A million internet years ago, I listed the five best things about the worst play you will ever watch. It was a play that involved the Astros, and I still think about it often. The play was so, so bad. The 2012 Astros were so, so bad. That play was an aerosol metaphor being sprayed around the room, and there was absolutely no escaping it.
Six years later, we have a contender to the throne. The only thing keeping it away from the top slot is that the A’s aren’t bad. They’re on a roll. That is, they were on a roll.
So what, they lost a game on a silly error, leave them alone. It can’t be that bad, right?
Oh. Oh, my.
In a way, this is something of a bookend to that other play involving the Astros. The universe owed them something to make up for the abject humiliation of the last time, and we’re required to study it in the same way.
Here, then, are the five best things about the worst play you’ll see this season. If you’re an A’s fan, they’ll be the five worst things.
But in 20 years, you’ll laugh about this. Promise.
1. The odds
Holy crap, the odds.
Start with the odds of a ball rolling back into play seven feet from home plate. It’s something you’ll see about two or three times a year, unless you don’t see it at all. It’s rare to hit a ball so poorly that the English takes it back into the field of play, while the batter watches, dumbfounded. Let’s be incredibly generous and guess that the average batter has this happen once every four seasons, or 2,000 at-bats.
1/2000 = .0005 = .05 percent
Now move to the part where Jonathan Lucroy threw a ball off Alex Bregman’s head. You’ve watched a lot of dropped third strikes, right? How often does the catcher hit the runner when he’s making a calm, collected throw to first? Almost never. There have been over 24,000 strikeouts this year. Of those, 61 reached first base after a dropped third strike.
None of the batters who reached first safely after a dropped third strike did so because of a catcher’s error.
So pretend this was a dropped third strike. It’s hard for baseball players to screw up a calm, collected throw of 60 feet. I’ve been on the field before games, with dozens of reporters and other players milling about, and there are always a couple of players who are parallel to the first-base line and just in foul territory that absolutely firing warmup throws back and forth to each other. As if it’s not big deal. As if they couldn’t kill someone with just one bad throw.
But they don’t make a bad throw. They throw baseballs for a living.
I’d guess that a catcher hits a runner going down the line maybe once in his career. Johnny Bench had 850 assists in his career, so let’s just use that as a benchmark.
1/850 = .00117 = .1 percent
Now consider how hard it is for a professional baseball player to grab a ball with his bare hand and tag the runner. It’s not hard. Tell ‘im, Wash.
It’s really not that hard. Come on.
The act of picking a ball up and tagging a runner without it squirting out of your bare hand is a hard one to even quantify. One in 10,000? One in 100,000?
I will err on the side of caution and suggest that a botched bare-handed tag happens every 1,000 tag attempts.
1/1000 = .001 = .1 percent
That is an EXTREMELY conservative estimate, in my estimation. But now we get to add the three together, and this should be fun.
.0005 * .00117 * .001 = .000000000585
That is, roughly, once in every 500 million baseball plays. It’s possible that baseball could exist well past 17776 and we would still never see a play like this again.
The odds, man. The odds.
(Note: A similar play will probably happen tomorrow, just because baseball wants to prove a point.)
2. That Bregman was involved in the other dumbest walkoff of the year
I’ll bet Pete Rose didn’t have a walk-off win that was half as dumb as this one, and Bregman had one even dumber just a couple months later. What sorcery is this?
Really, I always thought the Astros needed this kind of help.
3. That you can make an argument that it wasn’t even the dumbest way that a team lost that night
The Indians might have lost a game because one of their relievers is nicknamed “OP” and one is nicknamed “OT.”
Tito wanted lefty Oliver Perez to face Votto in ninth. He told pitching coach Carl Willis to call and get OP into the game. Willis thought he said OT for Dan Otero. Gulp.— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) July 11, 2018
There are a lot of lazy nicknames if you desire.
Danny Danny Bo Banny
Myxlplyx but Dan
Literally so many nicknames, and you thought the manager chose “OT”?
That’s dumber than a ball rolling into play before a catcher grabs it, drops it while making the tag, and then hits the runner in the head going to first.
ahahahahaha no it isn’t, sorry.
4. There are already YouTube truthers fired up about this
This is the wrong call. Bregman should have been called out of the baseline. While avoiding the tag he travels “Behind” home plate toward 3rd base, and is no longer in the baseline.
Bless you, internet. You will murder us all.
Also, if I remember correctly, while advancing toward first base from home plate you are not allowed to move backwards to avoid a tag. It is the only base you are compelled to advance forward no matter what. You can stop, or run forward, but you cannot run backward to avoid a tag.
The word “behind” appears 10 times in the official MLB rulebook. The mentions come in the following context:
- To forbid a runner setting up behind the base to get a head start on a sacrifice fly
- Placement of the rosin bag
- A weird scenario to explain how umpires can’t award two bases in an unlikely and specific circumstance
- An explanation of dead balls
- The description of a windup
- Where an umpire can set up before the pitch
- An explanation of forfeited games
This was not one of those situations.
5. That there were a couple of fans who had hope as soon as Lucroy dropped the ball
Why is the dude in the blue buttoned shirt raising his arms to the heavens? It’s not a big deal. The catcher just needs to step to the side and fire the ball to first.
The dude in the blue buttoned shirt was raising his arms to the heavens because there was a chance. I wouldn’t have given him that chance, but he didn’t care. He believed. He was rewarded.
Fair enough. Baseball is a bitey goblin, and sometimes it bites you, and sometimes it bites the other team. The Astros have been on both sides, and it sure has been a spectrum of emotions.
This play, however, was dumber than most. And if it isn’t the worst play of the 2018 MLB season, I don’t want to see the winner.