The trick is exactly what its name suggests. It’s a deceptive play in which the runner on base is fooled as to the location of the ball, and is then tagged out by a nearby defender. Most often, this involves one of the basemen making a fake throw back to the pitcher who, for the play to be legal, must be positioned off of the mound.
According to multiple sources, there have been fewer than 300 successful instances of the Hidden Ball Trick in the recorded history of the Major Leagues. Considering that the game has been around for over a century, with each team playing more than 100 games, it’s an astonishingly low number.
One of the earliest known practitioners of the trick was Bill Coughlin, a third baseman who played for the Washington Senators and Detroit Tigers in a career which spanned nine years (1899-1908). While there is no way to verify his claim, Coughlin was said to have been responsible for seven successful executions of the Hidden Ball Trick. His most high-profile exhibition came in Game Two of the 1907 World Series, when he caught Jimmy Slagle of the Chicago Cubs. It is the only recorded instance of the trick in World Series History.