Breaking Weird

There are three types of baseball. One is regular ol’ baseball. The second is extra-inning baseball, which is sometimes referred to as “#freebaseball”. And then finally, there’s Weird Baseball, stylized by the youths as “#weirdbaseball”.

Extra-inning baseball is like regular baseball, except — even more often than usual — batters are trying too hard to hit home runs. This leads occasionally to Weird Baseball. Scientists change their mind about what constitutes Weird Baseball once a month, during breaks when determining who is a millennial and who is not. Weird Baseball, at the moment, is technically denoted as baseball occurring in the 16th inning and onward.

I’m not the first to say it, but I’m the only to say in this blog post, that baseball is unlike other sports in that each team is tasked with playing basically every day. The result is a metronome-like effect, a dependable presence that lends order to life. But just like in life, chaos sometimes emerges from the order that baseball has created. Sometimes the chaos is a joyful sort; other times, it brings grief. In either case, it’s difficult to ignore. The chaos of #weirdbaseball is difficult to ignore.

Major League Baseball is trying to eliminate the chaos.

All levels of minor-league baseball will begin each extra inning with a runner on second base, starting this season. This arrangement was tested last year at the Rookie level and I guess the world did not literally end. Because minor-league baseball has clearly become a testing ground for change in the major leagues, however, it stands to reason this rule might in some form be coming to a big-boy ballpark near you in the not-too-distant future.

There are plenty of consequences to the new rule that require deep examination. Fans of bunts are going to be happier than they have been since D-Day, for one thing; the World Baseball Classic has been putting runners on first and second from the 11th inning onward, and the strategy has tended to involve sacrifice bunts and intentional walks. Perfect games would automatically become no-hitters, since the automatic runner will technically reach on a fielding error. (There were three perfect games thrown in the minors last year, FWIW.) This rule apparently will include the postseason, which one might prefer to be immune from the strange influence of these rules. Precision bunting might decide a title. Ned Yost will try to find a way to manage in the minors.

We have information from these here pages and elsewhere worth looking at real quick. At Baseball Prospectus, Russell A. Carleton crunched the numbers on games from 2012 to -16 and found that just under 10% of them went into extra innings. Of those extra-inning affairs, 98.4% were finished before the 13th inning, a safe distance from #weirdbaseball. When Carleton ran a simulation with the new automatic runner in extras rule, the average extra-inning game featured 1.4 extra innings, down from the 2012-2016 average of 2.3. I don’t know if you are allowed to say “whoop-de-doo” on the internet.

Jeff Zimmerman and Eno Sarris looked at the 4,117 games played since 1974 that went past 12 innings and, surprisingly, found that the average runs scored in the “marathon” game by a team was more than one run fewer than the runs that team scored in their very next game. Point being: there is no long-term effect on a team that experiences the weirdness, unless they lack pitching depth on their 40-man roster. If the latter is the case, they should be yelled at for not paying attention the last 25 years and deserve to suffer.

If you presume the new runner-on-second rule in extras existed during classic #weirdbaseball games, the Cardinals’ victory over the Mets on September 11-12, 1974, in 25 innings would have been a Mets win in a mere 10 innings. The Brewers/White Sox 25-inning game, the longest in American League history, would have still been a really good game with Chicago emerging victorious. The two teams would have traded runs in the 13th before Chicago took it in the 14th.

There were five #weirdbaseball games in 2017, and all five of them would have gone the other way with the new rule. Instead of the Yankees beating the Red Sox 4-1 on July 15 in a sweet 16 innings, the Sox take it 2-1 in in the 10th on back-to-back singles. Instead of a Travis d’Arnaud homer in the top of the 16th, the Marlins would have gotten an early season W thanks to a Dee Gordon sacrifice fly to Jay Bruce in deep enough right the inning prior. Buster Posey wouldn’t have hit a walk-off homer in the 17th; now Patrick Kivlehan’s sac fly in the top of the 10th would have been enough for Cincinnati. (And here I thought new rules were supposed to protect Posey. Zing!) The Yankees’ victory over the Cubs in 18, the longest game in interleague history, would have been over six innings earlier on an Anthony Rizzo double.

And the Red Sox late-season W against the Blue Jays would have been an L much earlier in the night on an 11th-inning infield hit by Michael Saunders.

I get that some of results might have changed under the application of the new rules but, dang, 5 for 5? Besides, you kind of made my point for me, hypothetical reader: the game would have significantly changed.

