Baseball Date: July 11, 1914

Sure, you recognize this southpaw—here ca. 1919. He debuted for Boston five years earlier 100 years ago this past Friday.

Sure, you recognize this southpaw—here ca. 1919. He debuted for Boston 5 years earlier, which would be 100 years ago this past Friday.

While most of the West is meditating on the centennial of World War I, I (Evander) have been preoccupied with the upcoming centennial (2015) of W. C. Fields’s entry into the film world. But more relevant than both anniversaries to our project at Right off the Bat, this delightful article by Chris Dufresne, which describes (among its other virtues) the July 11, 1914, debut of a pitcher not long out of reform school, who would turn not only baseball but a fair chunk of the Western Hemisphere on its head. Certainly the sports world. How true: When Babe Ruth died a mere thirty-four years later (August 16, the date Elvis left the building for good twenty-nine years following), the lights assuredly did go out.

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21st-c. Ball and the Fans

Will sports' machinery more-closely conform to gray matter in the future?

Will sports’ machinery and technology more closely conform to gray matter in the future?

Is “the umpire blind”? Herewith the first important reviewable play in 21st-c. MLB, which means in the history of North American baseball and possibly anywhere. The video—available as part of the above link describing the game between two of the most-venerable franchises, the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants—decided the contest.

Sleight-of-hand may be quicker than the eye—but is the camera? You decide.

As pure technology has not yet taken over—when the numbers are crunched by machines, but the interpretation remains human—one may note a potential overuse in 2014 of what back in the day was called “The Overshift” or “Boudreau Shift”—in our time shortened to The Shift. We talk about the shift, as a defensive tactic, a little in Right off the Bat, as it applied to (opposing) manager Lou Boudreau and Ted Williams. (The tactic probably dates to the days of maniacal uber-strategist John McGraw, if not earlier.)

To date in 2014, evermore-extreme versions of the shift have proved effective in reducing offense.

Question: What other 21st-c. (or ever?!) sports’ management actually seeks to inhibit the fun-for-the-fans aspect of scoring—particularly if such offense is not HGH-related?

Reviewable replays are as likely as not to promote run-production: that is, if one were only able to see and think between the frames. The process also acutely slows down the game-experience for fans of an already-slowish-paced sport. Of course you could bundle all of this (il)logic, and tell it to Armando Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce.

Gee whiz! 21st-century baseball: a head-scratcher for sure.

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ROTB at the Louisville Slugger Museum

ROTB_screenshotNathan Stalvy, curator of the Louisville Slugger Museum (maker of the bats for MLB), loves our book!


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Going Multipurpose

Artist's rendition of Yankee Stadium in 2015, set up for soccer

Artist’s rendition of Yankee Stadium in 2015: set up for soccer

Silly me. I (Evander) thought that the point of the third-generation baseball stadium, with all those great sight lines, was baseball only. How wrong. Whenever money’s involved….

The 2009-occupied Yankee Stadium will host what most of the human race calls football till an adjoining stadium (land from one of the lesser-used garages) is constructed.

Thus, this so-called baseball-only Stadium will now include college football, ice hockey, and, during the season, field-chewing, pitcher’s-mound destroying soccer.

When I toured the Stadium in January 2013, several “field-cops” literally screamed at anyone unintentionally sliding a toe from the warning track onto a (partially snow-encrusted no less) blade of infield grass.

Where’s a field-cop when you need one?

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Cricket to Baseball to Cricket

I (Evander) am not sure how instructive this one-minute time-lapse video is, as officials prepared Down Under (Sydney Cricket Ground) for the 2014 opening day of Major League Baseball. But one does get a relative sense of distance (the boundary, then the construction of baseball warning tracks possibly of clay [:05], infield [:06 ff.—dirt and definitely clay, layered], walls, and foul poles) as well as proportions relative and relevant to cricket and baseball.

Incidentally, one could make a few observations regarding the way one of these sports (baseball) is played on the major-leagues level and what about it appeals most to fans in order to maximize interest and attendance.

Generally, the baseball field conforms to the shape of the infield diamond. But many baseball fields are asymmetrical in the outfield. There are outfield nooks and crannies; walls are of varying heights, even within the same stadium. Cricket grounds are symmetrical—and the boundary is without the dimension of height variance.

