And All That Jazz: A Time of YouTubing Baseball

Adrian Beltre was so entertaining, he could have a YouTube channel with seemingly endless hours of entertainment. (via Mike LaChance)

YouTube has me, like it likely has you, figured out.

Whenever I write about baseball, I listen to vintage jazz: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver. I tune to these groovin’ dudes because they give my brain its goosebumps, that little life-giving jolt. At times, in a convenient joint of old and new, I indulge my jazz jones by clicking on YouTube and listening to the likes of Cannonball and Coltrane, Silver and Miles, opening my mind and inviting my writer by obliging the bliss of Jive Samba and Equinox, Song for My Father and So What.

YouTube knows this. It knows me.

It also knows that when I research the National Pastime I often watch baseball videos. One result of these patterns is that whenever I click on YouTube, what I see from top to bottom is jazz and baseball, baseball and jazz, in dozens of gleaming thumbnails. I see Johns Coltrane and Smoltz, on their respective stages, vying first for my finger and then for my mind. I see Art Blakey and Blake Snell, men whose mastery is established at the tips of their fingers — one in percussion, one in the pitch.

The perk, if I can ignore the Big Brother implications of an algorithm that reads my mind, is that I make acquaintance with melodies I haven’t heard and with images I haven’t seen — or, at times, images I haven’t seen for a while but don’t mind seeing again: scenes of big-league skill and big-time bloopers, of artistry and light hearts, and sometimes, too, of anger and violence and the battle bearing them up.

They come like baseball, the sport they record, a surprise at a time.

Play.

First in this time of YouTube — this deliberate instance of keen observation — is MLB/Enjoying The Game, a compilation of suitably amusing clips. And leading off is Adrian Beltre, he of the Hall of Fame resumé and inner-circle antics. The clip: As Beltre takes his lead from second base, he is spooked by Tampa infielder Alexei Ramirez, whose lurching shuffle and startling clap cause Beltre to launch into the sort of panicked dance only Beltre’s impulse could choreograph, all shock and awkwardness from so incongruously coordinated a man.

Next is Munenori Kawasaki going full Kawasaki, issuing from the Toronto dugout a series of signs that include a crossing of eyes and, yes, a jazzing of hands. It is the sort of signaling one might witness at the annual Tequila Shot ’n Semaphore Tournament, held annually, probably, on a derelict tarmac in east Key West.

After that is the Cardinals, in the dugout, executing a dance designed to make the on-field policeman — an upright apostle of Queen’s Guard stoicism — break into a smile.

It works.

It seriously works. Smiling, too, is whoever’s watching this clip.

The clips keep coming: Beltre again, this time leaping from a pitch that bounces outside the batter’s box — the opposite batter’s box — and Beltre once more — Beltre, whom the amusements just seem to find — taking a pitch off his butt cheek and administering self-massage as he makes his way to first base.

And here’s Beltre still again, jawing with King Felix as part of a long-running feud of best friends turned foes at 60 feet six inches distant, and Beltre once more, doing a dance so utterly artless — this in response to a faux pickoff move — that it makes the first one seem the work of prime Baryshnikov. And here’s Yasiel Puig, shakin’ a tail feather, and Jason Kipnis, retreating in mock fear from noted pugilist Rougned Odor, who once made a literal and everlasting punchline of Jose Bautista’s jaw.

Catfish and Me
Reminisces of a meeting with an all-time great.

Now, and I suppose for all time, Miguel Cabrera is reaching into the stands and caressing a fan’s beard with his first-baseman’s mitt, as if administering whisker conditioner with a downy-soft chamois. Josh Harrison is doing the dugout limbo, using a Louisville Slugger as the limbo stick while his teammates supply the calypso. One is playing the bubblegum drum. And Carl Edwards Jr., seated in the Chicago bullpen, is deep-sea fishing for a fellow reliever, casting a line in hopes of landing the big one. The outcome: Edwards hooks him and begins to reel him in, though the reliever does put up a fight.

What the clips reveal is what we’ve known since our second Opening Day: baseball makes space, and plenty of it, for accidental jesters and resolute clowns. It leaves time, with its unclocked innings and open-ended endings, for every unplanned rim shot and orchestrated gag.

A season of 162 workdays must concede to something that isn’t work.

