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Monday, May 3, 2010

Mysteries of Baseball

We're a month into baseball season. The Twins are doing well in the regular season, my fantasy team is breaking my heart and we're months away from seeing the Twins get swept out of the first round of the playoffs. All seems right in the world.

But getting back to watching baseball reminds me of all its oddities that make no sense and just leave me scratching my head confused. So here are my top five mysteries of baseball:

Switch Hitters: Lebron James recently was forced to shoot a free throw with his left hand instead of his normal right hand due to an injury to his right elbow. This caused a buzz around the sports media because shooting a free throw with his off hand obviously meant his injury was serious. If Brett Favre injured his right arm in the first half of a football game but decided to continue and threw accurately and efficiently with his left hand for the remainder of the game then he'd be hailed as a god. There's a pitcher in the minors who throws both left and right handed, but most people view it as a gimmick and refuse to believe it can actually work.

You know what happens when a batter hits right handed one inning and then lefted handed the next? It's met with a collective yawn. Just another switch hitting batter, big whoop. Why isn't anyone more impressed by this?

I mean, seriously, being equally proficient at something with both your right and left hand is amazing. I tried whacking it once with my left hand and ended up spraining my wrist. I considered myself lucky that's all that went wrong. So it's a mystery to me why more love isn't thrown the switch hitter's way.

Al Kaline: The Detroit Tigers had a hall of fame outfielder named Albert Kaline. He went by the name Al. That's right, his name is alkaline! But no one else cares about this but me! I can't go to without seeing at least 30 puns amongst their various headlines, but baseball pundits go around saying his name like it's no big deal.

Now, I know the 1930's weren't a big time for batteries and most people aren't rote on their chemistry, but still, you'd think there'd be some retroactive punning. I've never heard someone say that, in his day, Al Kaline electrified the fans. Or that 9 is the number of RBI Al Kaline had in World Series games and also his pH level. Heck, I'd even settle for someone saying that when robots take over the world, Al Kaline will be the first person they choose to become a human battery.

Instead I get nothing. Why am I the only person who thinks about the possibilities of Al Kaline's name? Actually, don't answer that. Let's just move on.

No Hitters: In that old pit sty known as the Metrodome a message would show up on the big screen that says "walks will haunt." All I hear from baseball pundits is that you have to throw strikes, there's no defense for a walk and you have to make a batter 'earn' their way on base with a hit. Pitchers that walk batters too often are despised.

So why is a pitcher throwing a complete game with six walks celebrated 100 times more than a pitcher who throws a complete game but gives up two hits and a walk? The pitcher that gave up six walks is lauded for his no-hit game. The pitcher that shamefully allowed two hits and a walk is just told that he pitched a good game and then is forgotten.

I'm not saying no hitters aren't impressive, but are they necessarily more impressive than one or two hit games? If walks are so terrible, why in this one instance is giving up a walk instead of a hit so much more heavily preferred?

The Unwritten Rules of Baseball: Apparently there's a whole bunch of rules and etiquette a baseball player must follow or otherwise be shunned by other players. Naturally, these rules aren't actually written anywhere and generally aren't even spoken of. Baseball players just know the rules (except Alex Rodriguez).

The problem is, I don't know the rules. So I'm left completely confused when, out of know where, a pitcher starts yelling at Alex Rodriguez. Only after the fact do I learn that A-Rod walked across the pitching mound and that's apparently a big no-no.

All the unwritten rules of baseball I do know of are ones I've learned from watching Alex Rodriguez.

1. Don't yell "HA" while running the bases and being right behind a player attempting to catch a pop up.
2. Don't walk across the pitching mound...unless you're the pitcher.
3. Never allow yourself to be photographed kissing yourself in the mirror.
4. Don't knock the ball out of the glove of a first basemen in an attempt to reach first base safely. (Well, that's not just an unwritten rule, it's a literal rule. A-Rod was called out on runner's interference. But apparently being called out isn't enough of a punishment for such a "bush league" play. I think a lot people felt water boarding would be more appropriate.)

That's just a small fraction of what seems to be a million unwritten rules. Not only are the rules themselves a mystery to me, but why baseball players always seem to get there panties in a bunch over the most minor things will always mystify to me.