In today’s third-generation baseball-only stadium, the stands hug the field along the foul lines. “Loud” foul balls are rarely caught. Advantage: batter.

Thus, contra most present trends, the present setup is pitcher-friendly in the creation of much foul territory along the right-field line. (It is impossible to figure left field from this angle.)

Checking at the :35-mark following, one sees how little space there is behind the catcher, which could be quite dangerous in a number of ways, including close plays at home plate wherein a thrown ball offline might ricochet in weird ways. The general advantage returns to the batter, as few foul popups to the backstop would remain in play for easy outs.

Note how the pitch is covered and uncovered throughout the video. (In baseball, the infield is thus protected against the elements.) Even though this pitch is very much in-play for baseball, in short-center field, it must be protected and is in a location in which relatively little baseball-action would occur.

Again following from baseball, almost every spectator is far from the action, whereas the crowd would have far better cricket-play sight lines. Further, the third-generation baseball-only stadium features maybe forty percent field-level seats, fewer in the decks and a good number in bleachers or other outfield configurations. The stands leading to the outfield are at steeper angles and reset.

It’s not quite possible to find the location of the bullpens. (For cricket followers: This is where the pitchers warm up, especially relief pitchers preparing to enter the game at the manager’s behest.) In some stadiums, they are on the field in deep foul territory. I suspect in the present arrangement (:30 ff.), the bullpens are between the center-field wall and the viewers’ stands.

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“Million Dollar Arm”

Last June, ROTB blogged on Rinku Singh (b. 8/8/88!) and Dinesh Patel.

Now, the film—from Disney. The Hollywood take, not the Bollywood version. (Though some would persuasively argue that the biggest-and-smartest money lay in cricket—the IPL—on the Indian subcontinent: not in MLB.)

If ever there were a movie, generally speaking, in the bi-sport spirit of ROTB, Million Dollar Arm promises to be it: a funfest—stereotypes notwithstanding.

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Notes toward a Supreme Fiction: My Sport Could Beat up Your Sport

As this is the 500th blog generated by the Right Off the Bat project, in the spirit of collegial, international, and inter-sport collaboration, we thought we’d put our heads together (ouch) in doing some outside-the-box thinking . . . and mix a metaphor or two in the process.

Ten games into this MLB season (there are more than 150 regular-season games yet to go), Evander has observed a dominant aspect of the major-league game that is touched upon in Right Off the Bat at its alpha and omega.

The overshift, which Johnny Damon out-hustled and out-thought in the 2009 World Series by executing an ingenious, ultra-rare double-steal of bases, is described at the baseball-start of our book, and alluded to later, as a brilliant bit of gamesmanship: virtually defining heads-up play. Late in our book, the term “Sabermetrics” worms its way in. This is a term coined around the work of uber-statistician Bill James. Anyone who has seen “Moneyball,” understands the impact James’s spectral musings has had on the way baseball is understood and, more importantly, “strategized” and played.

Evander’s central observation is thus: many more managers and clubs are employing radical, Sabermetric-style defensive shifts in the field, depending on who is pitching to some degree and, especially, who is batting. E. has seen one overshift wherein the third baseman moves way out to short right field. Should a left-handed batter ground out to this “new position,” the official scoring still goes 5-3. Very weird.

Extreme defense does not work under two conditions: (1) as Johnny Damon adroitly proved (in other words, a fielder needs to stand at every base lest the baserunner “run amok” with double-steals); (2) batters begin to do what Mickey Mantle, the great power hitter and pull hitter did (become masters of the drag bunt and/or condition themselves to stroke the ball to the opposite field).

Baseball and its managers, especially in the US and Canada—being those most conservative, provincial, and ossified of sports and individuals—actually find themselves becoming far more fluid in the field. The third baseman is no longer at third base and so forth.

It is perhaps an irony that cricket (typically seen as a bastion of the hidebound and traditional) should find itself having to deal with rapid change, especially in the wake of Twenty20 cricket. Bowlers and batsmen have to adapt to rapidly changing situations, and fielders and their positions are required to be equally adept in their placement. The key word for cricketers is flexibility in the face of new shots, new kinds of deliveries, and new fielding positions.

Perhaps baseball could and should learn a few things from cricket after all!

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