Futility Infielder Vocabulary Lesson
was written for my
weblog on October 16, 2003 as I tried to kill time before Game Seven of the
Ameican League Championship Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees.
My friends and
I have watched enough baseball (and other sports), lived and died through so many
rallies together, that we've come up with our own unique vocabulary to describe
certain events. The name of this website comes from one such phrase, and this
postseason has offered several examples of these terms in action, so now seems
an opportune time to reiterate them. Special thanks to my nearest and dearest
friends and family for their contributions to this over the course of our fan-addled
First off, there's
Infielder, a good fielder versatile enough to play several infield positions
but a nearly automatic out with the bat somebody who spends a lot of time
South of the Mendoza Line. Enrique Wilson is the Yanks' current Futilityman,
but he's sitting next to the king of the Futility Infielders on the Yankee bench,
the man whose big hit in the deciding game of the 2000 World Series inspired this
site in the first place, Luis Sojo. Futility Infielders are usually scrappy, fiesty
guys who spend so much time in the dugouts that they become adept at bench-jockeying,
and as they age they generally make decent managers; even more often, they end
up as coaches. Don Zimmer, I'm pointing in your direction.
"Don't hit 'em
so hard, Reggie!" is what my father used to tell me when I was learning the
game and would complain about how tough it was. This was back in the late '70s,
Straw That Stirred The Drink was at the height of his charisma and his powers.
Today, it generally evokes anybody complaining about how rough the going is getting.
got two blood rivals facing each other in a Game Seven, or a deciding contest
that takes an unexpected turn, you know that one of them will be adding
a page to The Big Book of Bitter Defeats. Teams who claim to be bearing
a curse, such as the Chicago Cubs and the Boson Red Sox, have entire chapters
within the Big Book, as do the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians.
The Yankees have about half a page, way in the back, devoted to Game
Seven of the 2001 World Series. Deciding games of postseason series
aren't the only ones in there, however any game which can potentially
turn the momentum of a series or a season is eligible. Such decisive games
can keep a Cliche
Monkey working overtime, spouting phrases like "all the marbles," "there's
no tomorrow," and "this is do or die."
One event which
often leads to inscription in the Big Book of Bitter Defeats is a Get Off My
Property Home Run, such as the one Trot Nixon hit in Fenway to win Game Three
of the ALDS, or the one Derek Jeter hit in Game
Four of the 2001 World Series. Once in a rare while, such a hit may be downgraded,
as in Robin Ventura's Get Off My Property Grand
Single in the '99 NLCS.
Speaking of Jeter,
we've got another one which specifically applies only to him. Back in '99, my
two pals and I were at a ballgame sitting near a pre-teen girl and her father.
Whenever Chuck Knoblauch came to bat, the girl, in a giddy attempt to show her
father she was paying attention to the action, would shriek, "Jeter is next!"
That was the year, of course, that Derek was unstoppable, hitting .349 with a
.990 OPS and making his claim as the elite among the young AL shortstop triumverate.
He's been backsliding ever since, but still, the Yankee captain is clutch enough
that we still look forward to him batting in key situations.
The Big Book of
Bitter Defeats has a twin volume which is sort of a prequel: The Big Book of
Bad Ideas. No team can inscribe itself in the former book without having copious
entries in the latter. Dusty Baker leaving Mark Prior in during the eighth inning
after walking Luis Castillo is straight from the Big Book of Bad Ideas, as is
that poor Cubs fan failing to think before reaching for that foul ball. Not every
entry in this book corresponds to an on-field action, of course. ESPN's hiring
of Rush Limbaugh came straight out of the Big Book of Bad Ideas, not that anybody
should spare them an ounce of sympathy for doing so.
