The Year in Frivolity

CC Sabathia fell two innings shy of a $500,000 contract bonus. The Yankees paid it to him anyway. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

The year in baseball began in the previous year, when, once the Astros had dispatched the Dodgers in the 2017 Fall Classic by stealing the cheat code to LA starter Yu Darvish’s curveball sign, the Marlins shocked the world but surprised no one by trading able-bodied slugger Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees in exchange for second baseman Starlin Castro and two 12-ounce bags of sunflower seeds, lightly salted.

The trade, lauded throughout the Bronx as “good for the game of baseball,” happened on the heels of former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s purchase of stake in the Miami franchise with money he obtained from the investment firm of Evil Empire & Death Star Associates, doing business as the Miami Happy Sunshine Fund ’N Good-Time Smile Foundation. Stanton wouldn’t be the only coveted player to sign with a new team near the gift-giving holidays. As the yuletide season approached, benevolent angels drifted from the Anaheim outfield and convinced Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani to sign with the hometown team for relative peanuts, unsalted and unshelled.

The signing would remain unique in the category of Breaking Baseball News for quite some time, as dozens of unsigned free agents entered what they called “The Winter of Their Discontent.” Weeks passed, and months, and as the big-market teams made efforts to stay below the luxury tax, and even mid-market teams remained hesitant to shell out Who Wants To Be An Underperforming Millionaire money, the unsigned free agents accused teams of collusion and began making ominous threats. Some vowed to hold their own spring training. Others, most notably Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, warned of a player strike.

Despite the threats, more than 100 free agents remained unsigned as February arrived.

Meanwhile, back at Baseball headquarters, it was business as usual for Commissioner Rob Manfred and his new pace-of-play czar, Usain Bolt. Together, and with 378 cups of double-shot espresso, they crafted a plan to reduce the average game time to 47 minutes, inclusive of Christina Aguilera’s melismatic rendering of The Star-Spangled Banner. One rule change stipulated that teams would now receive just six mound visits per game, with the provision that none could last longer than “one (1) Madison Bumgarner snot rocket.”

In another modification, baseball would now mandate that teams store balls in “an air-conditioned room” during the 2018 season, mostly in hopes that greater consistency in ball constitution would put an end to the record-breaking home run trend but also so that, come summer, the Rangers and Braves would not so often place players on the 60-day disabled list with cases of spontaneous combustion.

“It will give them a place to cool off,” said Manfred, “and also eat some dip.”

Upon the arrival of spring training, dozens of free agents remained unsigned. Still, active veterans carried on as usual, by complaining that spring training is too long and that the quesadillas should come with more sour cream. And yet with Opening Day on tap, and with playoff dreams in the balance, players gazed to the greatest of endings just once in a Blue Moon.

What follows, fellow baseball fans, is an irregular look at the irregular season. This is the Year in Frivolity.

March

In Miami on Opening Day, Cubs center fielder Ian Happ deposits the first pitch of the season into the right field seats for a leadoff home run against Marlins starter Jose Urena. Asked afterward if he could have imagined a better start, Happ replies, “Yes, but unfortunately, it’s hard to reenact the first three minutes and 28 seconds of Citizen Kane en route to the batter’s box.”

On March 30, Major League Baseball announces that a record 33 home runs were hit on Opening Day. Reminded that 33 is a significant figure in numerology, Commissioner Rob Manfred replies, “Indeed, and I first learned that fact by reading Ted Williams’ second book, The Pseudoscience of Hitting.”

In late March, the Tigers announce that they will use a motorized cart this season to shuttle relievers from the bullpen to the mound. Given the projections for a substandard relief corps and the constraints of a below-average budget, however, the Tigers also announce that they “will tell the relievers to carpool to Triple-A Toledo.”

April

Mired in an 0-for-13 slump to begin the season, Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler tweets, “I will get a hit” 13 times prior to a game against the Brewers and subsequently ends the skid with a run-scoring single in the second inning. Taking notice, Orioles owner Peter Angelos immediately tweets, “Chris Davis will get hit by a non-lethal yet career-ending meteorite” 115 million times, an average of 23 million times across the next five seasons.

Prior to Tampa Bay’s April 3 game in New York, Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier slathers his body in Vaseline to provide an extra layer of protection against the 40-degree cold. Some time later, in the middle innings, Kiermaier is called out on a stolen-base attempt after sliding past the bag by 148 feet.

Beating the Odds: When Teams Outperform Their Projections
When it comes to outperforming projections, some teams are better than others.