It brings up many questions about MLB’s intent. On the surface, it’s about cutting down the time of the game, but the time of game alone doesn’t cause a less exciting product. The Yankees and Cubs combined for the most strikeouts in one baseball game in recorded history. The Red Sox used the most pitchers in that 19-inning contest than they ever had in any game in their long history. Is that what Joe Torre and company are concerned about? Too many strikeouts and pitching changes? Is that worth changing extra innings from a home-run derby attempt to bunts and walks? The Red Sox, with a little help from an expanded September roster, kept winning and won their division after the marathon and the oh-so-many different pitchers. It was fine. The Blue Jays were already out of contention. The Yankees and Cubs both made their respective league championship series. Those games gave us the #weirdbaseball obligatory camera shot of the digital clock reading midnight and the shots of kids up past their bedtime still in the ballpark and the delightfully strange moments that can only happen when it’s late at night and all that which matters and all that which does not become more in focus than ever.

Like 18th-inning ejections. (As described by Meg Rowley recently.)

A perfect representation of the power of friendship.

Talking robots.

Once the Yankees finished off Chicago, and ESPN was finally allowed to send it over to Sportscenter, Buster Olney informed Starlin Castro of the strikeout record. Castro’s reaction wasn’t one of embarrassment.

Wow that’s… it’s unbelievable. I think that’s a game that’s going to be in the people’s memories for so many years.

*                                      ************
*************                          *         *
*                                      *        *
*                     *  *     * * *   ********             *
*                      *         *     *        *        *  *  *
**************       *   *       *     *         *      *       *

Did you think we were done? Castro’s quote would have been a decent ending. It would not have been remarkable though, and by remarkable I mean weird. It would not have been like the longest minor-league baseball game in history.

In April of 1981, the Pawtucket Red Sox needed 33 innings to defeat the Rochester Red Wings 3-2. Of those 33 innings, 32 were played over the last four hours of April 18 the first few hours of April 19. No inning was supposed to be begin after 12:50 a.m. local time, however, per International League rules. The problem was that crew chief Jack Lietz was a man who always went by the book, and he had a crummy book.

But that 12:50 rule isn’t in my umpire’s manual. I’ve got to go by my manual.

It took a returned phone call by International League president Harold Cooper after 3 a.m. to stop the weirdness.

Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan (not that one) got himself ejected in the 22nd inning, stuck around watching the equivalent of another game plus one more inning from the bleachers, and initially did not get or simply did not appreciate the concept of #weirdbaseball.

The (Thomas) Pain(e) of it AllThe (Thomas) Pain(e) of it All · Mon, Apr 20, 1981 – Page 27 · The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) ·

Morgan later changed his tune, from something like a Black Flag dirge after Greg Ginn took over to more like that now inescapable number about a never-ending movie or something that was released June 3, 1981, 20 days before the 33rd and final inning was played.

I wanted 40 innings so nobody could ever tie our beautiful record.

There are plenty of fun anecdotes about that night and early morning. Fun to us, many years in the future, I mean, and not chattering our teeth while actually sitting through an increasingly chilly Rhode Island night. Pawtucket’s eventual winning pitcher, Bob Ojeda (the very same), warmed himself and his teammates by lighting a 55-gallon trash can on fire, using broken bats as kindling. Fellow Red Sox pitcher Luis Aponte was given permission to leave early and go home after tossing four scoreless innings. His wife did not believe he went straight home from the stadium because it was after two in the morning. Only newspapers delivered over 24 hours later confirmed Luis’s alibi. Poor Mark Corey was pinch-hit for in the 15th inning even though he was the designated hitter. For some reason he never left and just stayed in the clubhouse, drinking all of his team’s beer.

[Corey] was hammered. I mean, hammered.

Rochester general manager and radio play-by-play man Bob Drew counted 23 fans still in attendance at McCoy Stadium after the 32nd inning had concluded. One of those was the 12-year-old nephew of home-plate umpire Dennis Cregg. Uncle Dennis later said his nephew never went to another baseball game after that. Cal Ripken Jr. (the very same!) trudged over to the Howard Johnson’s one mile away from McCoy Stadium for breakfast, the only time in his career that breakfast was his postgame meal. Or so Ripken claimed in 2006. Technically, the game wasn’t over yet.

I could not find the play-by-play of this beautiful monstrosity online. I read that Pawtucket scorekeeper Bill George donated the scorecard to the Baseball Hall of Fame, however, so I asked those fine Cooperstown folks if they could email me a picture of it, and they did!

