Welcome back to Nine Innings, SI’s weekly look at what’s fun, cool, and somewhat stupid around the league. Today’s topics include: the top five position players who should pitch; Brett Gardner throwing a tantrum; two worst plays of the week; and much more.
If you have any feedback, questions or angry rants to send my way, please don’t hesitate to hit me up via email (email@example.com) or Twitter.
And a programming note: There’ll be no Nine Innings next week as I’m taking a quick end-of-summer vacation. I’ll be back on Tues., Sept. 3, with a post-Labor Day edition.
Last Thursday, as the Indians were walloping the Yankees and their lead ballooned to double digits early, I found myself wondering which New York position player would be forced onto the mound to finish things out. A rarity that’s since become relatively common in this new era of baseball (despite teams having and using more relievers than ever), the position player pitching is a fun quirk that’s come to feel overused and a little sad. Rarely a week goes by without some utility infielder or backup catcher lobbing 70-mph “fastballs” and getting lit up for four runs in an inning. They provide their fair share of highlights, but the end result is usually the same: an awful inning of pitching by a dude who shouldn’t be up there.
As the novelty has worn off, so has a good chunk of the joy associated with it. You’re more likely than not to see a position player pitch at this rate, and it probably won’t be anyone fun. But as that Cleveland lead grew and grew, I started thinking: Who actually would be a treat to get on the mound?
I took that prompt to Twitter and got a lot of great responses (and also this woman who burned me and my question to a crisp in just five words). After giving it some thought, here’s my list of the five active position players I most want to see pitch in a game at some point.
5. Andrelton Simmons
A man with a Howitzer for an arm, Simmons wouldn’t necessarily be the most interesting choice; he may throw 98 mph, but so do a lot of relievers. My rule for this is that Simmons can only throw from his knees or as if fielding a grounder, just to see what happens.
4. Joey Votto
You know that Votto would throw some kind of daffy changeup or eephus or knuckleball and then talk seriously and earnestly after the game about his spin rate and movement.
3. Aaron Judge
The inspiration for my initial question because, well, look at him: He’s 6’7” and throws 98 from the outfield. He’d basically be the righthanded Randy Johnson, except somehow smaller and not as hard a thrower, which, well, don’t think about that too long or your brain will explode. (I’ll also accept here any other extra large or tiny guy, ala Dan Vogelbach or Jose Altuve, because I’m a simple man who enjoys simple physical comedy.)
2. Mike Trout
I live for the universe in which Trout steps on a mound and throws like a carbon copy of 1999 Pedro Martinez, just pummeling hitters with 98 on the hands and an elastic curveball to prove once and for all that he’s the greatest player in history. (He could do it. Don’t bet against it.)
1. Yasiel Puig
There was no other choice here. A man who plays as if he’s constantly being electrocuted and seems to live to be goofy, who has a huge throwing arm he loves to show off, and will absolutely go high and tight on dudes just because he can—how can you pick anyone else for this spot?
So here’s my request for the Indians: Do it. Next time things get wildly out of hand, put Puig on the mound. Make #PuigYourReliever happen. See if it’s actually possible to break the internet. The baseball world could use the shakeup to the position players pitching, and Puig is just the man to do it.
This Week In … Vlad Guerrero Jr: A ludicrous homer
The universe briefly conspired last week to rob the world of Vlad Jr., as a knee ailment knocked him out of a game on Saturday and has kept him out since. The injury apparently isn’t serious, though, and given that the game just lost fellow electric rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. for the rest of the season, it better not be. Think of how crushing it would be to miss out on more homers like this one:
Pretend for a moment that you’re Wade LeBlanc. You perfectly executed a two-strike changeup, putting in a spot where no human should be able to drive it, and got a swing out of it that looks like Vlad Jr. was paralyzed from the waist down:
And this is where it ended up, 103 mph and 397 feet later:
How do you, Wade LeBlanc, fight the urge to walk off the field and never return?
Anyway, get well soon, Vladdy, so you can resume doing absurd stuff like that.
This Week In … The Adventures of Bill Walton!
Last Friday, the baseball world sat rapt for a White Sox-Angels game as NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton ambled into Chicago’s broadcast booth and proceeded to ramble about literally every topic in existence for roughly three hours. Like a free jazz solo, the audience had no real idea where things were going but trusted that the journey would be worth it. And brother, was it ever.
The rest of the internet has already regurgitated the best parts of Walton’s fascinating babbling; I spent the back half of the game tweeting my favorite moments, which are now even better free of the already threadbare amount of context in which they originally happened. So I’ll spare you a recap, though I can’t leave without giving you at least a taste of the pulsating galaxy brain vibration that was Walton’s time behind the mic, so here’s Cut4’s exhaustive and excellent compilation of the best Walton moments.
