"Play the ball and don’t let the ball play you” has been popular baseball fielding advice since at least 1902. If you “let the ball play you” by sitting back and waiting for it, the ball could take a bad bounce when it arrives. By “playing the ball” and rushing to meet it, a player can pick the ball up on a good hop or bounce. The saying has been used it many other ball games, including tennis, volleyball, handball and racquetball.
In the February 7, 1915, New York (NY) Tribune, sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote, “‘Play the ball—don’t let the ball play you’—is a maxim that goes for the game of life as well as the game of baseball.”
9 May 1902, Boston (MA) Globe, “Baseball Notes,” pg. 11, col. 4:
Freeman should face a ground ball and not edge away to get it on one side, especially on his bare-hand side. Play the ball and don’t let the ball play you, Buck.
7 February 1915, New York (NY) Tribune, “The Sportlight” by Grantland Rice, pt. 2, pg. 1, col. 5:
“Play the ball—don’t let the ball play you”—is a maxim that goes for the game of life as well as the game of baseball.
30 June 1924, Rockford (IL) Register-Gazette, “Little Lessons in Big Sports—Fielding Grounders” by Jow Sewell (Shortstop, Cleveland), pg. 11, col. 1:
Never let the ball play you. Moving in to the ball just a step or two avoids this. Always field the ball in front of you—never off to the side, and keep in a position to throw the man out.
Handbook of Athletics, for Coaches and Players
By Graham Bickley
New York, NY: Barnes
Never let the ball play you; play the ball — take the easy hops.
17 June 1930, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), “Big League Baseball—‘Playing the Ball’” by Al Demaree (Former Pitcher N. Y. Giants), pg. 24, col. 1:
“Never let the ball play you,” is a time honored maxim among infielders and outfielders in professional baseball. Letting the “ball play you” means standing still or backing up on a ground ball and hoping somehow that you will be able to field it when it reaches you. Nine times out of ten it will arrive with a bad hop or half bounce and will be a difficult chance.
But when “you play the ball” it means rushing forward to meet it and by anticipating and pick-out a good hop or bounce you can make an easy play.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule as when a ball is hit so speedily that you have no opportunity to go forward to meet it. Then all you can do is try to knock it down and hope for the best.
However, it is absolutely sound advice to never back up on a ground ball when it is possible to go in and meet it. By doing this you are the master of the ball and not it of you.
By Charles L. Mand
Columbus, OH: C.E. Merrill Pub. Co.
A rule of thumb for handball players is: “You play the ball, don’t let the ball play you.” This is quite familiar to infielders in baseball and appropriate to almost all ball type games.
Tennis for Dummies
By Patrick McEnroe and Peter Bodo
Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide
The rule is “play the ball”; don’t let the ball play you!
The Volleyball Handbook:
Winning essentials for players and coaches
By Bob Miller
Leeds: Human Kinetics Europe
As I have stated previously, play the ball; don’t let the ball play you.
Coaching Baseball For Dummies
By Greg Bach (The National Alliance For Youth Sports)
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub.
A common baseball cliché is, “Play the ball; don’t let the ball play you.” What that means is that players should control a situation by moving forward to field a grounder on a nice, easy hop rather than stepping backward and increasing the chances of having to field a weird, difficult hop.
Racquetball: Steps to Success
By Dennis Fisher
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
Don’t let the ball play you; you play the ball. In other words, keep your feet moving and adjust your setup position.
That is right. Nothing will happen unless you will play the ball. Even in business or on any other aspect of life, without application or action, there is also no return.