Following the cancellation of the April 4 game in Detroit, observers note that three of the six games slated for the Tigers’ season-opening home stand have been postponed due to wintry conditions. Addressing the issue, Commissioner Manfred says that rather than schedule early-season games in warmer locales, baseball will encourage teams to employ rescue dogs equipped with small barrels of brandy and the ability to understand “I’m dying out here” in a variety of languages.

During National Anthem ceremonies just prior to the Twins’ April 5 home opener, a bald eagle lands on the shoulders of Mariners starter James Paxton. Afterward, Paxton reveals that the only other time a national symbol hit him so squarely “was when I got plunked with one of Jose Bautista’s demonstrably flipped bats.”

Following Bryce Harper’s fifth home run of the season in Washington’s eighth game, statisticians note that the right fielder has as many home runs as the Marlins and Rays combined. Meanwhile, the statisticians also note that Harper, in comparison to the Marlins and Rays, has just as many hairdryers.

Despite a paid attendance of 10,377 at the April 9 Rays-White Sox game in Chicago, observers at frigid Guaranteed Rate Field report that fewer than 1,000 fans are in attendance. Pressed for the whereabouts of the other 9,000 fans, club officials acknowledge that “they are keeping warm by lighting fire to their season tickets.”

Following his fifth strikeout and seventh hitless at-bat in New York’s 12-inning loss to Baltimore on April 9, Yankees acquisition Giancarlo Stanton is subjected to a loud volley of boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd. In the hours that follow, Stanton, who in 2012 changed his name from Mike to Giancarlo, announces that he is changing his name once more, this time to Giancarlooooooooooooooooooooooo.

In early April, the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins are claiming corporate citizenship in the British Virgin Isles in order to avoid dealing with a local judge. Days later, the Herald also reports that the Marlins are claiming “baseball citizenship” in New York in order to avoid making trades that don’t directly benefit the Yankees.

In the third inning of a game at Coors Field, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado charges the mound when Padres starter Luis Perdomo throws a fastball behind his back. Afterward, Perdomo gives Arenado credit for the effort, saying, “Hey, charging the mound and missing with a punch at 5,000 feet is like charging the mound and missing with two punches at sea level.”

Reports out of Miami on April 12 are that the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate outdrew the parent club on April 11, with 6,960 and 6,150 spectators at their respective games. In response, Marlins CEO Derek Jeter claims that the Double-A team inflated its attendance figures “by actually trying to win.”

On the team bus in Toronto prior to a series against the Blue Jays, Kansas City’s Blaine Boyer takes hold of the steering wheel and guides the vehicle to safety when chunks of ice shatter the windshield and spray glass onto the driver. Afterward, the Elias Sports Bureau announces that it has awarded the reliever a hold and a save.

On April 18, Pirates officials award a free ticket to each fan who sat through 34-degree weather to watch Pittsburgh’s 2-0 loss to Colorado a night earlier. Sought for comment, a spokesperson for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s acute hypothermia wing refers all further inquiries to the next of kin.

Following a game in which he confronted White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson at home plate, Royals catcher Salvador Perez says Anderson angered him by using “bad words.” Asked which “bad words” Anderson used, Perez replies, “Royals baseball.”

May

After yielding four runs in one-third of an inning in a game against the Yankees, Houston closer Ken Giles responds to the situation by punching himself in the face en route from the mound to the dugout. Questioned later, Giles tells reporters that the fist just got away from him.

On May 8, Baseball announces that the Yankees and Red Sox will play a two-game series in London in June 2019. Asked to explain the decision, Commissioner Manfred replies, “Look, the United States can’t be the only country to feature Yankees-Red Sox on every national telecast.”

After turning in their lineup card for a game against the Reds, the Mets are charged with an out upon batting out of order in the first inning. Later, reporters discover that not only did the Mets list Wilmer Flores in the second slot and Asdrubal Cabrera in the third, they also listed Marv Throneberry in the sixth slot, Romano’s Macaroni Grill in the seventh, and an inanimate carbon rod in both the eighth and ninth.

On May 12, Baseball issues a formal warning to Cubs utilityman Ben Zobrist for wearing black cleats in violation of Section G(1) of Baseball’s Uniform Regulations. Later, a careful reading of Section G(1) reveals to reporters that “black should be worn only during Texas Rangers History Month.”

In the first inning of the Reds-Giants game on May 14, an earthquake measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale strikes AT&T Park and causes it to tremble. Days later, the Giants experience a second natural disaster when, according to witnesses, right fielder Hunter Pence throws a ball to second base while attempting to look elegant.

