Oh, Those Bases on Balls!

Sometimes I’ll slap my forehead when I read about a ballgame that I’ve missed and easily could have watched. And then there are times I thank my lucky stars that the game slipped my mind.

The numbers say Sunday’s Yankee game was well qualified to fit the latter category, and the numbers don’t lie: ten Oriole pitchers (a major league record), 14 walks issued by the O’s staff, 17 Yanks left on base (four of them loaded), five minutes short of four hours, and a partridge in a pear tree. Dear Lord, thank you for sparing me from watching this, though you’ll excuse me for peeking at Gary Sheffield’s plate appearances (a game-tying single and two tiebreaking RBI, the last one a decisive homer in the ninth) in an MLB.tv clip.

I watched a lot of baseball with my late grandfather when I was young, and from those fond memories, I remember nothing so vividly as his refrain, “Oh, those bases on balls!” whenever a walk would come back to haunt a team. The phrase is one which my dad and my brother love to mimic as well, and it’s one small way we keep his memory alive. The phrase is most famous, perhaps, as the dying words of manager George Stallings, who piloted the Miracle Braves to a World Championship in 1914, having risen from the last place at 26-40 on the fourth of July. From The Baseball Library:

Stallings was extremely superstitious; scraps of paper or peanut shells around the dugout drove him to distraction. He hated bases on balls. An apocryphal story says that on his deathbed, he was asked what had caused his bad heart. Supposedly, he groaned, “Oh, those bases on balls!” and turned to the wall.

Even though Stallings also managed the Yankees (or actually the Highlanders) in 1909-1910, he had to be turning over in his grave on Sunday afternoon, and for that matter, the same could nearly be said of Oriole manager Lee Mazzilli, whose job is anything but secure. From a rooting standpoint, an ugly win is still a win, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend four hours watching it.

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