Saturday, September 27, 2008

Witnessed Firsts, or Look! A Blog Entry!

Watch a ballgame every day, and you’ll see something you haven’t seen before. You’ve heard that hundreds of times, and you’ve never believed it. But if you limited your sample size to games number 160 and 161 of the 2008 season for the Giants and Dodgers, you’ve become a believer. I have, anyway, because stuff happened in each game that I’d never seen before, and I’m really glad to have had the chance to witness this stuff. I’m pretty sure.

Last night was the really weird one. With a runner on first and the Giants down 2-0, Bengie Molina hammered a high fly ball to right field that struck... well, it was hard to tell what it struck. If it hit the green tin roof, it was a home run; if not, then not. Initially the ball was ruled in play, so Molina—who would have a tough time beating a pregnant harbor seal around the bases—wound up on first with yet another “long single.” (Note: I do not advocate beating harbor seals. Hey, you asked!)

Bruce Bochy emerged from the Giants dugout to grump about the call, eventually asking for an instant replay review. Now, that’s something I never thought I’d see: a baseball manager requesting that an umpire’s call be reversed—or not—with the help of instant replay. And yet that’s been okay in the major leagues for the last several weeks, thanks to MLB’s eccentric decision to introduce instant replay on certain plays—eccentric, that is, because of the timing.

Why make the rule change during a season, especially right around the stretch drive? I’m very much in favor of umpire calls being right, and I like the fact that bad calls sometimes actually get reversed nowadays. And I’m fine with the use of replay when a call is disputed. Sure, let’s be reasonable: no challenges on ball-strike calls. But I don’t see how the camera can lie on fair-foul, home run-in play, or even safe-out—though let’s not have protests on every call we don’t like. In any case, I’d much rather they’d waited until next season, even if it meant sacrificing a vital Giants victory like last night’s.

As I understand it, would-be home-run calls can be challenged: that’s “home run-in play” and “fair-foul” (but only if what we’re talking about is a ball with home-run distance). Hey, fine with me, especially since the first official challenge in a Giants game went in the Giants’ favor.

And that, for those who might read this several years from now, is not the “haven’t seen before” part. As Bochy came out to argue the call, Emmanuel Burriss jogged to first base to pinch-run. Several minutes later, the umpires decided that Molina’s hit was a home run—no doubt their decision was influenced by the presence of green paint on the ball that was the same color as the tin roof. So okay, it’s a home run... but who scores the run?

Jon Miller and Dave Flemming chewed this over on the radio. Flemming was concerned that Molina wouldn’t be credited with the home run if Burriss scored the run, and Miller was sure that since the home-run call would supercede the decision for Burriss to pinch-run—meaning that Burriss’ entry into the game “never happened,” so Molina should be able to run out the home run. And both seemed concerned that Molina wouldn’t get both RBIs, since he didn’t drive himself in. I figured they were both wrong (even after I imagined the umpires deciding to nullify the home run on the grounds that it’d make it too hard to render a decision).

I thought they were wrong in part because of an incident I heard about involving the Yankees sometime in the 1980s: Lou Piniella, the DH, went out to first base between innings to warm up the infielders while Chris Chambliss, the actual first baseman, was taking his time getting out of the dugout for some reason. Then Chambliss got out to his position and took over for Piniella, only the umpires ruled that as soon as Piniella had reached Chambliss’ position, he was now officially in the game on defense. As far as I can remember, that’s the right call: If you go out to a position and do anything, such as take a ground ball or a throw from an infielder, you’re in the game at that position. That is, if you run out to, say, second base between innings, then learn immediately that no, the manager doesn’t want you out there, he wants to stick with the incumbent, then it’s not a problem, and you can return to the dugout without having been entered into the game officially. It’s not that different from a guy standing in the on-deck circle, apparently waiting to pinch-hit, and then—before an official announcement is made—returning to the dugout in favor of the already-scheduled hitter.

