Simply by virtue of its volume, any baseball season will show us material that we’ve never seen before. Some of that new material will be otherwise unremarkable. And some of it will be weird. There are different genres—silly, or surprising, or just dumb—but all are weird. So here’s the result of the last 10 seasons of that: Enjoy a sampling of the decade in weird.
ON THE FIELD
This Play: You probably have recent memories of some excellent baseball from the Nationals and Astros. Please rewind to 2012, when there was some baseball that was not only decidedly not excellent but arguably the least excellent baseball of the entire decade, like a slapstick remake of the worst error ever seen in Little League.
Watch the video, of course, but take this handy screenshot as a guide, and know that the image below was just the first error on this play.
This Baserunning: It’s just like they say. If you get on first, steal second, then fail to steal third—just go back to first and try to steal second again. (Jean Segura’s moves here were frequently referred to as “stealing first” when they occurred, but the reality is so much weirder than that! Plus, there’s a place where you can steal first base now, anyway.)
This Home Run: No comment needed.
This Spin: Seriously, what witchcraft was this?
David Freese: David Freese’s October 2011 can fairly be described as miraculous, or unlikely, or—if you’re a Brewers or Rangers fan—terrifying. But it was weird! It was so weird. Any one of these storylines would have been remarkable, if still totally believable, on their own: David Freese knocks in four to force a Game 5 in the NLDS; David Freese is NLCS MVP; David Freese is World Series MVP after one of the most heart-stopping, series-altering, logic-defying home runs in postseason history. But all of them? We saw all of them? We did. It was weird.
The Infield Fly Rule: Not only did baseball’s first-ever wild-card postseason game feature the infield fly rule (er, shallow outfield fly rule), it featured an application of the rule that potentially determined the outcome of the game, caused one team to play under protest, and led fans to throw so much trash on the field that the game was delayed for nearly 20 minutes. Every wild-card game since has been a letdown.
The Inning Before the José Bautista Bat Flip: You remember the bat flip. The bat flip was not weird. The bat flip was one of the most transcendent moments of catharsis in this decade. But everything in the inning before the bat flip? When Russell Martin’s throw back to the mound collided with Shin-Soo Choo’s hand, allowing a run to score and setting up an interminable ump conference while fans threw trash on the field? When the Rangers made four errors on three plays? When the benches cleared as Sam Dyson went after Edwin Encarnacion for trying to stop fans from throwing more trash on the field? When the benches cleared again because Troy Tulowitzki got mad that Dyson patted him on the butt?
And, then, of course—it had to be!—the bat flip.
Game 7 of the 2016 World Series: All the language of the 2016 World Series was built around waiting. Here were baseball’s two longest-suffering franchises, here were their emotionally battered fans, here was a series stretched out past the point where it seemed it should end. And here, in extra innings of Game 7—extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series, the ultimate in pressure-squeezed situations, where every second becomes its own wait—was… a rain delay.
Idiot on the Field: This is a rich category—each example is weird in and of itself—but the best one just may have come in the first season of the decade. This has it all: full-body spandex, hapless security, several people tripping and falling, Matt Diaz’s perfectly smooth move and, weirdest of all, Phillies fans giving a standing ovation to an opposing player on a division rival during a playoff race.
Homer: Marlins Park’s home run sculpture—a gloriously tacky, colorful, manic celebration unto itself—was born in 2012 via a program requiring publicly financed construction to include some form of public art. It died in November 2018, at the hands of new team CEO Derek Jeter. May its weird joy live in our hearts forever.
Rally Cat: A cat on the field is not too weird. A cat on the field that then becomes the center of a heated custody battle between the team and a local animal center? Yeah. That’s better.
To refresh in full, because each detail is worth it: After the kitty surfaced in the outfield during a Cardinals’ game in August 2017, he was taken to St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach, and the team proudly announced that it would take the feline as its own. It told the media that he would “be cared for by the team, making the Cardinals Clubhouse his home, Mike and our players are looking forward to loving and caring for him.” Which would be fine—if odd, as it’s one thing to say that the team wants the cat, and another to declare that the plan is to place him in the care of Mike Matheny (???)—but the team hadn’t cleared it with the animal shelter first. This led to a phenomenal slam from St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach (“It seems inconsistent with the Cardinals Way to make such false statements”), plus a lawyer for the cat (“commercial exploitation simply must take a back seat to that which is right for this four legged furry creature”). The Cardinals backed off. The animal shelter later shared that the cat was in “retirement” from public life. No word on Matheny’s opportunities to care for other cats.
The Marlins & Muhammad Ali: Do you remember how the news of Muhammad Ali’s death first broke to the public? From a somber break-in to a national newscast, maybe, or an announcement by the president?