Next is Not-So-Serious Baseball, which, like Enjoying The Game, is several minutes of major leaguers looking less than major league or more like entertainers. What do we see? We see Carlos Gomez, in the box, getting hit by a pitch and taking a fall worthy of the hammiest actor in the Civil War Reenactors Guild of Bugtussle, Kentucky, a guy named Wayne, who, this past Saturday, upped his death-scene game by taking 28 seconds to collapse in the bluegrass after getting plugged with a .69-caliber musket ball. We see Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo, standing behind White Sox runner Dioner Navarro at first base, snatching Navarro’s batting gloves from his pocket and tossing them to the ground, and we see Houston’s Jose Altuve sprinting for a triple but stumbling around second base and taking a vicious header in the Kansas City dirt, as if he were a human cannonball who somehow missed the net.

Everybody’s laughing now, Altuve included.

“That’s why it’s a game,” says the announcer, so corny but so true.

And now Francisco Lindor, waiting for a foul pop to descend from the rafters at Tropicana Field, shields his head and dives for safety when the pop-up just doesn’t come down. Sometimes, in baseball, there’s not a lot of gravity.

Sometimes there is.

Just when baseball convinces you it’s little but a pageant of boys-will-be-boys buoyancy, just when the replays confirm it’s one long spectacle of levity and jolly good times, the next video comes to remind you that, no, this is not not-so-serious business, that, yes, it’s more than just “a game.”

Indeed, having arrived at random, the next video gives us an hour’s worth of on-field ejections, those public dismissals predicated entirely on someone’s notion that this game is no fun at all, that suddenly, and for reasons blatantly unfair, this particular contest is disagreeable in the extreme. What’s notable is that its title is August September 2018 Ejections, meaning meltdowns that occurred anytime from April 1 through July 31 are missing and likely enshrined in their own compilations of rage, acrimony and tantrums so vein-bulgingly bitter that it remains a mystery as to why the perps weren’t booked on charges of disorderly conduct.

First out of the gate — and out of the game — is Boston skipper Alex Cora, who, having responded rather fiercely to a buzzing of Mookie Betts’ tower, is given the ol’ heave-ho in the first inning of a Yankees-Red Sox match-up. Knock-down pitches might or might not be necessary, but they are never ignored.

Next comes Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart, tossed for getting lippy with the home plate umpire even before the gopher-ball homer lands in the seats.

Casual ejections are next to turn up, grown men removed from their place of employment with imperious glances and haughty waves of the hand. It’s theater, sure, and never less than engrossing, but for the actors involved it’s a battle of wills.

One is the winner and one the loser, and you know who’s who.

Joe Maddon, never one to miss an opportunity to showcase Joe Maddon, is next to get the hook, inviting said ejection by staging a one-man production that involves a scamper to first base and a diatribe that in time becomes a soliloquy. No one is listening to Maddon anymore, maybe not even Maddon.

Ejections come and managers go, and players do, too. Danny Duffy is the latest to leave the premises, the KC starter having thrown a hissy fit after throwing a gopher ball following what he perceived as a blown check-swing call. Duffy had traced the chain of causation back to first-base umpire Adam Hamari, at whom his bulging arteries were directed, and it was Hamari, with a dramatic swing of the wing, who sent Duffy packing.

If it isn’t life-or-death, it’s the next-closest thing.

Next to go is Nick Ahmed, the Arizona shortstop, who, after engaging in a home-plate debate with umpire James Hoye — topic: the dimensions of the major league strike zone — is given the rest of the night off to reconsider his view.

Now getting the thumb is Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell, whose ouster is both preceded and followed by a conspicuous series of f-bombs. Says one announcer: “And now Craig Counsell’s gonna get his money’s worth.”

This sort of fiscal balance is common to these clashes.

Getting run now is Seattle skipper Scott Servais, who, in an up-close encounter with plate umpire Mike Muchlinski, appears to be engaged in a mutual assessment of mouthwash. Per the announcer, Servais is — get this — “getting his money’s worth.”

Victimized next by eviction is Aaron Boone, the pinstriped chief, whose confrontation with plate ump Nic Lentz is practically Vaudevillian in its theatrics: the bumping of bills, the finger to the face, the catcherly crouch behind home plate to demonstrate the size and shape of the strike zone.

A grown man, in a boy’s game, is absolutely losing his mind.

Victimized now — in the same game — is Detroit skipper Ron Gardenhire, who, in the bottom of the eighth and with the Tigers leading, 5-4, is given the hook for arguing an unfavorable check-swing call. His round face is a ripe tomato, red. Nobody’s laughing now. Well…nobody except those Yankees fans in the background, and Luke Voit, who just drew the disputed walk, and first-base coach Reggie Willits, who now has something to do besides clap.