After yielding a home run to Oakland’s Khris Davis during a game at Fenway Park, Boston reliever Carson Smith injures his shoulder by angrily throwing his glove in the dugout. Later, in an attempt to convince Smith to channel his rage in “a way more becoming a Red Sox,” club officials send the right-hander to The Big Papi Training Program for Unmitigated Destruction of Dugout Phones.

On May 24, Major League Baseball notifies Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong that he may no longer don the colorful arm sleeve he’s been wearing to raise awareness of relief efforts in the wake of continued Mount Kilauea eruptions. Meanwhile, baseball notifies Mets manager Mickey Callaway that he may continue to don the black armband he’s been wearing to raise awareness of relief efforts in the wake of continued Mets bullpen implosions.

In the midst of a Nationals-Orioles interleague game in Baltimore, Washington starter Max Scherzer tweets that “the best part of having a DH tonight is that I can stay in the clubhouse and watch the (Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Finals) game while we hit!” Meanwhile, in the same ballpark, Orioles DH Mark Trumbo tweets that “the best part of having a DH tonight is that I still have a job.”

June

On June 4 against Detroit, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge walks once and strikes out eight times to establish a major league record for strikeouts in a doubleheader. Asked why he didn’t achieve the third of the three true outcomes, Judge replies, “How could I possibly suffer a Greg Bird injury?”

On June 13, The Baltimore Sun reports that a local pub is offering a free shot of liquor every time Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, currently batting .150, gets a base hit. Meanwhile, according to additional reports, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is offering a free double shot of espresso “to anyone who stays past the third inning.”

In mid-June, a reporter for the Sports Business Journal discloses that major league attendance is down seven percent in 2018 compared to 2017. Reached for comment, one economist speculates that “seven percent of the ticket-buying public isn’t buying tickets because buying tickets is way too expensive,” while another theorizes that, “Simply put, Koji Uehara is seven percent more popular than everyone thought.”

On June 19, Pittsburgh reliever Steven Brault steps to the field at PNC Park prior to the Brewers-Pirates game and sings The Star-Spangled Banner. One hour later, in Kansas City, Royals reliever Brandon Maurer steps to the field at Kauffman Stadium and sings God Save the Team.

In San Francisco for a series against the Giants, the Padres find it necessary to take a double-decker tour bus to the stadium when their charter bus fails to arrive at the team hotel. Questioned later, first baseman Eric Hosmer says he “enjoyed Coit Tower” and found Pier 39 “entertaining” but that the tour of AT&T Park “seemed over-long and unnecessary” and the photo ops with the Giants’ three World Series trophies “really kind of cruel.”

During a 6-4 defeat of the Royals on June 30, the Mariners celebrate “Turn Ahead the Clock Night” by wearing futuristic uniforms appropriate to the year 2027. Also appropriate to the year 2027, say observers, is the team’s solemn recognition of a 26th consecutive season without a playoff berth.

July

In hopes of spurring private investment in a new ballpark, the Rays on July 10 release artist’s renderings of a “reimagined” stadium that includes picnic suites, fountain boxes, and swivel seats. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the 26-66 Orioles release artist’s renderings of a “reimagined” scoreboard that shows them winning.

On July 11, a baseball writer tweets that major league teams have used more than 1,200 players this season. Later, a second tweet reveals that 738 of those players debuted as part of manager Mike Scioscia’s bullpen moves in the Angels’ 5-4 defeat of the Royals in the second week of the season.

In mid-July, a firm that measures consumer appeal divulges that Angels superstar Mike Trout — generally considered the best player in baseball — is as recognizable to Americans as NBA reserve forward Kenneth Faried. In search of explanation, some observers point out that, in the 2017 season, Faried did post more assists.

Following Bryce Harper’s defeat of Chicago’s Kyle Schwarber in the final round to win the annual Home Run Derby, hundreds of Cubs fans go online to allege that Harper and his pitcher conspired to cheat by not waiting for the previous batted ball to land before engaging the next pitch. Afterward, in recognition of their “dedication to the game,” MLB awards each fan a Cubs cap made entirely of tinfoil.

Reports out of New York on July 22 are that Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is suffering from hand, foot and mouth disease, which causes blisters on the hands, feet and in the mouth. Later, additional reports confirm that the rest of the roster is suffering from hand, foot and Mets disease, which causes losing.