No. Of course not. The Miami Marlins’ scoreboard, two hours before it was announced or confirmed elsewhere.
Where’s the Ball?: Sometimes the answers you seek are right beside you. Attached to you, even.
An Ass in the Jackpot and Savages in the Box: A category to combine the all-star weird potential of the ump-versus-manager argument with that of baseball’s peculiar lexicon. (Are some of those arguments valid? Of course. Are many of them just designed for performative weirdness as grown men yell about balls and strikes in the fourth inning of a random game in August? Yes.) The 2018 release of the audio behind this 2016 fight between Tom Hallion and then-Mets skipper Terry Collins had plenty of colorful language, but none so, er, illustrative as “our ass is in the jackpot,” tossed out repeatedly. And if that seemed like it couldn’t be topped, in 2019, we had Aaron Boone’s “savages in the box.”
Melky Cabrera’s Fake Website: In baseball’s rich history of after-the-fact excuses for failed drug tests, Melky Cabrera’s decision to create an entire fake website to advertise a fake product as proof of a story that didn’t even make sense deserves a special place.
“Supporting and Honoring Qualcomm”: The athlete-product-pitch interview is about as rote a form as exists—a few softball questions, an awkward but inoffensive mention of the product, some farewell pleasantries and that’s all. It is not weird, and it openly blocks out potential for weirdness. Unless you’re Matt Harvey, spinning out on those softball questions and emphasizing his focus on “supporting and honoring Qualcomm,” to the point where he had to apologize the next day to both host Dan Patrick and Qualcomm. Consider the telecom giant honored.
Elsewhere in Mets’ Weirdness: Matt Harvey is stuck-in-traffic-but-not-really-stuck-in-traffic-uh-where-is-he?; Mr. Met flips off fans; that whole fiasco with Jason Vargas; uh, this; Yoenis Cespedes rides into Spring Training on a horse (followed by, three years later, breaking his ankle on his ranch); whatever this is. We’ll stop here as a courtesy to all involved.
At Least One Injury Every Year: Baseball’s weird injury total is one of its most reliable features; this is its own rich tapestry. For the weirdest? We’ll go with Francisco Abad’s poorly judged move to sit on a beanbag chair, resulting in a sore tailbone, remarkable in its typically injury-proof task (sitting down!) and its particular context (a beanbag chair? really?).
Elsewhere in Weird Injuries: Jeremy Affeldt cuts his hand while separating hamburger patties, Matt Holliday gets a moth in his ear, Gio Gonzalez gets rug burn from wrestling his dog, Scooter Gennett slices his hand in the shower, Martin Perez is charged by a bull, breaks elbow, later kills and eats bull.
Hank the Dog, Dead or Alive: Or did you forget that after the Brewers took in a stray dog who wandered onto its spring training fields in 2014, they later had to hold a press conference to address theories that the dog had actually died and they’d replaced it with a different canine? (This was after the dog met Hank Aaron and won Dog of the Year at the World Dog Awards. Obviously.)
The Pitcher and The Drone: Ah, you think, this should be in weird injuries. But no! This is not about Trevor Bauer slicing his finger open with his beloved drone just before a playoff start so that he gushed blood onto the mound. This is about the time that a “Cleveland Indians player” crashed a drone into the White Sox’s new scoreboard, a player who looked awfully like him was photographed picking it up, and Bauer… insisted it wasn’t him, noting that he had been flying his drone at the ballpark but cut the power before he hit the scoreboard. Of course.
Curt Schilling’s Pig: Esquire’s 2017 profile of Curt Schilling included a photo shoot; after pictures of him engaging in daily life by rounding up the chickens at his farm and cleaning his gun, there is this:
Is this also part of his daily life? Cuddling a pig in a wooded area? Does the pig enjoy this? It is not addressed. We may never know.
Marlins Man Is Here for the Troops: The entire existence of Marlins Man could be its point here—truly, what is weirder—but let us zero in on one particular moment: December 2017, when Derek Jeter called a town hall meeting for a group of Marlins season-ticket holders and did not invite Marlins Man, which caused Marlins Man to call into local radio to declare his frustration until he received an invite, which, naturally, he accepted “for the troops.” (Why else attend a Marlins season-ticket-holder event?) This all led to Marlins Man asking Derek Jeter, “Do you know who I am?” It was just the start of a conversation that defies analysis:
The Astros’ Trash Cans: Baseball’s most advanced team, known for its keen embrace of advanced tech and data, put together a plan to gain any possible benefit with sign-stealing, relying on real-time video analysis of minute details that had to be instantly communicated. With… trash cans.