What follows is a litany of similar dismissals, all from the old mold of major league ejections but each unique. Matt Belisle, gone. Joe Maddon, gone again. Brian Snitker, goodbye. And if Steven Souza Jr., returning to the dugout after a called strike three, is just another victim of an unscheduled ump show, then CC Sabathia, having telegraphed the retaliatory aim of his fastball, is a most deserving target of the ol’ heave-ho. This is no game. It’s all business.

***

All business, too, are the players in the next video: MLB/Revenge. Well…mostly business, plus the pleasure of Sabathia-style vengeance or something like it. First in this gallery of retaliation is Marlins starter Jose Urena, making his point, whatever it is, with a fastball to Ronald Acuna Jr.’s not-so-funny bone on the game’s opening pitch. The fallout is as quick as it is predictable: The benches empty. The players point and shout, their words and gestures conveying the convictions that their fists, were it not for the players so helpfully holding them back, might otherwise assert.

The revenge is colder, though, in the next clip: In Miami, Acuna drives a fastball above the fence and into the region of getting even. “In light of what happened in Atlanta,” says an announcer, “that had to be a very enjoyable trip around the bases.”

Next to get reprisal by way of lumber is Giancarlo Stanton, who, after taking a Mike Fiers pitch to the arm, takes a Mike Fiers pitch to the seats. His bat flip is confirmation of Fiers’ comeuppance, his stare-down a dagger to the mound.

At times, revenge arrives not just with the bat but because of it. The clip: After Jose Bautista has bat-flipped his way to the animus of not one team but two teams, the Rangers’ Rougned Odor exacts measure for measure by weaponizing the aforementioned fist and turning Joey Bats into a joke.

Rougie and the Rangers win the battle, but, per the next clip, the Jays win the war, coaxing Odor into an error that gives Toronto the 2016 ALDS title.

Revenge is patient and can take on many forms.

What comes next is a dozen minutes of additional proof: retaliatory pitches and vindictive looks; vindictive pitches and retaliatory trots, slow and savory ’round the bases while the pitcher at the center just simmers and seethes; hard slides and harder fastballs, aimed if not at the head then just behind the back, and, as a result, managerial meltdowns on either side or both sides of the blood-sport diamond.

It looks a lot like WWE, but it is not fake.

Bryce Harper hits a solo homer, just one run on the board, but for Hunter Strickland it’s an affront to his manhood and a reason to take aim. Months later, he takes it, putting the four-seamer into Harper’s right hip, and for that the benches clear. Fists are formed at the end of strong arms, long arms, as long as Strickland’s memory.

“We told you there was history,” says an announcer.

Indeed. Sometimes the history is quicker, the revenge more rapidly exacted. At the close of the eighth inning, Seattle reliever Fernando Rodney points his imaginary arrow at the Angels dugout and fires it. In the bottom of the ninth, having doubled home the tying run, Albert Pujols aims his own spiteful dart.

“Boy, I love it,” says an announcer. “This is what baseball’s all about.”

Well…about that.

***

What baseball is really all about, except when it isn’t, is winning.

Retaliation takes place when one squad, concluding the other has gotten an unfair edge, attempts to erase both the unfairness and the edge by inflicting some measure of physical or psychical suffering in the opposite dugout. That sort of unfair edge is the subject of the next video to arrive in the YouTube queue. It’s called Caught Cheating, and it is 13 minutes’ worth — an unlucky 13, if you ask them — of dudes getting busted for bending the rules to their will and breaking them.

Chris Sabo, upon breaking a bat, knows his nickname might now be Corky. Suddenly, the space between the mound and the plate looks like WineFest ’96.

Brian Matusz, a reliever for the Orioles, is busted for using a foreign substance, and it ain’t Italian soda. And fellow reliever Jay Howell, in Game Three of 1988 NLCS, is relieved of his duties for much the same reason, having imported something from somewhere and placing it on his glove for the purpose of putting a ring on a finger.

Will players, in the midst of their playing, do anything to win?