A day after catcher Gary Sanchez twice failed to hustle on critical plays during New York’s 7-6 loss to Tampa Bay, the Yankees announce that backup catcher Austin Romine is the winner of the team’s Heart and Hustle Award. A day later, and nearly 14 years after Yankees catcher Jorge Posada failed to throw out Dave Roberts on his ninth-inning stolen base in New York’s 6-4 loss to Boston in Game Four of the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Yankees announce that then-backup catcher John Flaherty is the winner of the 2004 ALCS MVP.

During the July 28 Dodgers-Braves game in Atlanta, TBS broadcaster Joe Simpson issues a sharp denunciation of Los Angeles second baseman Chase Utley for having worn a T-shirt during batting practice. In response, Utley issues a mild rebuke of Simpson for having worn his knickers in a twist.

August

At the trade deadline, reports are that the Nationals dealt reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs because they believe he is the anonymous source who, in a recent online article, portrayed the Washington clubhouse “as a mess.” According to the article, the source noted that several players use their copies of Underachievers Weekly as makeshift plates for microwaved fish.

In the ninth inning of a White Sox-Yankees game in early August, officials call stoppage to remove a moth from the ear of home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. Later that night, activists launch a fire-Joe Simpson movement so that “TBS might remove a WASP from everyone’s ear.”

During a radio interview on August 8, former big leaguer Jayson Werth tells the host that “supernerds” are “killing the game.” In response, the supernerd community assigns Werth a Whines Above Replacement value of 112.8

After telling the New York Post that the Mets front office is “too analytics-driven,” owner Fred Wilpon says he will search for a “more traditional baseball person” to replace current GM Sandy Alderson. Days later, the Mets announce that they have hired Alderson’s replacement: a middle-aged man sitting alone in Section 537 who “keeps going on and on about ‘players these days’ and their inability to bunt.”

During a mid-August game in sweltering Atlanta, spectators note that Marlins first-base coach Perry Hill is placing wet lettuce in his batting helmet to keep cool. In response, longtime observers recall the day when former reliever and iconoclast Turk Wendell placed croutons in his cap for no apparent reason.

After taking a pitch for a called strike three during a game against the Brewers, Chicago’s Ben Zobrist is ejected by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi upon commenting, “That’s why we want an electronic strike zone.” In a postgame talk with reporters, Zobrist reveals that “another reason we want an electronic strike zone is that a gasoline-powered strike zone is damaging to the ozone.”

During pre-game ceremonies at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 19, the White Sox invite a Catholic nun named Sister Mary to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Later, in the spirit of The Sound of Music, Sister Mary and several other nuns sing “How do you solve a problem like Chris Volstad?” to which White Sox GM Rick Hahn replies, “By releasing him in late July.”

On August 21, the Angels announce that outfielder Justin Upton will miss time due to a finger laceration he suffered while handling a broken wine glass. Pressed for details, the club says that unlike Sammy Sosa’s batting practice home runs, Upton’s injury is unaffected by cork.

On August 22, Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez reveals that an injury he sustained earlier in the season occurred when one of his fingers got stuck in a suitcase. Alerted, historians are reminded of the time when Yankees pitcher Jumbo Brown suffered an injury by getting his entire head caught in a case of thick-cut bacon.

In Kansas City, a game between the Indians and Royals is delayed 30 minutes due to a leak in the Kauffman Stadium fountains that caused water to seep onto the warning track. In response, pundits agree that they haven’t seen such an unsightly mess on the warning track since Nelson Cruz tried to catch David Freese’s fly ball in the 2011 World Series.

On August 29, the Marlins announce that Marlins Park in 2019 will introduce an outfield seating section where flags and musical instruments will be “welcomed and encouraged.” Per the announcement, the club adds that “in keeping with the immediate prospects of the Miami franchise,” the flags must be “flags of the surrender” while the instruments “should be sad trombones.”

When San Diego’s Wil Myers complains about Padres manager Andy Green while playing the video game Fortnite in late August, his playing partner, minor leaguer Carlos Asuaje, reveals that he is live-streaming the game and that Myers’ comments are public. Upon learning of the incident, 45-year-old Rangers starter Bartolo Colon says he is reminded of the time, in his rookie season, when he criticized his own skipper while pushing a hoop with a stick.

In the second inning of a Cubs-Braves game, second base umpire Chad Fairchild calls a balk on Mike Foltynewicz when the Braves starter spits while toeing the rubber. Hewing to the new precedent, umpires across baseball spend the remainder of the night ordering “the swift beheading of anyone caught enjoying the salty goodness of a sunflower seed.”