Onto the more mundane
events which make up a ballgame. When a starting pitcher wobbles through a tough
outing with all the grace of an elderly woman on an icy staircase, it's a Granny
Gooden, so named for when the latter-day pinstripe-wearing Doc K had lost
a few feet on that famous fastball and piled up baserunners aplenty. The Power
of Negative Reinforcment often comes in handy in these cases, when you curse
at a player in a key situation for failing before he actually does so, in the
hopes that it may lead to an opposite result. "Goddamn it, Karim, you can't get
a clutch hit to save your life!" or "Okay, Nelson, why don't you just walk the
damn run in so we can lose this game!" The Power of Negative Reinforcement is
especially useful when you've got The Vein sticking out in your forehead,
and is generally a sign that you're criminally insane.
event is the RBI of Shame, which happens when a run crosses the plate during
a double play. It's no RBI at all, officially, and really isn't much to be proud
of, but once in awhile those runs do come in handy.
When the opposing
clubhouse is in disarray, you might root for them to preserve the Fragile Equilibrium
of Unhappiness, so that such negativity may fester. Yankee fans certainly
hoped after Pedro's tantrum in Game Three that the team's failure to back him
publicly was doing just that. Similarly, the presence of such dislikable players
as Pedro and Manny on the same team allows me to Consolidate
My Schadenfreude Into One Low Monthly Payment.
The Grim Forksman
is the end, either for a player or a ballgame. Derived from the phrase, "Stick
a fork in him, he's done," the Forksman arrives a-pokin' to deliver just that
message. When Alex "Sea Bass" Gonzalez hit the seventh-inning two-run double to
expand the Marlins' lead to 9-5, that was the Grim Forksman telling Dusty Baker
it was time to go home. Similarly, when David Cone went on the disabled list with
pain in his hip earlier this season, that was just the Forksman telling him it
was time to hang up his glove for good. The Grim Forksman is often foreshadowed
by other events; in such cases, we might say that the Chickens Are Rounding
Third, as in heading home to roost.
On a more positive
note is the Rally Totem. This is any object which a fan believes is annointed
with the sacred power of delivering runs at a key moment of a ballgame. Hats are
the most common, but sometimes it takes more than that to spark an offense into
gear. The Anaheim Angels stumbled across their Rally Monkey last year, and I've
come across Rally
Beers and Rally
Children in my time. You may think that stinky, beer-stained sweatshirt is
your Rally Totem, and if it's working for you, don't let anybody else tell you
So what have we
learned? Let us recap thusly: Tonight, two teams and two ace pitchers will
face off in the Bronx. The team whose Rally Totems are more powerful than
the opposition's or who can summon the Grim Forksman to claim the other's
starter will probably win, while the loser will earmark this one in the Big
Book of Bitter Defeats. Yankee fans hope Roger Clemens won't suffer through
a Granny Gooden night, and they may have to use the Power of Negative Reinforcement
if their bullpen becomes a factor. They're certainly hoping that Pedro Martinez's
meltdown in Game Three may be an indicator that his Chickens Have Rounded
Third. Those wishing further ill may hope that a Sox loss will preserve the
Fragile Equilibrium of Unhappiness that Boston fans know all too well. But
the game may be decided on the little things; even an RBI of Shame by a Futility
Infielder might put the deciding run on the scoreboard. One way or another,
we can bet that the Cliche Monkeys will be everywhere tonight, tomorrow,
and the rest of the postseason. Now go forth into the world armed with these
new terms and enjoy the ballgame!
When I'm right, I'm right. Game Seven was not only a classic ballgame, it was
also a fine illustration of this vocabulary in action. Aaron Boone's Get
Off My Property and Away From My Pennant home run off of Tim Wakefield
put this game into the Big Book of Bitter Defeats for the Red Sox and preserved
the Fragile Equilibrium of Unhappiness for an entire New England winter. Boston
manager Grady Little's stubborn refusal to go to his bullpen in favor of tiring
Pedro Martinez was straight from the Big Book of Bad Ideas, helping the Yanks
to overcome a Granny Gooden start from Roger Clemens. As for Pedro, his chickens
rounded third back in 2001 when he told reporters to wake up Babe Ruth so he could
him in the ass." I didn't invent the Curse of the Bambino, but
I do not doubt its existence in the least.