The Balk: A balk is when a pitcher...does....something...something that....well...something that he shouldn't do. Anyway, if a pitcher does whatever it is he isn't suppose to do then the runners get to advance a base.

I've probably seen around 20 balks in baseball, maybe more, but every time I have no clue what the pitcher did that was considered a balk. Usually it looks like the pitcher just flexed a muscle or something.

But I suppose the balk doesn't have to be a mystery to me. Let's Wikipedia it!

With a runner on base and the pitcher on or astride (with one leg on each side of) the rubber, it is a balk when the pitcher:
  • Switches his pitching position from the windup to the set (or vice versa) without properly disengaging the rubber.
  • While on the rubber, makes a motion associated with his pitch and does not complete the delivery.
  • When going from the stretch to the set position, fails to make a complete stop with his hands together before beginning to pitch.
  • Throws from the mound to a base without stepping toward (gaining distance in the direction of) that base.
  • Throws or feints a throw from the rubber to an unoccupied base, unless a play is imminent.
  • Steps or feints from the mound to first base without completing the throw.
  • Pitches a quick return, that is, delivers with the intent to catch the batter off-guard or defenseless.
  • Pitches or mimics a part of his pitching motion while not in contact with the rubber.
  • Drops the ball while on the rubber, even if by accident, if the ball does not subsequently cross a foul line.
  • While intentionally walking a batter, or at any other time, releases a pitch while the catcher is out of his box with one or both feet; this is rarely called, though, especially on an intentional walk.
  • Unnecessarily delays the game.
  • Pitches while facing away from the batter.
  • After bringing his hands together on the rubber, separates them except in making a pitch or a throw.
  • Stands on or astride the rubber without the ball, or mimics a pitch without the ball;
  • Throws to first when the first baseman, because of his distance from the base, is unable to make a play on the runner there.
Well that clears things up. So basically the pitcher....can't do anything?


  1. Switch hitters: You know, you're right; no one makes a big deal out of switch hitters, and they probably should. I'm as guilty as anyone; I've never really given it a second thought, but it is impressive. Especially since baseball makes a big deal out of switch-throwing pitchers. Why is that so impressive/impossible and not switch hitting?

    Al Kaline: You know, in any other sport, I'd think nothing of it, but as you pointed out, MLB does love its puns...

    You raise a good point about no hitters; it's seems like walks are bad, so long as the pitcher is giving up hits and walks. But if he's not giving up hits, then suddenly walks are better than hits.

    It definitely does seem like a double standard intended to elevate the significance of the no hitter.

    Don't even get me started on the unwritten rules of baseball. So much of it seems like complete BS to me, or at least, put in place so babies can have their bottles.

    Like "don't watch your home run and slowly trot down the first base line." Hey, pitchers: you don't like it when players hit moonshots off you? Then pitch better.

    (At the same time, if you're a hitter, and you just launched a solo home run in the top of the ninth inning of a game you lead 10-0, then get moving; your homer is meaningless to everyone but you.)

    Conversely, there's an unwritten rule that says pitchers shouldn't overly celebrate a strikeout, but you've got guys like K-Rod and Papelbon that basically have an orgasm on the mound after every strikeout, and no one seems to care.

    Of course, I'm a total hypocrite when it comes to Pierzynski. He always intentionally breaks the unwritten rules to his team's advantage, which is something I should probably be in favor of, but when he does it, I just think he's a dick.

    Oh, and if you're curious, there are a couple of relatively recent books that attempt to write down the unwritten rules. Your mind will boggle at the sheer volume and relative insignificance of them.

    So basically the pitcher....can't do anything?

    Jeez, it sure seems that way. Thanks Wikipedia, that clears that right up.

    The problem with the balk, I think, is that based on that list, there's just so many little things a pitcher can do, that umpires either need to be constantly calling balks, or never calling them. And clearly, they lean towards the "never" end of the spectrum, except when they do, and then we're all left scratching heads at what, exactly, the pitcher did then that he hasn't done before to warrant a balk.

  2. PS I forgot to stroke your ego and mention that I thoroughly enjoyed the post.

  3. holy hell you're totes right about the switch hitter junk.
    I'd probably rip my arm off if i tried to bat with my other hand.

  4. Yeah i completely agree with the whole Switch hitter thing.

    And those crazy unwritten rules- stuff like that would drive me crazy


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