Maybe, maybe not, but the next video is proof anything can happen anyway, regardless of what a player is attempting. It’s called Bloopers-Oddities, and in it, Milwaukee’s Martin Maldonado knocks the cover off the ball — well, part way off, enough that Bucs third baseman Pedro Alvarez fields the thing and throws an inadvertent changeup to first base, the dyingest of quails, the deadest of ducks, and Maldonado beats it out for an infield hit worthy of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Between pitches, Pirates hurler Gerrit Cole goes for the rosin bag, and the bag responds by exploding, and Cole is in a cloud of off-white dust. Next, a throw from O’s third baseman Manny Machado — this one with a ball whose cover is fully intact — goes through a first baseman’s mitt whose webbing isn’t. Chris Davis gazes at broken leather, and the runner is safe at first.

The clips keep coming because the oddities already did.

Eric Sogard, after fielding a routine grounder, is bollixed by a broken bat instead of a broken mitt, the fat end tumbling to trip him as he gets set to throw.

And what’s this? Something weirder, something baseball has never seen? A ball sticks, like it has never stuck before, to Yadier Molina’s chest protector.

The theme continues, kind of, with One In A Million Plays Compilation. This time, though, the amazements come not from anomalies but from Freaks Of Nature — that is to say, not from oddities that defy the norm but from players who defy replacement-level players who produce replacement-level plays.

First is Derek Jeter’s backhand flip, now iconic but then a shock to the A’s.

Next is the A’s again, this time as victimizer and not victim, when left fielder Yoenis Cespedes heaves a ball 9,000 air miles to nail Howie Kendrick at the plate.

The plays keep coming, one by one: notes in this arrangement, tones in that score. They come just as jazz comes, with skill and whimsy, improvisation put down on form. Spontaneity decorates the structure. Winging one’s way to permanence is the soloist’s part in this ensemble.

Listen. Jazz in its way is basic, but, staged live, never played the same way twice.

Gary Matthews Jr. is above the fence, a stunt pilot, to nab a sure-thing homer.

Rey Ordonez is an Olympic gymnast, tumbling, gunning the guy at first.

Jose Guillen, out there, is heaving a ball 9,001 air miles to nail the guy at third.

Jim Edmonds is making another spectacular TD catch. Six points.

Carlton Fisk is tagging out two runners trying to score…on one throw.

David Wright is bare-handing it, belly-flopping as he snares the out.

DeWayne Wise is saving the perfecto with a juggling act, the circus now in town.

Jose Iglesias, you didn’t just do that,” says the amazed announcer, but yeah, he did.

Gregor Blanco is preserving another perfecto with an Edmondsesque catch. De nada.

Mike Trout is Mike Trout, above the wall, better than even Edmonds.

Chase Utley is throwing to first from his backside — actually, his back.

Ichiro is Ichiro, different than Trout, throwing a frozen rope.

Ben Revere, still in flight, is Superman. Who knew?

Brandon Phillips is Superman, too, maybe Superman Two.

And Sandy Alomar Jr. is Spider-Man, climbing to a catch in the net.

Rick Ankiel, where did that throw come from? Oh, right — deep center field.

Ken Griffey Jr. makes the catch but breaks the wrist. The bone will heal, but the out is the out, eternal to the senses. And Griffey’s dad, with a leap at the wall, shows it runs in the blood. The play is perpetually the play. We need no words for it, no narration.

The art is enough to explain itself, purely instrumental.

Replay.

Andrelton Simmons is now a magician.

Ozzie Smith is forever the Wizard.

Kevin Mitchell, I see you!

And Ozzie, like Mitchell, goes barehanded. The result is at the fingertips.

You can listen, too, to Coltrane, Blue Train. I do.


John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
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Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

Great stuff. Youtube is a national treasure for those of us who believe everything in life was better when we were young. Here are some of my favorites: 1. https://youtu.be/57MBDeXwe6c. Earl Weaver goes nuts on Tom Haller. 2. https://youtu.be/N4nwMDZYXTI. Interview with Mickey Mantle about his last at bat at Tiger Stadium when McLain threw him a cream puff and he clobbered it. Love the anecdote about Pepitone, There are lots of videos of old NBC Game Of The Week telecasts with Curt Gowdy that capture the ancient technology that seems goofy in retrospect. John, while I agree with your compilation… Read more »

Jim
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Member
Jim

Very nice transition on the “gravity.”

hopbitters
Member
hopbitters

I always look forward to your work, John, and, after reading your work, I generally consume this space with obnoxious, tangentially-related comments featuring hopelessly obscure references. Today, however, I’m going to let all of those wonderful (in my head, at least) jazz and baseball references and/or puns slide and say this: You, sir, are a national treasure. Please keep doing your thing here.