Bases empty, two outs, a 3-1 game, #8 hitter up. Nothing comes down to this.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tim Lincecum Fined For Negative Marijuana Test

SAN FRANCISCO (Bottom of the Fourth) - The honeymoon is over. After winning their first World Series in 56 years on the first day of November, the San Francisco Giants have received their first large dose of bad news.

It was revealed at a press conference on Sunday that Tim Lincecum had passed a random off-season drug test. This is the first out of seven tests in his career that Lincecum has passed, and it prompted swift disciplinary action from the San Francisco Giants organization.

"The San Francisco Giants have worked very hard to cultivate a very specific persona for Tim," explained Martin Huard, Giants Director of Public Relations. "When we drafted him, he was just a regular beer-swilling, collar-popping, Nickelback-listening-to jock. The laid-back stoner image we have tirelessly striven to develop works perfectly with the city - the fans identify with him, they think of him as that nice kid next door who always wants to borrow an apple and some tinfoil."

The Giants fined Lincecum $10,000, a relatively small amount compared to the pitcher's salary, but warned him that, like MLB's drug policy, repeat offenses will carry much more serious consequences. A source within the organization specified the terms of such punishments to Bottom of the Fourth: a second offense will incur a $100,000 fine, a third will prompt the team to assign a personal marijuana assistant to the player, who will ensure that he is "sufficiently blazed" at all times, including during games, and a fourth will result in permanent banishment from the organization and city. In this case, even if Lincecum signs with another MLB team, he will not be allowed in the city, even as a visitor.

Barry Brown, the Giants' Director of Promotions, says the news throws a wrench in his plans for the 2011 season. "We had several promotions planned around Lincecum's identity as a pothead," grumbled Brown. "Tim Lincecum Doobie Night, The 4/20 Pre-Game Drum Circle With Special Guest Tim Lincecum, the Tim Lincecum Bonglehead Giveaway... all those are out the window now."

10,000 Lincecum Bongleheads have already been produced and are now useless

For his part, Lincecum regrets that it ever came to this. He met with the press after the news broke to apologize to the fans. Tellingly, he spoke in uncharacteristically clear prose. "I want to say, to the people of San Francisco, that I'm sorry. I've let you down, and I hope you can forgive me. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday."

Lincecum went on, attempting to explain what happened. "I've been training hard for the upcoming season. I lost a few miles on my fastball last year, and I've been working out a lot to try to get it back. Every day I come home so exhausted that I just pass out, totally forgetting to even pack a bowl. I know it's no excuse, I just wanted to shed some light on the situation."

The news has garnered a mixed reaction among Giants fans. Some are angry, including Amy Lagrou, who spoke to Bottom of the Fourth about the incident. "I mean, Tim has come to represent something to us," she said, seemingly enraged, "and now he's thrown that right back in our face. I don't know what to believe anymore. How can I root for a team that doesn't stick to its morals?"

Others are less offended and more concerned, including Marc Tyndel. "I'm just worried he isn't going to be the same pitcher. He might be stronger, he might get that velocity back on his fastball, he might go back to 2008-09 form and win another Cy Young, but all that is meaningless if he stays dry."

Tyndel is more than just concerned, though: he wants to help. "Maybe there's something Tim isn't letting on. I dunno, he didn't say it, but I just have a feeling his well has dried up. It happens to all of us, but it can be embarrassing. Look, I have a Guy. He's a great connection: reliable, fast, doesn't try to fuck with you. Basically anything you could want in a Guy. If Tim sees this, I can hook him up. I want him to know: the people of San Francisco are here for him."

In fact, that last statement is true to a much greater extent than Marc Tyndel realizes. On Tuesday night, San Francisco will hold "Tim Hour", a riff on the global "Earth Hour" event held every March. From 10-11 PM, those participating will switch off all their lights, and use only the luminescence created by their joints, bongs, pipes, and other marijuana-burning devices. The event is meant to show support for Lincecum as he goes through this tough time.

But while some fans are more forgiving than others, it's clear that Lincecum's behaviour must change if he hopes to continue being one of the most popular and beloved players on the Giants. He's on thin bongwater ice and he knows it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

An Open Letter to Adrian Beltre

Dear Adrian Beltre,

I've heard you aren't happy with the contracts you've been offered this off-season. And you deserve to ask for a lot of money! You were one of the three best third basemen in baseball last year, along with Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman. Now you've watched Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee sign nine-figure contracts in recent weeks, and you're wondering where yours is. Well, I don't blame you!

I do, however, think you can be a little more creative with your demands. I understand that your agent, Scott Boras, is widely regarded as one of the best in the game in terms of getting his clients big money, but even Scott Boras has his faults. I know it can be hard to say goodbye, but I believe that leaving Boras and signing with Bottom of the Fourth Enterprises is in your best interest.

Let me explain why.

Adrian Beltre, you are known to be an extreme contract-year player. Your two best years, by far, have been in years in which you were about to become a free agent. So our plan is to find a contract that simulates those conditions at all times. But a baseball season is long enough that even one year has its ups and downs. So, in order to put you in the contract year mindset all the time, we need to think shorter-term.

One-day contracts.

Imagine it. In order to play tomorrow, you need to perform tonight. Whatever triggers your psyche to perform at maximum efficiency over the course of a contract year will go into overdrive. You'll hit a homer every night, because you'll have to, just to get a job the next day.

You know how many homers that is over the course of a year? Like, a billion.

And you can extrapolate that to other stats, too. If you're getting two hits per night, driving in three, making a couple of highlight-reel diving catches - because, once again, the pressure is on you to do those things every night, just to stay above the poverty line - imagine the kind of season you could have. You'll break records. All the records.

Plus, think of the freedom of travel. Want to check out that Brokencyde concert in Jersey City tomorrow night? Play a game for the Mets. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn having its red-carpet premiere? Sign with the Dodgers for a day. Can't miss being in the audience of the last-ever episode of Oprah? Get in touch with the Cubs. Hey, we all have to make compromises sometimes.

And hey, wouldn't a little vacation be nice? An MLB season is six months long, with about 20 days off. Total. Your average 9-5er gets about 50 days of weekends in that span, plus holidays, PLUS vacation days. MLB players are basically child slave labourers in Myanmar. They're pretty much the same, really.

Now, you might be worried that MLB wouldn't allow shenanigans like this. But they don't have a leg to stand on. You know why? It's happened before. Nomar Garciaparra did it. Jeff Conine did it. J.T. Snow did it. I'm no lawyer, but I see no difference between those deals and what I'm proposing here. Absolutely none.

So let me know, Adrian Beltre. I'm at your service. If you like what I'm suggesting, then leave your Tumblr in the comments and we'll figure things out from there.


President, Bottom of the Fourth Enterprises

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Three Delicious Games in Baseball History

A twitter conversation in the wake of Tuesday's post on Sandy Koufax's Perfect Gingergame led me to wonder: was that the most delicious baseball game in history? Today we examine three other games in contention for the title.