The exception to the “If you go out to a position and do anything” rule is when somebody—a backup catcher or other bench player who otherwise is not in the game (or has left it)—warms up the pitcher while the current catcher is busy getting into his gear. Once he’s ready, the actual catcher can return, and the bench player can go away, all with impunity. (Admittedly, this makes me wonder what happens when a player who has already left the game runs out to first base to warm up the infielders. I’ll assume that this is treated just like the catcher situation, i.e., as though no substitution has taken place. I could look it up, but that would involve effort, so screw it.) So as soon as Burriss reached first base, he became the pinch-runner.

Another reason Miller and Flemming were wrong was that unless things have changed in the 10 or 20 years since I read this in a “what if?”-type book about baseball rules, Burriss would run out the homer—which he did—and get credit for the run, while Molina would get credit for the home run and both RBIs, but not the run scored. In other words, if it had been Molina’s only plate appearance, the boxscore would show one at-bat, zero runs, one hit, two RBIs, and one home run. I think the book mentioned instances where this had happened—say, because the batter had somehow hurt himself during his trip around the bases. Not only that, but the utterly thoroughly realistic and not at all completely stupid or particularly insulting documentary movie The Babe, starring the roughly 40-year-old, 300-pound John Goodman as not only the 40-year-old, 300-pound Babe Ruth, but also as the 19-year-old, 300-pound Babe Ruth, even though the real Babe Ruth, listed at 215 at, might not even have cracked 200 pounds by age 19, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he never topped 275. Anyway, late in his career, Goodman/Ruth is shown as having hit a home run, then huffing and puffing—in that order; accept no imitations, especially those showing him puffing and huffing—to first base, then stopping as a younger, thinner guy runs out the rest of the home run. Did that ever happen to the actual Babe Ruth? I don’t remember hearing as much. But then, I also don’t recall any stories about the actual Babe hitting a popup so high that he was able to circle the bases before the ball touched the ground. (Nor do I remember stories about the Babe farting real loud to entertain a bunch of rich people, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had happened, and neither would you.)

So I took about 1,200 words to describe the first thing I’d never seen before, but take heart: 1,200 is a fraction of the actual words spoken by broadcasters all over the place. The second thing is not Billy Sadler celebrating far too exuberantly after striking out Casey Blake, and both dugouts emptying because the Dodgers got all huffy about it. We see that kind of thing all the time. No, the second thing is J.T. Snow’s appearance in tonight’s game. Well, J.T. Snow appearing in a game is not exactly a first, but it may well be the first time in major league history that someone has signed a one-day contract for the express purpose of taking the field in the top of the first inning, then leaving before the game actually starts—thus making an official appearance without actually playing. (He wore his old number, 6; I never got a look at Tim Flannery’s back, so I don’t know what number he wore. Even if it was 6, that wouldn’t be unprecedented: Just last year, several Giants wore 42 in the same game to honor Jackie Robinson.)

This happened because Snow wanted to retire as a Giant—he last played in Boston in 2006—and the Giants wanted to grant his wish. The fans got to give him a nice hand as he took the field; everybody got to laugh as Eugenio Velez, Omar Vizquel, and Rich Aurilia all threw difficult one-hops to him during warmups; Jate got a good hand as he left the field; and a good time was got by all. I thought it was a nice (albeit silly) gesture.

My eyes popped, though, upon seeing—that’s what my eyes do: they see—that Snow got a prorated contract for the major league minimum: roughly $2,100 for that one day of work. Since my work schedule is wide, wide open these days, I sent the Giants a note offering my services for $2,100 a day—for however many days as necessary—and added that I look forward to beginning negotiations. To date I have received no reply, but then, hey, there’s a lot to do at the end of the season. But I say this to my legions, my multitudes of fans: Don’t worry. I fully expect to be the first 48-year-old center fielder to make an Opening Day start for the San Francisco Giants. Wish me luck.

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