Instead, I’ll just take this opportunity to call for MLB to put Walton on every team broadcast, or at least one (1) World Series broadcast, just to see what happens when you expose him to a larger audience. I have no idea if other play-by-play announcers can safely handle the radioactive-level weirdness that is Walton’s stream of conscious (I agree with SI’s Jimmy Traina that NBC Sports Chicago’s Jason Benetti was the perfect foil). But everyone deserves a chance to experience Walton speaking in tongues.
This Week In … Equipment-Assisted Tantrums!
Last Saturday’s Yankees-Indians game turned into a bit of an #Umpshow, as the men in blue ejected Aaron Boone, bench coach Josh Bard, Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia (who, given that he was on the injured list and not the active roster, I’m not sure what he was technically ejected from) for arguing balls and strikes. Or at least, that’s why Boone, Bard and Sabathia got the heave-ho. Gardner, it turns out, got booted for making it clear how much he disliked home plate umpire Ben May by, uh, making sure the roof of the Yankees’ dugout is structurally sound. (Fast forward to the 1:14 mark in the video below to see Gardner in action.)
I don’t know which is more fun: Umpire Phil Cuzzi’s pantomime of Gardner’s bat anger, which has become something of a thing for him:
Or Gardner telling those damn kids upstairs to turn down that damn rock n’ roll:
Or Aaron Judge turning Gardner’s fury into celebration.
Actually, on final thought, it’s definitely this woman, who watched with utter confusion as Gardner pounded away on the dugout roof and then gave him a quick smile afterward as if to say, “Yep, been there, please don’t kill me.”
This Week In … Please Do Not Taunt Bryce Harper!
Please do not taunt Bryce Harper! He’s very good at baseball, and whatever mostly lame insult about being overrated and overpaid you can muscle up through the crevices of your tiny brain, he’ll most likely make you eat those words with a dash of pepper. To wit: Here’s a fan at last Friday’s Cubs-Phillies game giving Harper some warmed-over crap and getting some sauce in return.
And here’s what Harper did in his next at-bat:
Like Happy Fun Ball, you taunt Bryce Harper at your own risk.
This Week In … The Worst Play of the Week!
I don’t know where you start with this play, mostly because I think it’s the result of the baseball actually being the Monstars ball from Space Jam, causing every player who touched it to lose his ability to play. There’s no other real explanation for how a pop-up to left turned into a two-run, three-base error, given that these are (nominally) professionals doing this, and not Little Leaguers who had chloroform-soaked rags held over their faces and/or the Orioles. So let’s hand this off to Justin Russo, who figured out exactly how to make this make sense.
Thank you, Justin.
This Week In … The Other Worst Play of the Week!
For as awful as the above Angels multi-error was, I can’t let this edition of Nine Innings go by without highlighting the other horrendous bit of “baseball” from last week, in which the Tigers pulled a Jose Canseco.
It shouldn’t surprise you that a team on pace to lose 113 games would create that kind of blooper, but I’d like to draw special attention to Niko Goodrum, who had a sure catch turned into a home run and was himself turned into the visual metaphor for this entire Tigers season.
Listen closely, and you can almost hear the first lines of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” playing softly in the background.
This Week In … Getting Startled!
Netting: It’s a good thing, both in terms of saving fans from projectiles going 100-plus mph and in helping fielders make cool-looking catches. And this Nationals fan from last Tuesday’s game against the Reds is probably quite grateful it exists, given Aristides Aquino’s bad intentions.
On the one hand, it’s a little embarrassing to lose your beer because of a ball that had a 0% chance of hitting you. On the other hand, I challenge anyone to be within a foot of a screaming line drive and not flinch, even if you do have protection.
Okay, maybe not her, though.
This Week In … Old Baseball Cards!
Each week, I’ll pluck a random baseball card out of a pile of 1980s, 90s and 2000s cards I have at my desk, then write a quick little take on the player in question. This week’s entry:Bob Stanley, relief pitcher, Red Sox (Donruss 1988).
As far as nicknames go, “Steamer” isn’t all that flattering. But as far as relievers go, Stanley was a solid one, gobbling up outs for the Red Sox in the early and mid 80s. But he faltered in ‘86, most memorably in Game 6 of the World Series. Dealing with injuries to starters, Boston moved him to the rotation, where he’d once been an All-Star (albeit all the way back in 1979), at the age of 32.
It didn’t go well. Stanley somehow got the Opening Day assignment but put up a 4.92 ERA over his first 14 starts, moved back to the bullpen and posted a 6.00 ERA over his next eight games, went back to the rotation and allowed 27 runs in 36 innings, and finally was booted from the starting five for good in early September. The next season, he was a full-time reliever once more, putting together two more years of competent relief work before retiring.
Of Stanley’s move, his ‘88 Donruss notes only, “Switched back to starting in ‘87,” apparently content to let his grim stats tell the grisly tale. Better to focus on what Steamer did well—a nickname that, it’s worth noting, doesn’t even appear on the card at all.