Chili Davis' Chili Cook-off

In 1991, as DH for the Minnesota Twins, Chili Davis was given a rare start in the outfield in a game against the Texas Rangers. However, when he discovered that the scheduled starting pitchers were a couple of extreme ground-ballers, Scott Erickson and Kevin Brown, and he wouldn't likely have any plays to make, Davis took matters into his own hands.

"I wanted to support my team," says Davis. "We were in a pennant race, and we needed to do anything we could to get a leg up. Eat better, groom ourselves more neatly, learn more languages, anything where we can say we're better than the other guys." So, in that spirit, Davis organized an in-game, on-field chili cook-off between him and opposing left fielder Juan Gonzalez.

Davis showed off his 6th tool - culinary skills

Two portable kitchens were installed right in the middle of left field. Experts tasted each man's chili after every inning, assigning points for flavour, "chiliness", and flatulence potential. In the end, Davis won when Gonzalez bowled over his own chili chasing after a fly ball, severely bruising his ribs in the process, and to this day Davis credits the victory as the key to Minnesota's eventual World Series Championship.

Jeffrey Loria Feeds a Bunch of Hoboes

In 1996, Jeffrey Loria, then-owner of the Montreal Expos, decided that the team was spending too much of his hard-earned money, and ordered general management to slash payroll to minuscule levels. So minuscule, it turned out, that the only players the Expos could afford were rail-riding hoboes (as opposed to street bums, which are very different, as explained by Fran's Hobo Page:
A Hobo is a person that travels to work.
A tramp is a person that travels and wont work.
A bum is a person that will neither travel or work.)
At first, the Montreal crowds fell in love with these adorable scamps, the "Exbos" as they were affectionately nicknamed. But after an 0-37 start, the sentiment began to change. The frustration culminated on June 8th, 1996, the 60th game of the season, which also happened to be the night of an annual promotion: Free Poutine Night.

After the top of the first inning saw its third grand slam, all hell broke loose. French fries, cheese curds and gravy started pouring down on the field like a deluge of torrential rain, one third of which is solid and shaped like French fries for some reason, one third of which is melty and shaped like cheese curds, and one third of which is shaped like regular rain. Good simile.

Anyway, the hoboes, not having been paid enough by Loria to eat for the first two months of the year, were in absolute ecstasy. The game was cancelled, but the players stuck around until the next morning, collecting whatever they couldn't possibly fit in their stomach in their batting helmets to store for future sustenance.

Bob Lemon's "Lemon Shortbread Shutout"

In 1954, Bob Lemon was having one of his best seasons - in late May he was 6-0 with a 2.57 ERA. To the great amusement of his teammates, he very publicly attributed this success to his wife's lemon shortbread, which he claimed he ate before every start. Among his teammates, Lemon's wife was known as an absolutely awful cook - the Lemons hosted a pre-season dinner every year for the entire team, and the food was so inedible that Cleveland typically had two or three players out of the opening day line-up due to illness. But the Lemons were such a sweet couple that nobody ever said anything.

So Bob's teammates found his supposedly shortbread-induced success absolutely hilarious - that is, until he brought a team-sized batch to his last start in May. "He wouldn't take the field until we all ate one," remembers center-fielder Larry Doby. "The game was delayed by half an hour."

Third baseman Al Rosen clearly recalls the fear his teammates felt as they considered the prospect of eating a cookie. "We literally thought that was the day we were going to die," says Rosen. "I dunno how, salmonella? I mean, yeah, typically there's no raw chicken in lemon shortbread, but you never knew with Doris (Lemon's wife)."

Finally, veteran pitcher Bob Feller picked up a piece of shortbread, examined it, weighed it, looked his teammates in the eye, and took a bite. His face instantly changed. "Oh my god... this is amazing." One by one, the players were overcome with the same shock, followed by unbridled joy at the unexpected tastiness of the cookies.

The batch of shortbread was demolished, and the teams took the field. Cleveland won the game 12-0, Bob Lemon pitched brilliantly, and to this day the game is remembered as the "Lemon Shortbread Shutout".

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sandy Koufax' Perfect Gingergame

About a month ago, my roommates told me about an amazing tradition they have every holiday season. Having only moved in a few months ago, I'd never heard about it (even though I've known them for a long time), but as a new member of the house, I was invited to take part this year.

The tradition is this: my roommates (a pair of Jewish brothers), their two older siblings, and a couple close friends get together and build an important event in Jewish history, entirely out of gingerbread (well, and candy and icing... everything on the board is edible). Over the course of the six-year tradition it's always been something biblical, but this year was a little different. Being huge baseball fans, they decided to pay homage to the most famous Jewish baseball player in history by constructing a replica of Sandy Koufax' perfect game in 1965.

Needless to say, as a baseball nut myself, I was looking forward to this from the moment it was brought up. But I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

Several weeks in advance: this elaborate and precise plan was drawn by a current
law student and former theater major. Go figure.
Friday: materials.
The gingerbread, mixed a day in advance, prepares itself mentally
Saturday afternoon: they see me rollin, we bakin
The 32x40" board, tinfoiled and ready for construction
Saturday evening: gingerbread starts to roll out of the oven and the vision begins to take shape

What would eventually become light towers turned out a little more phallic than anticipated
The first wave of icing allows construction to begin
The commencement of bleacher erection (haha, erection)
The infield and dugout get touched up
After laying down the infield dirt, our groundskeeper devises an ingenious
method for removing stray clumps from the outfield grass
The light towers are erected (haha, erected), foul lines are drawn, the crowd files in, and the masterpiece is completed.
The concession area featured three varieties of food and a beer stand

Washrooms were located in the concession area
One of my roomies' traditions is that Jews are always depicted as Gummi Bears while non-Jews are Santas. Koufax, obviously, was the only Gummi Bear on the field
The home dugout of course features the home logo
A heated exchange broke out, as they are wont to do, in the bleachers
Unfortunately, the scoreboard did not feature video highlights as that is not a technology that has
found its way into the gingerbread/icing world

Koufax' strikeouts were all accounted for
These two fans had the best seats in the house
But, typically, weren't watching the game
The achievement was commemorated with a plaque engraved into the ground
beyond the outfield bleachers


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Offseason Check-in: Tim Stauffer

In this feature, Bottom of the Fourth checks in with various MLB players to see what they're up to during the off-season. Today we spoke to Tim Stauffer, a pitcher with the San Diego Padres.

Bottom of the Fourth: Tim, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. So, the obvious question, given the nature of the series: what have you been doing for the last couple months?

Tim Stauffer: Great news, Xave! I got engaged!

BotF: Wow, congratulations! Have you set a date?

Tim: Actually, Rebecca and I aren't really into the traditional lavish wedding, we just want to tie the knot as soon as we can. Unfortunately, it seems like every time we try to get it done, something comes up.

BotF: Like what?

Tim: Like, we were gonna head down to city hall and do it the other day, but then I remembered I'd promised to paint my Aunt Polly's fence.

