Friday, August 03, 2007

Baseball Oddities [J. Mark English]

Baseball is a unique sport. Unlike most other sports, every baseball game offers see something you've never seen before. Take for example the Cincinnati Reds second baseman, Brandon Phillips, who stole two bases yesterday on the same play. This from Michael Phillips of

During the fourth inning of a 7-2 loss to the Nationals, Phillips was on first base when left-handed hitter Adam Dunn came to the plate.

Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young held Phillips on the base while the rest of the defense shifted over one position, leaving third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the position normally occupied by the shortstop.

Phillips noticed this formation often, and had been plotting to steal two bases at just the right opportunity.

So yea, thats pretty strange. In basketball you can shoot a hoop in a multitude of ways. No doubt, you'll see some impressive shots, but on the score card, even if you made a half court shot, it still goes down as a three point field goal. Baseball is probably one of the few sports (at least of the sports that I watch) where a stat oddity happens almost every game.

An easy example is when a hitter strikes out, but that catcher drops the ball. The pitcher still got the strike out, and the runner was "out" but he gets to take the base, and the pitcher must now get a fourth out. (This rule cost the Brooklyn Dodgers a sure victory in the 1941 World Series)

The thing I can't get my head around is the suspended game rules. Last week the Yankees finished up a game against the Orioles which had been suspended due to rain a month before in Baltimore. Last week in the game proceeding the conclusion of the Orioles game, A-Rod hit home run number 499 at Yankee Stadium. But if he had hit a home run in the wrap up of the suspended game at Camden Yards, then the home run he hit the night before would really have been his 500th. Everyone at Yankee Stadium who thought they had seen him hit home run number 499, really would have seen him hit number 500. Weird eh?

Another oddity to the suspended rules is that a player who played in the first half of a suspended game, can be traded between the completion of the game to the other team. If needed he could bat for his new team during the final innings of the suspended game. This means that it is feasible for a player to get a hit for two teams in the same game.

Here is the exact rule:

A suspended game shall be resumed at the exact point of suspension of the original game. The completion of a suspended game is a continuation of the original game. The lineup and batting order of both teams shall be exactly the same as the lineup and batting order at the moment of suspension, subject to the rules governing substitution. Any player may be replaced by a player who had not been in the game prior to the suspension. No player removed before the suspension may be returned to the lineup.

A player who was not with the club when the game was suspended may be used as a substitute, even if he has taken the place of a player no longer with the club who would not have been eligible because he had been removed from the lineup before the game was suspended.

If you follow that logic, a pitcher could get the win and the loss in the same game. If the pitcher that stood to win the game in a suspended game, gets traded and then winds up playing for the other team in the resumption of the game, he could then stand to both win, and lose the same game.

Of course most of these scenarios stand very remote chances of every becoming true. What about odd scenarios that actually have come true?

Joel Youngblood's name is not very well known in baseball circles. But for the sake of oddities, he is a legend. On August 4, 1984, Youngblood went 1 for 2 against the Cubs, while playing for the New York Mets. Following the afternoon game, he was traded from the Mets to the Montreal Expos. He arrived in Philadelphia that night in time for the Expos game against the Phillies. Late in the game he pinched hit, thus recording two hits, for two teams in the same day. He even had both hits against two hall of fame pitchers, Fergie Jenkins of the Cubs, and Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Some other bizarre oddities are as follows:
  • In 1962 the Cleveland Indians traded catcher Harry Chiti to the New York Mets for a player to be named later. A few weeks later Chiti was sent back to the Indians as the player to be named later. Chiti became the only player to be traded for himself.
  • Babe Herman once doubled into a double play.
  • Marv Throneberry had a triple, but was called out for missing first base, and second base!
  • Jose Canseco while playing the outfield had a ball hit off his head, over the wall for a home run.
  • And who can forget Robin Ventura's grand single against the Braves which helped the Mets win after 15 innings in the 1999 NLCS.
The prize for the most famous oddity must go to what is known as, Merkle's Boner. This is from the Baseball Almanac:

The Cubs and Giants were locked in a furious pennant battle. On September 23, 1908, the score was tied 1 - 1 with two out in the last of the ninth inning at the Polo Grounds. Runners were on first and third base when Al Bridwell singled to center. As the runner on third crossed the plate with the apparent winning run, Fred Merkle jogged towards second base then started for the clubhouse in right field - leaving the basepaths. The Cubs retrieved the ball (or a ball), tossed it to Johnny Evers who tagged second, and a force out was called ending the game in a tie.

Back in those days, fans were right up on the field, covering much of the outfield. Some of the Cubs actually had to fight with fans just to get the ball back on to the field. It was a wild circus. The game had to be called a tie and resumed later because the fans had stormed the fields. Its a miracle the Evers even got the out given the insanity of the situation. Imagine seeing this happen today and watching Sports Center replay this??

Anyway, the result of this disaster for the Giants, is that instead of winning the pennant by the last day of the season, they had to complete the suspended game after the last day of the season. The Giants would go on to lose, and the Chicago Cubs won the pennant. (The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908)

Fred Merkle needed to have a police escort to get out of the Polo Grounds alive. He continued to receive death threats throughout his whole career.

Are we really surprised that something as strange as this could happen? No, because its baseball, and oddities are just a normal part of the game.