September

In the eighth inning of the September1 Cubs-Phillies game, umpire Joe West confiscates a card containing scouting reports from Philadelphia reliever Austin Davis. Asked later for an example of the scouting information, Davis replies, “‘Watch out for Joe West.’”

On the same night as a Dee Gordon-Jean Segura fight, reports out of Detroit are that Tigers broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen got into an altercation just outside the broadcast booth. Questioned about the cause, an unnamed producer says the broadcasters disagreed as to whether it should be called a “fight” or an “altercation.”

On September 4, journalists reveal that Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan has left the team due to “philosophical differences” with the front office. Asked to elaborate, Jordan says that while he subscribes to existentialism, which holds that J.P. Crawford can find meaning in a change to his swing path, the front office subscribes to nihilism, which holds that J.P. Crawford’s swing path has no intrinsic meaning and never will.

On September 5, a reporter divulges that A’s reliever Shawn Kelley hasn’t pitched since August 29 because he cut his thumb on a knife while washing dishes. Reached for comment, the newly acquired Kelley says, “Look, I realized the A’s budget is small, but I never imagined I’d have to work nights at Burrito District in Section 220.”

Facing Nationals ace Max Scherzer during a game in early September, light-hitting Cubs speedster Terrance Gore slaps a ground ball up the middle for the first hit of his five-year major league career. Asked about the achievement, Chicago manager Joe Maddon replies, “It’s fantastic, and speaking of one-hit wonders, I’m pleased to announce that we have just added to the 40-man roster each remaining member of Men Without Hats.”

Hours after losing a tooth — a veneer, actually — while eating a baguette, Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom hits his first major league home run in the first game of the team’s September 11 doubleheader against the Phillies. Asked about it afterward, Kieboom says, “It’th justh tho exthiting.”

With the AL East title in sight, the Red Sox on September 19 reveal that the division championship banner they commissioned is being held hostage by a group of Red Sox fans after it fell off the back of a vendor truck. Following several hours of negotiation, the club agrees to the hostage-takers’ demand: 25 unopened boxes of 2011 AL East championship T-shirts, to be retrieved from a Red Cross center in an unnamed disaster-stricken region.

During the annual rookie dress-up day, Tigers veterans direct the team’s first-year players to dress up as Oompa-Loompas from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Playing the part, the rookies later sing a version of the Oompa-Loompa Song to four-year veteran Jim Adduci: “What do you get from Jim Ah-doo-cee?/a guy at first base and round-trippers three.”

On September 27, starter CC Sabathia falls two innings short of a $500,000 bonus for innings pitched when he is ejected in the sixth inning of the Yankees’ game in Tampa. In related news, Hollywood producer Ron Howard also begins coping with a pitch that costs him half a million dollars when, after listening to a 40-minute spiel, he agrees to pay $500,000 for the rights to the Buddy Biancalana story.

During a game in late September, Yankees rookie Gleyber Torres hits an offering from Boston starter Eduardo Rodriguez into the right-field seats for the Bombers’ 265th home run of the season, a major league record. Asked if the small dimensions of Yankee Stadium might have contributed to the record, Torres declines to comment and refers further questions to the stadium builder, Lil’ Tykes FunZone ’n Pizzeria, Inc.

Prior to Hunter Pence’s final game, against LA, the Giants present a motorized scooter to the popular outfielder as a going-away present. Meanwhile, as what they call a “please-just-go-away present,” the Orioles give starter Andrew Cashner (5.29 ERA, 4-15 record) a 1978 Chevy Caprice with just enough gas to get to Gaithersburg.


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

This is a weird read.

LHPSU
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LHPSU

And arguably less funny than what actually occurred…

Da Bear
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Da Bear

It shares a lot with Dave Barry’s annual “Year in Review” column, if you want to look outside the horizons of baseball.

Paul G.
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Paul G.

Hey, “Pop Goes the World” is a perfectly good second hit for Men Without Hats!

Paul G.
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Paul G.

Amusingly, their Wikipedia picture has one of them is wearing a hat.

Paul G.
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Paul G.

Given the Mets’ adventures at first base this year, Marv Throneberry might be an upgrade.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

More cheap CT offered up as journalism.

4d3fect
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4d3fect

Ha! Thanks for the laughs.

ScooterPie
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ScooterPie

I always dig your stuff. Thanks!

pedeysRSox
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pedeysRSox

#BringBackNotGraphs