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THE VIEW FROM LEFT FIELD

Who Was in Charge Here?
By Herschel Cozine

In the long and glorious history of baseball, the worst example of managing has to have been that of an unnamed manager of an unnamed team in the 1880s. Consider the case of the Mudville game and Casey. For the purpose of this discussion, I would like to give the visiting team a name; say, the Loonyville Lapdogs. The manager shall, mercifully, remain nameless.

The Loonyville pitcher had done well for most of the game, giving up two runs. And for the first two outs of the ninth inning, he has continued to pitch well. Then he seems to have lost it. Two banjo hitters, Flynn and Blake, get consecutive hits off of him and are now standing on second and third base. To make matters worse, the most feared hitter on the Mudville team is coming up to bat. At this point, the catcher is looking over at the Lapdog bench. The pitcher is looking. The umpire is looking. Even the fans are looking, waiting for the manager to put up four fingers. Certainly he isn't going to pitch to the guy. No manager in his right mind would pitch to Casey under these circumstances, right?

Wrong! The Loonyville manager—or is it "mangler"—does nothing. Zilch. The very least he could do is go out to the mound and talk to his pitcher. He certainly should consider bringing in a reliever. After all, giving up hits to the two previous hitters does not bode well. But this is 1888. There isn't a Robb Nen or Trevor Hoffman available in the bullpen. (Actually, there isn't a bullpen, either.) So I will forgive the manager on this point. But there is no way to defend his (lack of) action. Where was he? In the clubhouse grabbing a hot dog? Had he been ejected for arguing earlier in the game? Did he suddenly take ill? We will never know. What we do know is that the obvious never happened. Even my grandmother would have told the pitcher to walk the batter! First base is open. Who was on deck, Barry Bonds? Now, I ask you, is there any plausible explanation for pitching to this guy? Oh, I suppose one could argue that you don't put the winning run on base intentionally. Sorry, I can't buy that. If you believe Casey's headlines, he's already in scoring position standing at the plate. Casey is a nineteenth-century Babe Ruth. No, sir. Walk him, set up a force at any base, and take your chances with the next batter. This is a no-brainer.

So the manager blew it. Let us now look at the pitcher. He doesn't qualify as the genius-of-the-month either. He hasn't been directed to walk Casey. But does that mean he has to pitch to him? If I were pitching, Casey would have needed a telephone pole to reach the ball. I'll throw it in the dirt. I'll throw it over his head. I'll even throw it at the on-deck batter. But one place I will not throw it is anywhere Casey can get wood on it.

But what does this Loonyville imbecile do? He throws the first pitch right over the plate! Now, again I will be charitable and assume that in Casey's entire career, he has never swung at the first pitch. The scouts have done their jobs here. Not that this is of much help. After all, it takes three strikes to get a batter out. So the pitcher has a strike on Casey. What now? A slider off the plate, perhaps. A screwball. A straight curve, down and away. But, whatever you do, don't put it where he can hit it. That is the traditional thinking, anyway. But we're not dealing with normal people here. This bozo's ladder has a few cracked rungs. The next pitch is—you guessed it—right over the plate!

Now here things get really interesting. The count is oh and two. Casey is fuming. He pounds the bat on the plate. He snarls. According to the accounting, the pitcher is petrified. I don't believe that for a second. So far the pitcher hasn't shown Casey much respect, giving him two fat pitches to hit. But now, the pitcher, nervous, "grinds the ball into his hip." I detect some hanky panky here. I don't think he was nervous at all. This guy hasn't got brains enough to be nervous. I think he had something illegal in his hip pocket, like sandpaper or Vaseline. He was loading up the ball! This is the only smart thing that Loonyville did in this entire at bat.

One can only guess where the pitch was. Casey could have swung at a pitch in the dirt. Or over his head. Or, given the previous two pitches, over the plate. Whatever. He missed it, which leads me to believe that the ball did some crazy things. Or else Casey was greatly overrated.

So the Loonyville pitcher and, by association, the manager are both heroes? Not in my book. I wouldn't let that manager get close to a Little League team, much less the major leagues. And I would have sent the pitcher to the minors until he learned how to pitch. While I'm at it, I'd have had a few words for the catcher as well.

Come to think of it, the Mudville manager is no Sparky Anderson either. Take a look at his lineup if you doubt me. I must assume that Casey bats third or fourth in the batting order. So, by simple logic, Flynn and Blake are batting at the head of, or very close to the head of, the order. As I understand this game, leadoff hitters and second and third batters are good at getting on base. They make contact with the ball more often than not. But, according to the accounting, these guys are "bottom of the order" hitters. One is a "lulu" and the other is a "cake"—colorful, if unflattering, descriptions. My interpretation is this: they can't hit! So why are they batting in front of Casey?

The person who is the least guilty in this sad story is the villain of the piece—Casey. However, even he has to share some of the responsibility for the way things turned out. Casey seems to have been a big lug with no finesse. He comes to bat with two runners in scoring position, one of them the tying run. Now I understand he would like to end this game on one swing. I'll give him some leeway here. But once the count goes to oh and two, he has to change his approach to the at bat. He can no longer think longball. He has to make contact and get those runners in. But he is mad! He pounds the plate. His teeth are clenched. He has lost his cool. In this game, that's a no-no. Instead of fouling off pitches he doesn't like and protecting the plate, he swings for the fences. Too bad. This story could have had a different ending for Mudville and the world.

To sum it up then, both managers are boneheads. The pitcher is clueless. Even more incredible is that both managers got away with it. And, to my knowledge, nobody has ever questioned their decisions. It has now been almost a hundred and fifteen years. The participants and spectators are long gone, so the points I make are moot. But I think it is about time that somebody sets the record straight: These clowns don't deserve to be immortalized. They simply had no feel for the game!

—EFQ

 

HERSCHEL COZINE is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in many children's and adult magazines. He recently published several online stories with Orchard Press Mysteries and Judas e-zine. A lifelong baseball fan, he lives in California's Bay Area and roots, with growing frustration, for the San Francisco Giants.

© 2003 Herschel Cozine

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