BotF: That seems like a pretty insubstantial reason to not get married. Couldn't you just paint the fence the next day?

Stauffer: Hoo boy, let me tell you about the next day. My buddy Randy and I (that's Randy Winn, former Giant and Yankee among others), we went down to the graveyard because Ruck, that's what I call Randy, he tore his ACL last year, and he thought he knew how to fix it, but he says he needed to be surrounded by the "spirit of the dead" or some'n. But we never got to test that out because when Ruck and I got there to the graveyard we saw a murder!

BotF: What??! Did you tell the police?

Stauffer: No sir, Ruck and I swore a creatine promise not to tell nobody, never.

Well, shit.

BotF: Well, there's no going back now, might as well spill the details. Do you know who the killer and the victim were?

Stauffer: I sure do, it was Joe Smith (of the Cleveland Indians) what done the deed, he took the life of Doc Robinson (that's Frank Robinson, hall of fame outfielder who never actually went by 'Doc'). I seen it with my own two eyes. But I know this, Indian Joe ain't gonna admit to nothin', he's gonna blame his teammate, "Muff" Shin-Soo Choo, 'cause Chooey is a drunk an' he ain't know no better.

BotF: Tim, I really think you should go tell the police about this, this is serious business. Come back and re-visit with us when this whole situation gets sorted out.

Stauffer: Thank ye kindly for yer time, sir.

Bottom of the Fourth would like to thank Tim Stauffer for his time, and the first ever real-life murder story ever broken on this website.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why Baseball Should Move Its Winter Meetings to Northern Canada

As you're no doubt aware, MLB's winter meetings are going on right now. You've probably spent the last twenty-four hours being absolutely bombarded by MLB Trade Rumors, Twitter, and, yes, Twttr, getting nothing done all day as you await the latest juicy speculation (that was probably based on a team executive being spotted eating a particular type of croissant).

Let's face it, gossip is fun. People love trashy celebrity gossip from websites like TMZ, and baseball is no different. Ken Rosenthal is basically the Perez Hilton of MLB, except, you know, not an asshole.

But gossip is a vice. It's a sinkhole that absorbs us, preventing us from doing anything productive until we can somehow escape its clutch. Sometimes you just need to cut yourself off, even from something you enjoy. Thus, a proposal: move the Winter Meetings to Northern Canada. The Northerlier the better.

Oh, reporters would still be clamouring around the igloo lobbies looking for the latest scoop, but it's a well-established fact that internet tubes and cell phone microwaves freeze anywhere north of 65˚. By the time the Alaskan Malamute-drawn sleds reached civilization, the meetings would be over, reporters would be back online, and we'd receive the whole week's information in a single digestible package, trimmed of all the excess tittle-tattle.

The Winter Meetings should be moved into the Arctic Circle

Plus, there's something disingenuous about an event in Lake Buena Vista, Florida being called the "Winter Meetings". Calling December in Florida winter is like saying the Yankees are in a recession when they have to slash payroll down to $200 million.

There would also be an element of "survival of the fittest" - literally. Baseball executives, unlike the commodities they trade in, are not exactly known to be in peak physical condition. Anyone who can't hack it in the extreme cold could miss out on some great trade opportunities, free agent bargains, and continued life. It would give us great insight into which GMs have the strongest resolve, and which would trade their starting catcher for a box of matches and a slab of elk.

By the time the Rule V Draft rolled around on the fourth day, the best eligible players would basically be up for grabs for any team with at least one executive still alive.

Admittedly, there's a bit of schadenfreude going on here. Baseball owners suck, and agents suck too. The thing of which they have most in their life is money, and yet they spend 99% of their time trying to squeeze every last penny. I would like nothing more than to see them packed like sardines in a communal bunk igloo, devolved into an anarchic melee for the few scraps of food, only able to make guttural neanderthal noises through their frozen jaws. (GMs are okay - they can have cots and canned beans.)

Of course, since the hypothetical Arctic Meetings would be cut off from connected civilization, I would not, in fact, be able to revel in the misfortune of greedy executives in real-time, unless I myself attended the meetings, incurring the inevitably steep travel costs, not to mention the cost of attending the meetings, and of course the harsh conditions. These are sacrifices I'm willing to make.

Holding the Winter Meetings in the extreme north may seem impractical, but there's a hidden advantage that might sway Bud Selig to actually consider this proposal. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2011 season, and if MLB wants the players to give in to all its terms, it needs to back the players into a corner, a corner they're so desperate to get out of they'll sign anything. What better corner than a 60-below polar bear crossing?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Padres Change Nickname For Gender Equality

On Saturday, the San Diego Padres followed up their headline-making trade of star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox with another big piece of news. After being the Padres since the franchise's inception in 1969, the team will have a new nickname starting in 2011.

The change was motivated by Padres' lead owner Jeff Moorad's sudden interest in women's rights. "It's recently come to my attention that women are becoming more prominent in society," said Moorad. "They're doctors, lawyers, engineers... everything! They even get to vote. I think it's great." Moorad explained that the Padres "want to support the women's rights movement", and as a result are hereby changing their name to the San Diego Padres/Madres.

Moorad revealed the news at a press conference yesterday, at which he had been hoping to arrive in uniform to unveil the new team logo. Unfortunately, there had been some difficulty getting the uniform made in time. "Our logo designer doesn't know how to do slashes," explained Moorad. "He's only ever designed team logos before, and no team has ever had a slash in their nickname." The team is reportedly looking for a designer with experience outside sports-team-logo-design and will have their new logo ready before the new year.

Moorad did, however, bring an early-stage mock-up that he made himself. He said it was his "first crack at Photoshop" but thought it "turned out pretty good, actually".

Jeff Moorad shows off his Photoshop skills

Asked whether people will be confused by the new name and won't know what to call the team in casual conversation, Moorad compared the team to the YMCA. "People just call it the YMYWCA. No big deal! There will be a transition period, no doubt, but eventually people will just call us the Padresmadres out of habit."

Moorad hopes this decision will encourage other major league teams to follow in the Padres' footsteps, citing Baltimore (Orioles/Orielles), Cincinnati (Reds/Pinks), Colorado (Rockies/Rockettes) and San Francisco (Giants/Girl Giants) as particularly appropriate teams.

Stephanie Cruz, a representative from the San Diego chapter of the National Organization for Women, the largest feminist organization in the United States, seemed ambivalent to the move. "Um, there was nothing particularly sexist about the previous name. I mean, the team is comprised entirely of men, right? The nickname reflects that." Other members of NOW described the move as "pointless", "meh", and "what?".

Despite this lack of support from NOW, Moorad plans to go ahead with his gender equality plan. In fact, it isn't just the team's nickname that will change. At the concession stands, nachos will be referred to as nachos/nachas, and beer vendors will carry both beer and margaritas at all times. San Diego's mascot, the Swinging Friar, will be accompanied by a female counterpart. Finally, Moorad has plans to retrofit the stadium with matching women's change-rooms on both the home and away sides. The fact that this will eliminate the batting cages and video room has upset some players on the team, but none would agree to be quoted for fear of being labeled a chauvinist.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Breaking Baseball News Moving to Twttr

Anyone who's been following the recent evolution of the mainstream baseball media knows that, increasingly, news is broken on Twitter. Reporters crave being the first to report a "scoop", and Twitter offers the most immediate platform from which to break news to the masses.

However, technology cycles turn over with ever-increasing rapidity, and Twitter's time in the sun seems to be ending already. In this world of instantaneity, seconds, even milliseconds, count, and some of the new nano- and, yes, pico-blogging services make Twitter look clunky and out-dated in comparison.

This new class of clients is still in its infancy, and as such, no-one has emerged as the dominant player in the field. Possibly the most popular at the moment is Twttr, whose slogan reads: "N vwls, n prblm!"

One of Twttr's main competitors, Ie, claims even greater time savings, but readability is a fairly major concession. Their slogan, for example, "o ooa, o oe!", is completely incoherent, and though they attracted a strong initial user base with their glossy efficiency statistics, have had trouble retaining those users.

So we're keeping our money on Twttr edging out the competition, at least for the moment, in this burgeoning market. Twttr's claim is that words contain "up to 100% vowels", and therefore, using their client saves a corresponding percentage of one's time while not sacrificing readability.

This second claim seems dubious when one starts to actually read content from Twttr. Ken Rosenthal, one of the most prolific news breakers in baseball, has caused a flurry of accidental uproars with his Twttr-induced ambiguity. On Tuesday, for example, Rosenthal twtd: "L t L!" Naturally, baseball fans immediately associated this with Cliff Lee, one of the hottest free agents of the 2010 off-season, and the popular belief was that Rosenthal was reporting Lee had signed with either the Dodgers or Angels, or "Lee to LA!" As it turned out, Rosenthal was just saying "Let it le!", a mistyped homage to his favourite Beatles song.

We're also skeptical of the assertion that typing without vowels saves time. Have you ever tried to type without vowels? It's unnatural, and as such, is probably actually slower than typing in normal English. But in the desperate race for the baseball-reporting equivalent of "FIRST!!!1!11", writers will try anything.

On a related note, we're not sure exactly what Twttr's business model is, since it seems to offer a service that is completely possible on Twitter.

Despite these concerns, however, it's difficult to dislodge the momentum of crowds. The usage of Twttr and similar services is skyrocketing, regardless of whether they're at all useful.

Another service which has just launched and as such has yet to gain a significant audience is Three Button Reporting. The company bills itself as a high-end add-on to Twitter geared specifically towards reporters, allowing them to get news out as quickly as possible. The premise is that reporters can purchase a package of customized buttons of varying sizes and shapes that, when pressed, automatically populate tweets with the appropriate information.

TBR has already seen success in "yoga breaking news" and "hot chocolate breaking news", and is nearly finished prepping a package specific to major league baseball.

In the MLB package, a reporter's desk area would be specially fit with a set of buttons for each of the thirty teams, a set of player-buttons corresponding to players commonly mentioned in rumours, and a set of emotion-buttons to convey the nature of the rumor. When a reporter gets a scoop, he might press "CLIFF LEE", "BOSTON RED SOX", and "HAPPY". This process would take mere seconds because of the efficient button interface (the CLIFF LEE button would be among the largest given Lee's prominence on the free agent market this off-season - akin to the tag cloud concept), and a tweet would automatically be sent containing the following: "Cliff Lee Boston Red Sox :):):)".

At first, fans may find the emotions confusing, but the company is counting on a standardized system naturally developing within the ecosystem. For example, HAPPY might correspond to free agent signings, ANGRY could refer to non-tenders, and TIMOROUS might be related to trades. An e-mail sent to the company asking what a TIMOROUS emoticon looks like didn't garner a response.

While Twttr may lead the pico-blogging charge given its ease of use, TBR should win out on the strength of its efficiency, despite its steeper learning curve. TBR also has a sustainable money-making model in place. Of course, the system requires reporters to stay attached to their workstation 24/7 (literally... the system powers itself by drawing a small but steady stream of blood from its user), but we figure that won't be a problem since reporters just live in their moms' basements. Or is that nerds? Can't remember that stereotype.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Offseason Check-in: Dave Kingman

In this feature, Bottom of the Fourth checks in with various MLB players to see what they're up to during the off-season. Today we spoke to Dave Kingman, who hit 442 home runs in the major leagues and retired in 1987.

Bottom of the Fourth: Dave, thanks for speaking with us. We've been talking to current players to see what kinds of things they like to do in the off-season, but we were wondering what players used to get up 25, 30 years ago, to see if things have changed much. So, speaking as a retired player, how are off-season regimens different from when you played?

Dave Kingman: What is this?! I'm not retired!!

BotF: Oh, are you coaching now? That's great!

Kingman: No I am not coaching. What is wrong with you? I'm a left-fielder, and I can swing a pretty mean bat.

Bottom of the Fourth: Um... who do you play for? You haven't been in the major leagues in 23 years.

Kingman: I could be in a starting line-up today. Any team would be lucky to have me. But the owners have blackballed me. Just like Barry Bonds, y'know? He could still be a great hitter, but the assholes who run the teams have a "gentleman's agreement" not to give him a contract. Well, if you thought Bonds was the first guy to get secretly banned from the game, you're wrong. It's been going on since 1987, at least. I go to 30 walk-on tryouts every off-season, and I take all those kids to school, and not a whiff of an offer.

BotF: You know, maybe you just can't get a job because you're not very good anymore. By the end of your career you weren't a very good hitter, and now you're SIXTY-ONE. Plus, the owners blackballed Bonds because he was involved in the steroid scandal. What reason do they have to conspire against you?

Kingman: They're racist against my low batting average. Just because a guy hits for a low average doesn't mean he can't be productive!

BotF: That's true, but how is that "racist"? Also, your batting average -


Bottom of the Fourth would like to thank Dave Kingman for his time.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Pirates Should "Go For It" in 2011

Baseball teams are constantly being labeled by fans according to the state in which they're perceived as being. Teams are described as "in fire-sale mode", "treading water", "three sheets to the wind", "coming back down to Earth", and other such phrases involving one of the four classical elements.

Another common baseball-team-state-of-being is "going for it". When a team decides to "go for it", they say "fuck this, let's win the World Series", sign a bunch of free agents and gut their farm system by trading prospects for established major league players with the hope of having that one magical year.

I think this is the year the Pittsburgh Pirates should "go for it". Why? Let me explain.

1. It Would Come Out of Nowhere

Teams that "go for it" generally have a couple things already on their side:
  • a solid major league roster with several star-level players
  • the capacity to spend money
The Pirates have neither of these things. They went 57-105 in 2010, the worst record in baseball. And their payroll was just under $35 million, the lowest in baseball. It would totally catch the rest of baseball with their pants down if the Pirates "went for it", and by the time everyone else realized what was happening, Pittsburgh would have built an insurmountable lead.

2. The City Needs It

The current version of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been one of the most futile teams in professional sports history. They haven't had a winning season since 1992, when a 27-year-old Barry Bonds led the Bucs to a playoff berth. Some other things that have happened since 1992:
  • The New York Yankees have made the playoffs fifteen times
  • Miley Cyrus was born, rose to fame, and is now a legal adult
  • Bono has personally delivered meals to over 34,000 starving Namibian children
  • Stephen King has written 476 books, one fewer than John Grisham

3. It's in Their Nature

When did you ever hear about pirates who bided their time? Who slowly but surely built their reserves until the proper time for them to be unleashed? Who sacrificed instant gratification for sustained success?

If there's one thing pirates are known for, it's impetuousness. (Also: eye-patches, parrots, crassness, peg-legs, rum, hooks for hands, walking the plank, the Jolly Roger, treasure, piratey slang, pillaging, swabbing the deck, Somalia, eye shadow, Davy Jones' Locker, saying "avast", jibs, hornswaggling, parleying, confusing maps, timbers that may or may not be shivering, mutiny, Bluebeard, doubloons, cooking in a galley, crow's nests, spyglasses and gout. Also jaunty sea ditties.)

But yeah, impetuousness. It's a trait so deeply ingrained in the psyche of pirates that even a baseball team nicknamed for them absorbs it by association. The Pirates will take to this radical change in direction like a brigantine to a hearty gale. 


The Pirates could take the NL by storm next year

It's always a difficult decision to "go for it", perhaps sacrificing continued success for instant gratification. But pirates are not patient enough for the alternative, as evidenced by 18 years of futility. "Going for it" is the right decision.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Offseason Check-in: Rod Barajas

In this feature, Bottom of the Fourth checks in with various MLB players to see what they're up to during the off-season. Today we spoke to Rod Barajas, a free agent at the moment.

BotF: So Rod, any news on teams interested in signing you?

Barajas: Nah, I let my agent handle all that stuff. I'm not too worried.

BotF: That's good to hear. So what are you doing to pass the time these days?

Barajas: My wife and I are trying to complete the Eternal Cycle, that which was foretold by Diego, El Dios de la Vida.

BotF: That sounds... creepy. I'm going to regret this, but can you be more specific?

Barajas: It was prophesized by Diego in the Time before Then that I, He Who Would One Day Become The Man About Which It Was To Have Been Prophesized (I'm sorry, it sounds better in Spanish) would bear seven children, and each would represent one of the ancient symbols of the Barajas.

BotF: Ohhhhhh, you're talking about the name thing! Your kids - Bryce, Andrew, Rod Jr., Aunalilia, Jace and Aubrielle - are each named after a letter of your last name, and you're just missing the S. So you and your wife are trying to have another baby? That's great, congratulations!

Barajas: Do not speak of the prophecy in such crass terms! The Ritual of the Life-Making is a sacred one that involves all members of the clan gathered around the clan's patriarch and matriarch, channeling each other's energies, in an effort to bring forth new life into the world!

BotF: So... you make your kids watch you and your wife have sex?

Barajas: (sigh) I could never explain it to one who is not of the Clan.

Bottom of the Fourth would like to thank Rod Barajas for his time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Molinas to Appear on SI Swimsuit Cover

A month ago, Bengie Molina was in a unique situation. Because of his time spent with both the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants during the 2010 season, Bengie knew he'd be getting a championship ring, regardless of the outcome of the World Series.

Now he's in an even more unique situation: he'll be the first man to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's famous swimsuit issue.

Or, at least, one of the first. His younger brothers Yadier and José, also MLB catchers, will join him.

Why the brothers will be featured on the swimsuit issue was unclear until we talked to SI's Logistics Director, Patrick Pigeon. It seems the Molinas were booked to come in the same time the swimsuit issue was being shot. "We have a complicated, rigid production schedule", explains Pigeon. "Photoshoots, articles, features, all that stuff is submitted months in advance so it can be shipped off to Korea to be put together. The stuff we're working on now comes out in February. So if the Molinas come in on a particular day, they're in a particular issue. And it just so happens that issue is the swimsuit issue."

It seems the unintentional scheduling gaffe was brought about by student intern Katie Stewart. "I just booked them when they were free. Why can't SI just archive the photos and article for a different issue? This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of."

The person most affected by this situation, besides everyone in the world who will eventually see the cover with their eyes, is SI's Head of Bikini Matters, John Cox. "So now I've been given two tasks. I have to shoot a swimsuit cover, and I have to shoot a Molina cover. And it has to be the same cover. What other choice do I have? I'm shooting the Molinas in speedos."

Now, it doesn't seem too outlandish to eventually make a conscious decision to feature men on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue. It's even conceivable that professional baseball players could work their way into that role - it is a sports magazine, after all, and there are some good-looking baseball players. Grady Sizemore of the Cleveland Indians, for example, has spawned a loyal fan-base of female fans calling themselves "Grady's ladies".

The Molinas are decidedly not part of that demographic of baseball players. Bengie, in particular, is often described as the slowest player in Major League Baseball, a deficiency that stems largely from his hefty 5'11", 225 lb. frame.

Future swimsuit model Bengie Molina
John Cox may initially seem resentful of being put in this situation, but when he starts to tell us some of his ideas, it becomes clear that he's relishing his most difficult creative challenge to date. "I thought about having them wear their catching helmets in the shot, so you couldn't tell which is which, except by looking at their bodies. I mean, that's the goal of a swimsuit issue: draw attention to the bodies."

And helmets aren't the only pieces of equipment under consideration. Cox is even thinking about photographing the Molina brothers nude, covered only by - what else? - a baseball bat.

Of course, the cover isn't limited to just the Molinas. Female models may appear with the brothers, if Cox and his team can find a way to make it work. "You know that thing where beautiful women dress in stereotypically male outfits? Like the sexy construction worker, or the sexy cop? Well, why not the sexy back-catcher? You don't know what's under that mask, and that chest protector, and those shin guards, but you know you want it."

Bengie, for his part, is excited. "Every kid wants to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Most don't expect it to be in the swimsuit issue, but it's a dream come true either way. Plus, it'll be a chance to show people that I do actually have a pretty rockin' body."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Offseason Check-in: Coco Crisp

In this feature, Bottom of the Fourth checks in with various MLB players to see what they're up to during the off-season. Today we spoke to Coco Crisp of the Oakland Athletics.

BotF: So Coco, I've gotta ask, why did you take to Craigslist to find a female live-in personal assistant?

Crisp: Well, near the end of the season Kevin Kouzmanoff (Crisp's A's teammate) got me into Craigslist. I'd never heard of it before, but there's so much good stuff!!!

BotF: Uh-huh, yeah, we're all familiar with the wonders of Craigslist. So what have you been up to besides patrolling random internet classifieds?

Crisp: That's pretty much it, actually. First I was just browsing, but I was too scared to actually contact anyone, because it's kinda weird, you know? But then I saw someone selling a green snuggie, and that was the only one missing from my collection. That first purchase was the gateway buy. I've been finding amazing deals on everything! Lamps, shower caps, condoms...

BotF: (pukes) You buy condoms off Craigslist? People actually put up ads for that?

Crisp: Yeah, can you believe people just throw their condoms away after one use? What happened to reduce, reuse, recycle? So I threw up an ad asking to buy them off people.

BotF: Wait, nobody was advertising their used condoms, so you... never mind. I don't want to talk about this anymore. So you've just been buying stuff off Craigslist all off-season?

Crisp: No, there's so much more to Craigslist than that! I browse the "gigs" section every day. I've auditioned for four bands, waited tables at two banquets and done voiceover work for something called "The Hotmale Inbox". And I put up "missed connection" ads all the time! Here's one I'm just about to post:

You were wearing a blue suit with like a tie that was like red or yellow or green or something. You're like 5'8" to 6'0", and I think you're a dude, I dunno, I was pretty far away, it was kinda hard to tell. You went into a bank.

BotF: Um, what are you trying to accomplish with this missed connection?

Crisp: I just want to let this dude know that I saw him!

BotF: Uh, I don't think you understand how... you know what, never mind.

Bottom of the Fourth would like to thank Coco Crisp for his time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Overheard at the GM Meetings

The rise of Twitter and rumour-aggregate sites like MLB Trade Rumors have ushered in a new era of up-to-the-millisecond reporting. The ability of reporters to relay information instantaneously has resulted in stories being posted increasingly frequently and decreasingly substantively. But the more juicy gossip the public gets, the more they want. It's like a perpetual motion machine, a machine that won't break until reporters are hardwired to their readers, brain to brain, sitting in adjacent chairs, at all times.

This phenomenon is never more apparent than at baseball's annual off-season GM meetings (currently ongoing) and Winter Meetings (slated to start in the first week of December), when members of the press awkwardly mingle in some hotel lobby, waiting for team executives to emerge from days-at-a-time secret meetings (the agendas of which generally focus on the merits of computers vs. punch cards in front-office analytical systems, we understand) in an effort to ferret out any morsel of information Twitterable: that is, anything at the maximum 140 characters and at the minimum 60% in English.

This year's edition of the GM Meetings has been no different; indeed, each year the inundation of micro-blogged "news" is more prolific. In an attempt to wean the uninitiated reader onto this new form of news reporting, Bottom of the Fourth has compiled several samples of the type of info passed on from baseball writers during this part of the off-season, and what that info means.

"Just got word that Dayton Moore was pleasantly surprised by the quality of his grapefruit juice this morning. Royals moving spring training facility to Florida?" - Joe Christensen, Minneapolis Star Tribune

For those who missed the connection here, half of the teams in MLB play their spring training games in Florida (the 'Grapefruit League') while the other half play in Arizona (the 'Cactus League'). As you've no doubt guessed, the Royals are one of the latter, and Christensen has effectively read between the lines and deciphered this clearly pointed comment.

"Hearing that the lunch room has run out of turkey sandwiches. Roast beef is still available and, I repeat, turkey is OUT." - Mark Bowman, MLB.com, Tuesday at 12:42 PM.

The Twittersphere went nuts over this one. It's been well-established that both Theo Epstein, GM of the Boston Red Sox, and Michael Hill, GM of the Florida Marlins, are huge turkey sandwich eaters. A lack of turkey at the lunch table made it very clear that Epstein and Hill had stocked up for a long afternoon negotiation. Pretty quickly, Florida and Boston beat writers were speculating about Hanley Ramirez coming back to the Red Sox, the team that originally signed him from the Dominican Republic.

The most popular version of the deal had the Red Sox acquiring Josh Johnson in addition to Ramirez in return for Darnell McDonald and Kevin Cash. The Marlins were are supposedly seriously considering this deal because they're looking for a "solid 4th outfielder" and a "steady back-up catcher", and this is the best offer they've received so far.

"A reliable source tells me that Longoria to the Yankees is a done deal." - Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports

A quick primer on unnamed sources: "reliable" generally refers to hotel bellboys, "trusted" suggests that most trusted of American information relays, the barkeep, while a source described as "food-bringing" or "delicious" may imply a room-service delivery employee.

These are just three of the thousands of tweets dispersed over the last couple days by sportswriters desperate to be the first to pick up a scoop. While reporting may be a constant flurry of activity, simply being a fan can become a full-time job in this day of never-ending information. We here at Bottom of the Fourth pride ourselves on being a bridge between that information and those attempting, ambitiously, to parse it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Defense of Jeter

Actually, the title should probably read "In 'defense' of Jeter". You'll see why. 

Anyway, this is the first (of hopefully many!) musical creation on Bottom of the Fourth. Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kevin Kouzmanoff Feels Constrained by the Batter's Box

In many ways, baseball is an extremely complex game. In others, it's very simple: one man tries to throw a ball past a man holding a bat. To go a little further: the first man stands on a mound, while the second stands in a box. That's just the way it is, and always has been. Nobody much questions the existence of the mound and the box.

According to Kevin Kouzmanoff, however, this seemingly inconsequential mandate is anything but.

"I get claustrophobic in there, man", says Kouzmanoff. "Society pigeonholes us into these little boxes. You have to go to school, and then university, and then you're going to be a doctor, and you're going to be a carpenter, and you're going to be a copy editor, and then you get married, you have kids, and then you die. It's just one huge box made up of tiny component boxes, and there's no breaking out of it."

But Kouzmanoff says this existential anxiety he feels isn't the only kind of claustrophobia present when he steps into the box.

"Oh yeah, it's physical too. Those lines… I can't deal with those lines. I feel them pressing on me, pushing me up, pulling me down, squeezing me like a straitjacket, from every direction. The only way I can handle it is with the knowledge that, if I hit the ball, I tear a hole in the fabric of that box, allowing me to break through and escape."

Despite Kouzmanoff's discomfort, he says that once he's in the batter's box, he never steps out, even between pitches. "How could I?" he exclaims. "It's solid. There are no exits. It's made of diamond, or carbon nanotubes, or something equally impenetrable. It would be physically impossible for me to leave that box before I succeed in my quest to rip it open."

Removed from the action, Kouzmanoff seems completely self-aware of his condition. But as he describes it more and more, it becomes clear that he can't fully accept the illogic of his inability to leave the batter's box. He seems to truly believe that, once he steps in, some sort of tangible, transparent, extremely durable box descends and envelops him. It isn't rational; how, for example, can his hands and bat extend out of the box when he swings? How does he walk back to the dugout when he strikes out? But then, psychological illness is complicated and doesn't always make sense.

Kouzmanoff recognizes that his struggle to overcome his fear is an ongoing process, and has been attending therapy for several years. His therapist has tried novel strategies, such as building a mock batter's box in his office.

"I believe that recreating the circumstances of the difficulties is paramount to vanquishing them." That's Dr. Robert Placzek, who specializes in batter's box-related phobias. When asked whether this strategy has worked, Placzek's face falls a little. "Unfortunately not. Thus far, each time Kevin gets in the box, he hasn't been able to leave until he hits a baseball. I've lost a lot of windows, and my entire collection of autographed framed photos from the 1929 Yankees. I'm not sure why I kept hanging them on the wall."

But Placzek is resolute. "We've made progress", he says. "Kevin no longer needs the ball to be fair in order to break out of the box. Foul balls work too. (It isn't clear how Kouzmanoff and Placzek determine what's fair and what's foul in a therapist's office.) Unfortunately, this breakthrough hasn't yet translated to real games, but it's something. Baby steps are always the mode d'emploi in this field."

Of course, phobias often develop as a result of childhood trauma. Kouzmanoff is reluctant to talk about what first instilled this deep-seated claustrophobia, but his doctor believes that unwrapping the mystery is the key to understanding Kouzmanoff's condition.

"I can't force him to talk about it; it just doesn't work. A few times, I've managed to get him into a relaxed, wistful state, where he just lets the words babble out without thinking about what he's saying. From what I understand, there was an incident one Halloween. I don't really understand this part, but it seems that one year, Kevin dressed up as a batter's box. I believe something terrible happened inside that box, but I haven't got that far. As soon as he realizes what he's saying, he wakes from his trance and is absolutely furious. He's smashed up my office so many times, I really have no idea why I keep suspending priceless crystal ducks from the ceiling at piñata height."

But no matter the cost, Placzek says it'll all be worth it in the end. He's a man utterly dedicated to his profession, and the knowledge that he helped a single person overcome their fears is worth more than any number of priceless crystal ducks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why Change-ups > Sliders

There are many ways by which pitchers can attempt to fool batters in the great game of baseball. They can throw the ball fast, throw it slow, spin it down, spin it across, make it rise, make it zigzag, throw two (or more) balls at once, bank it off the ceiling, make it boomerang, shoot it out of a cannon.... the list goes on and on.

Two of the most prevalent techniques in a pitcher's arsenal are the slider and the change-up. I'm here to tell you why the change-up is always, in every case, definitively better than the slider.

1. Sliders Are Gross

As you well know, the slider is named after the miniature hamburger popularized by American chain White Castle. According to this nutritional information, an "A1 Slider", the namesake of the pitch, contains 9% of a person's recommended daily fat intake, and 18% of their daily sodium. Now, that may not seem like much, but remember - these are miniature hamburgers we're talking about. An average White Castle meal contains four of those bad boys. We're talking more than a third of your daily fat, and almost three-quarters of your daily sodium! And that doesn't even include the fries and coke!

Sliders embody everything wrong with America: unhealthy processed food, deception-based marketing, sharp left turns (did I just analogize the motion of a baseball pitch to the political climate of the most powerful country on Earth? You better believe I did). And with slider usage on the rise in baseball, it's no surprise our kids are getting fatter and fatter.

6 grams of fat per pitch

2. Change-ups Are Classier

Did you know that broadcasters used to call the change-up the "change of pace"? Isn't that awesome? Doesn't it just remind you of those crazy old-school pitching mechanics? The slider doesn't have any cool old-school nicknames. In fact, according to Wikipedia, one of its nicknames is the "yakker", which really only adds to the Gross Hypothesis.

Plus, whoever came up with the change-up was a genius. I can imagine the first time someone figured out there were pitches other than fastballs. "Hey, I keep throwing it as hard as I can, and they keep hitting it really hard. What should I do?" "Uh, throw it faster?" "Dude, I told you, I'm throwing as fast as I can!" "Um, okay, why don't you try throwing it, uh, slower?" "Slower? What? That's stupid. They'll just hit it harder!" "Man, I dunno. Just try it!"

(In case you're wondering, 19th century baseball players did in fact call each other 'dude' and 'man'.)

3. Sliders Are Gross

I want you to take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine a pitcher throwing a slider. Visualize every detail - the batter, the teams, the weather, the score, how well-attended the game is, who's umpiring, what merchandise is for sale, what else is going on the city that day. Everything.

Got it?

Now watch that game in your head for at least seven minutes.


The pitcher had a gross '80s moustache, right?

4. 'Pulling the String'

There are a lot of stupid baseball clichés out there, and while players, managers and fans have been known to spout these meaningless banalities from time to time, nobody is more distinguished in the cliché arts than the broadcaster. 

However, sometimes a cliché enters the lexicon simply because it's great, and though it gets overused and sometimes misused, it doesn't diminish that greatness. I love when broadcasters say "Santana really pulled the string on that one", because it's a very satisfying descriptive phrase. Watching a batter flail wildly at a pitch that's still ten feet from reaching him makes one believe that the pitcher really does have a string that he can yank at any moment to make the hitter look foolish, and that's a beautiful metaphor, at least in my mind.

5. Sliders Are Gross

"Slider? I hardly even know her!"

How many times have you heard this disgusting, horrific, misogynistic phrase uttered by players, coaches, announcers? I'll tell you how many times: too many times. Stop the sexism. Abort sliders.


If there was any doubt in your mind before, obviously that's been erased. The change-up is superior to the slider in every way, and it's not particularly close. Why any pitcher would continue to use the slider is beyond me. But then, I'm a vegetarian.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adam Dunn Admits to Liking Baseball

Contrary to a 2008 quote from then-Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, Adam Dunn does, in fact, like baseball. He clarified his position on Sunday, more than two years after the initial accusation. "After giving it a lot of consideration, I have decided to respond to Mr. Ricciardi's claim. Following the completion of an in-depth cost-benefit analysis, it has become clear to me that I do, in fact, like baseball."

Ricciardi's initial charge went as follows: "Do you know that [Dunn] doesn't really like baseball that much?" He went on, stating that Dunn "is not enamoured with", "fails to maintain interest in" and "is indifferent at best" to the sport. Dunn, an extremely thoughtful and meticulous individual, did not respond as most would to such an egregious claim (by bluntly tossing insults back through the media), but instead retreated into solitary contemplation. Two and a half years of careful analysis produced the following chart:

Dunn's two-year brainstorm resulted in this pro-con chart
In fact, Dunn says his hibernative refuge stemmed from an earlier phase in his career in which he genuinely convinced himself that he didn't like baseball. "My college buddies all hated their jobs," the slugger said, "and I always felt awkward hanging out with them, because all they wanted to do was complain about the technical report they had due on Friday, or the trade show they had to go to in Albuquerque, or the synergy analysis they had to get synergized. So I started telling them about the shitty parts of being a major league baseball player. Eventually, they started to believe it. And I think I did too."

They really sympathized with me," Dunn responds when asked about his friends' reaction to this new perspective on America's pastime. "I don't think they ever realized how truly gruelling and frustrating it is to be constantly on the road, never getting a day off, never seeing your family and always in fear that you'll get traded and suddenly see your family even less. But once I explained all that to them, they took me in and nurtured me like a wounded dove."

However, it seems that Dunn's friends weren't being completely honest with him. Andrew Percy, a former fraternity roommate, says that they saw through the ruse from the beginning. "That was such BS, man", says Percy. "I mean, c'mon. He makes millions of dollars because he's really good at PLAYING A GAME that is honestly oh my god so much fun to play. Is he fucking serious? Any of us would trade our lives for his in a second."

When pressed about why he never relayed this information to Dunn, Percy says that the group was worried about Adam's fragility. "Adam is a gentle flower. The slightest gust of wind can sweep him off course, and he might never find his way back home."

Fortunately, thanks to his time away from civilization, that may no longer be true. Dunn took all that confusion and turmoil in his mind and slowly but surely kneaded it until all the knots were straightened out. He emerged from that Pacific Northwest forest a new man. One who knows who he is. One who listens to Fleet Foxes, brews his own beer, and rocks a sweet beard. And one who genuinely likes baseball.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Could Philadelphia Win Game 1 With 0 Runs?

In their respective National League Division Series, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum each pitched the first playoff game of their career. Halladay, as you probably know, threw a no-hitter, the second in playoff history. The next day, Lincecum hurled a two-hit shutout while striking out 14 Atlanta Braves. His game score, a statistic designed as a fun way to compare individual games thrown by starting pitchers, was 96, and was actually slightly higher than Halladay's (95). Most years, a game score that high would rank somewhere in the top three games pitched all season, and it happened twice within two days in these 2010 playoffs.

Halladay and Lincecum are scheduled to face each other in game one of the National League Championship Series on Saturday, and ever since that match-up became a reality, fans have been salivating in anticipation. What might happen? Simultaneous no-hitters? 54 strikeouts combined? Will any hitter even make contact? The hyperbole has gotten out of hand.

(Note: the aforementioned out-of-hand hyperbole refers exclusively to that put forth on this blog.)

But here at Bottom of the Fourth, we think the hyperbole is completely justified - that's how good Halladay and Lincecum are. In fact, we believe it isn't yet out-of-hand enough.

So the question must be asked: could the Phillies get shut out and still win this game?

It seems like an impossible task, one that's never been done before. But just because something has never been done doesn't mean it will never happen. Neil Armstrong never said "well, nobody's ever walked on the moon, it must be impossible." No. He went out and walked on the fucking moon. Did the Wright brothers ever think "hey, maybe we shouldn't spend all this time building something that nobody's ever built before"? Of course not. They kept building and flew a fucking plane. And just because no-one had ever filmed a recorder version of My Heart Will Go On by candlelight, that didn't fucking stop Matt Mulholland.

So yeah, I believe the answer to the question is yes, the Phillies could get shut out and still win this game. Now, you may be wondering: why the Phillies and not the Giants? And it's a fair question - it certainly could happen both ways. I just think the Phillies superior offense will enable them to score fewer negative runs.

Which leads us to another question: negative runs? How does that work?

It's actually a little-known rule that has been in the book for many years. It hasn't been applied in recent memory because, well, who actually reads all the rules? That tome is thicker than Ken Griffey Jr.'s head in the Simpsons. Major league umpires simply aren't aware of the rule, so it never gets applied.

That doesn't explain how it works, though, so here is a short primer. Whenever a pitcher induces a batter to strike out in a manner so foolish that an umpire judges it to have been at least "ridiculous", and up to and including "absurd", the batter receives a Reverse Walk. He is sent to third base and is to advance backwards on the base-paths. He doesn't run on balls in play (at least he isn't required to, but he may if he wants, at great disadvantage to his team); he only advances whenever another Reverse Walk is issued, in which case the batter does not go to third base; only the current runner moves up. (i.e. there is only one Reverse Runner on the bases at any one time.)

An example of a strikeout that is at least "ridiculous"

When a Reverse Runner reaches home plate, his team scores a negative run. This run is taken away from the team's current score, and if that score is already zero, it dips below. Now, the best case scenario for a pitcher in one inning is to induce three strikeouts* greater than or equal to "ridiculous". In this case, the Reverse Runner first goes to third, then second, then first, and cannot reach home plate. However, unlike regular base-runners, Reverse Runners are carried over to the next inning, so a team would be gradually accumulating negative runs throughout the game, if the rule were applied properly.

*Note: like regular strikeouts, it is in fact possible to accumulate four Reverse Walks, and therefore a negative run, in the same inning; it simply requires one of the "ridiculous" strikeout victims to reach first base on a dropped ball by the catcher. This results in the unlikely scenario of runners going to first and third on the same strikeout. A pinch runner is used as the Reverse Runner.

Teams would of course need to be aware of which runners are which. Regular rules don't allow two runners to be at the same base, but that scenario is sometimes unavoidable when Reverse Runners come into play. A team may have two runners at the same base, as long as they're traveling in different directions, but need to be extra cognizant of the situation to ensure that no runner travels in the wrong direction, resulting in the runner being called automatically out. Runners may also not make contact, including anything from incidental base-running-related contact to high-fiving and other celebratory gestures. This temptation can be difficult to avoid in a case such as a walk-off home run because of the finality of the play; however, in this case, a flagrant high-five or pat on the butt by the Reverse Runner results in a reversal of the home run and a penalty out, possibly enough to turn a win immediately into a loss through a simple union of palms.

Both teams in the NLCS have their fair share of Ridiculous Strikers Out (RSOs). Pat Burrell (145), Aaron Rowand (129) and Andres Torres (128) of the Giants were each in the top 10 in the NL in RSO+, a statistic designed to compare the rate of Ridiculous Strikeouts (average is 100). But Philadelphia has a secret weapon. Ryan Howard, while merely very bad as measured by RSO+ (135), is the most prolific Preposterous Striker Out in the history of the game.

Preposterous Strikeouts (PSOs) are a notch above Ridiculous on the Ridiculous-Absurd scale, and statisticians have found that PSOs are much more predictive of future ridiculosity than RSOs. Ryan Howard has led the majors in PSOs each of the last five years, and even holds the major league record for PSOs in a season (63 in 2008) So despite San Francisco's incredibly Ridiculous 2010 outfield, if there's one player who will make a (negative) difference with his bat in this series, it's Howard.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Don't Worry, C.J.!

C.J. Wilson is nervous. Because Cliff Lee just pitched game five against Tampa Bay to put the Rangers into the second round of the playoffs, the Rangers' ace isn't ready to start the next series. So game one duties fall to Wilson. Texas has faced the Yankees in four different playoff series in their history, and never won. And Wilson has the unenviable task of facing Yankees ace and Cy Young contender CC Sabathia. It shouldn't come as a surprise that C.J. Wilson is nervous.

But he doesn't need to be. As his lone playoff start showed, his teammates will pick him up when he opens the series on Friday night at home. Don't worry, C.J.!

Josh Hamilton has been saving the Rangers' pitchers all year with his bat and his defense, and that's why he's the frontrunner for the AL MVP award. But it hasn't just been Hamilton flashing the leather...

Even with superb defense, though, a pitcher still needs some run support every now and then...

Don't worry, Ceej. It'll all work out.