zany, ruddy-faced Herman “Germany” Schaefer, for whom no gag was too outrageous or primitive and no audience too small or unfriendly.
Schaefer first pulled off his signature stunt in a game against Cleveland, most likely in 1908 (the exact date is unclear). “They say it can’t be done,” Tigers outfielder Davy Jones told author Larry Ritter many years later, “but I saw him do it.”
Jones was on third base in the late stages of a tied ballgame. Schaefer was on first base. Hoping to draw a throw that would allow Jones to race home with the go-ahead run, Schaefer stole second. However, the catcher, wise to the strategy, held onto the ball.
“So now we had men on second and third,” Jones recalled. “Well, on the next pitch Schaefer yelled, ‘Let’s try it again!’ And with a blood-curdling shout he took off like a wild Indian back to first base, and dove in headfirst in a cloud of dust. He figured the catcher might throw to first — since he evidently wouldn’t throw to second — and then I would come home same as before. But nothing happened. Nothing at all. Everybody just stood there and watched Schaefer, with their mouths open, not knowing what the devil was going on.”
Even if the catcher had thrown to first, Jones said, he was too flabbergasted to move. “The umpires were just as confused as everybody else. However, it turned out that at that time there wasn’t any rule against a guy going from second back to first, if that’s the way he wanted to play baseball, so they had to let it stand. So there we were, back where we started, with Schaefer on first and me on third. And on the next pitch, darned if he didn’t let out another war whoop and take off again for second base. By this time the Cleveland catcher evidently had enough, because he finally threw to second to get Schaefer, and when he did I took off for home and both of us were safe.”
In 1919 baseball’s rules committee issued an overdue clarification after Schaefer's death: “A base-runner having acquired legal title to a base cannot run bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the fielders or making a travesty of the game.” The clause was officially known as Rule 52, Section 2, but most people in baseball referred to it as the Germany Schaefer rule.
For more stories about Germany Schaefer, see Richard Bak, "Profile: Detroit Tigers' Prankster Herman "Germany" Schaefer", Hour Detroit, April 2012.