While I’m reluctant to reproduce that image here, on account of it could expose FanGraphs and David Appelman to some form of legal liability, that’s not really the point. The point is that, with the scorecard in my possession, it’s now possible to figure out how the new minor-league rules would have ruined the game in question.

From what I can tell, it appears as though the game most certainly would not have developed into baseball’s longest ever. In fact, it would have ended in the bottom of the 11th, cutting the length of the entire game by two-thirds. Rochester’s 10th inning began with Aponte plunking shortstop Bobby Bonner before Bonner was caught stealing. Then, catcher Dave Huppart and second baseman Tom Eaton struck out. Even presuming Bonner would not have attempted to steal a base with an automatic runner on second, center fielder Dallas Williams popped up to third baseman Wade Boggs (the very same!) to start the Red Wings’ 11th frame. And Williams ended up going 0 for 13.

The Pawtucket 10th began with a Julio Valdez ground out to short and Lee Graham strikeout. Second baseman Marty Barrett (the very same!) singled. It’s unknown where he singled or how far he singled, but he definitely singled. The designated runner at second, in this case, would have been backup catcher Roger LaFrancois, who came in to catch the previous half-inning to replace pinch-hitter Mike Ongarto, who hit for starting catcher and future Barrett teammate Rich Gedman. Since Ongarto made the last out in the ninth, LaFrancois would have had to attempt to score on the single from second base. He was a catcher, as I said, and catchers are not known for their blazing speed, but LaFrancois managed to swipe eight bases during his minor-league career. The very least I could do is ask him over Twitter if he thinks he would have scored on Barrett’s single.

So I did this — or, at least, I did something…

You do not see LaFrancois’ response because there wasn’t one, or there isn’t one yet, in which case he is simply reinforcing the stereotype that catchers are slow.

In any event, Chico Walker followed Barrett’s single with a ground ball to Tom Eaton, who stepped on second to force out Barrett and continue the game. On to the 11th.

Rochester managed only an F5, F9, and a K in the top of that frame. No possible battleships sunk there. Pawtucket’s 11th started with a strike out and fly to right before Boggs laced a single, somewhere. While Boggs would hit an RBI double in the 21st inning to tie the game up — to a loud and understandable ambivalence from his teammates — he could have ended things 10 innings sooner. The runner on second would have been Chico Walker, since he made the last out the previous inning and was still in the game. Walker stole 24 bases for Pawtucket during the 1981 season. He would steal 67 during his scattered 526-game major-league career. So Walker would have raced home and ended just another game. Sam Bowen struck out instead to send it to the 12th.

Maybe it would have kept going. I certainly kept going, playing this scenario out through the 16th. Rochester had plenty of chances. In the 12th, it’s possible designated theoretical runner Mark Corey would have scored on Chris Bourjos’ real-life single. But while Corey might have been sober at that moment in time, he only had one stolen base in his 57-game major-league career. The Red Wings might have taken it in the 13th when Bonner singled, Huppert sacrificed him over to second, Eaton walked, Williams flied to left, and Ripken grounded out to third. The runner would have been right fielder Mike Hart, who also only stole one base his brief major-league career.

Hart though would have had two chances, once on the single and once on poor Dallas Williams’ fly ball to left, which could have been a sac fly and not one of his 13 not-hits. It’s possible Mr. Williams was destined to have one of the worst baseball nights of all. In their 14th inning, it’s possible Ripken could have scored on a Corey single. Then again, Ripken swiped zero bags in Triple-A that season, and we do not celebrate him for his bag theft, now do we? The Red Wings could have taken it in the 15th, thanks to a single and a Mike Smithson wild pitch, a combination that definitely probably maybe would have plated designated runner Bonner, who, by the way, was the shortstop while Ripken was the third baseman that night, and stole an at this point incredibly impressive 10 bases that season in Harold Cooper’s league, so he probably would have scored. Pawtucket would have had to have countered in the 15th. That featured a single, a 3-6 fielder’s choice, and a line out double play. The designated runner would have been… Roger. Victor. LaFrancois. Onto the 16th…

*                     *
*                     *
*                     *
*                     *
*                     *
*                     *
*                     *
*                     *       ********    *            **********
*                     *       ****        *            *********
*                     *       *******     *******      *

Bless his heart, Roger was reared in Brooklyn, New York. He co-founded and co-hosts the Good Fundies podcast and website. He's too busy and self-involved to hate your favorite team. @yayroger and @goodfundies on Twitter.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago