The beautiful thing about baseball is there is no clock. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said it best, “In baseball, you can’t kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance.” There are no clocks counting down the end of a game, just the anticipation of the final out.
Baseball, and the lack of a clock, does from time to time does go a little crazy. The 26 inning marathon on May 1, 1920 between the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins ended in a 1-1 tie, called due to darkness. The 25 inning game on May 8 and 9, 1984 between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes. Newly elected Hall of Famer Harold Baines mercifully hit a walk off home run to give Chicago a 7-6 victory. A day at the ballpark is far from predictable.
Then there was the April 18, 1981 Triple A game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings. The longest game in professional baseball history and the subject of Dan Barry’s book, Bottom of the 33rd. The start of the game was delayed a half hour due to malfunctioning lights at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. The cold New England air and Easter church services the next morning kept many fans away, as paid attendance that fateful night did not total 2,000, yet many later claimed to have attended.
The game plotted along with Rochester leading 1-0 as the bottom of the 9th began. The Red Sox needed one run to force extra innings. Be careful what you wish for. Chico Walker scored on a Russ Laribee sac fly to left field, sending the game into the great unknown that is free baseball. Normally, extra inning games are quickly resolved allowing the fans and players go on about their lives. This game was different. What followed was a struggle for survival between two teams, a cold New England night, a missing page in the rule book, and a League President gone missing.
Even Pawtucket Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan was pleading for the game to be over. (Bottom of the 33rd/ Harper Collins)
I will stop here to not ruin the rest of the story. I can say Dan Barry’s writing is magnificent. Bottom of the 33rd reads like a radio broadcast. However, the book’s advantage over radio is Barry ability to take side trips about the people involved with the game. Humanizing those trapped in the game heightens the excitement of the story.
The account of the longest baseball game goes beyond the diamond and into the lives of the people. Two future Hall of Famer players, Wade Boggs for Pawtucket and Cal Ripken Jr. for Rochester, are well chronicled. However, the most poignant and painful parts of the book are the destinies of the players who never made it to the Majors.
Triple A is one step away from the top of the sport, yet many players never take that final step. They are so close to the summit, yet they continue to struggle to survive in the Minors. The life of a Minor League player is not glamorous. Long bus rides, cramped living and working conditions, a long season with few off days, low pay, and knowing your dream of playing in the Majors can disappear in a flash. Despite the long odds, every year players attempt to do the improbable and make it to the Majors. Their struggles were on full display that night in Pawtucket. Bottom of the 33rd is a microcosm of the cruelty that is baseball.
In the past week numerous players in Major League Baseball and in the minor leagues have not been offered a contract for the 2013 season. While not being tendered a contract can seem like riding through a desert for some players, for others it can create new opportunities. These players are usually not the Josh Hamilton’s or the Prince Fielder’s of the world, but they can be the key pieces of a team which help lead them to the playoffs. The blockbuster trades and the big free agent signings grab the headlines, but it is the lesser publicized signings that often play a major role in the success or failure of a Major league team.
The list of non-tendered players has plenty of solid Major League veterans on it, all of who are capable of helping teams win in 2013. Every player takes a different path once they reach the end of their contract. Let’s look at three: Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds.
Wil Nieves, C- Age: 35; 2012 with Rockies and Diamondbacks: BA .301, OBP .330, SLG .410; Career Average BA .229, OBP .274, SLG .301
Wil Nieves played for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondback in 2012. In 32 games he hit .301 and had a .987 Fielding Percentage; both respectable numbers in limited action. Nieves has been a backup catcher for the Padres, Yankees, Nationals, Brewers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks during his nine year career. His playing time has decreased as he has gotten into his thirties, but this does not mean his value to a team has decreased with it. His knowledge of the game and his ability to work with pitchers should enable him to remain on a Major League roster for a few more years. The number of catchers who have gone on to become Major League managers, 11 current managers were catchers, gives Nieves a blueprint to follow if he wants to manage.
Peter Moylan, RHP- Age: 33; 2012 with Braves: Innings 5.0, ERA 1.80; Career Average: Innings 260 2/3, ERA 2.59
Australian Peter Moylan established himself as an excellent relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves since he signed with them after the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In his three full seasons Moylan averaged 84 games, 75 1/3 innings pitched, 61 hits allowed, 59 strikeouts, 34 walks, and a 2.46 ERA. The numbers and his effectiveness for the Braves have never been questioned. The battles for Moylan have been with his own body. In 2008, he appeared in only seven games before having to have season ending Tommy John Surgery. In early 2011 Moylan underwent back surgery. After recovering, he pitched well in 13 games before needing to have rotator cuff and labrum surgery. So long as Moylan can remain healthy he will continue to provide tremendous relief for a Major League team. Most likely Moylan will sign a minor league contract with the Braves and report to the AAA Gwinnett Braves to begin the season. This would enable Atlanta to keep a deep bullpen if injuries arise during the season and to bolster it once rosters expand in September. Every team wants a Mariano Riveria, however closers would not get as many opportunities to save games if it was not for the middle relievers like Moylan bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer. These pitchers as critical to every teams’ ability to win games.
Mark Reynolds, 1B- Age: 29; 2012 with Orioles: BA .221, OBP .335, SLG.429; Career Average: BA .235, OBP .332, SLG .475
Mark Reynolds was non-tendered by the Baltimore Orioles after he hit .221 with 23 home runs and 69 RBI in 2012. The problem which the Orioles, and many other teams, have with Reynolds is his strikeout total. In 2012, he struck out 159 times which is his lowest total since his rookie season in 2007. Reynolds led the National League in strikeouts in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and the American League in 2011. In the four year time span between 2008 and 2011, Mark Reynolds had more strikeouts (834) than Barry Larkin (817), Lou Gehrig (790), Ralph Kiner (749), and Wade Boggs (745) did in each of their entire careers. Power hitters sell seats, but few people want to pay their money to see a hitter strike out during nearly a third of his at bats. As he ages, Reynolds needs to work on making more contact with the ball instead of swinging for the fences every time. Power hitters rarely grow old gracefully in the post steroid era, thus the one year contract Reynolds has signed with the Cleveland Indians should serve as a wake up call to work on building himself into an all-around hitter, not just a power hitter.
The plight of the non-tendered player is different for every player. Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds should all be on a Major League roster in 2013. Mark Reynolds is the only one of the three to have been signed by a team this off season. He has found his way out of the desert, although his one year contract may only serve as a brief oasis. Nieves and Moylan will each be an important part of the team they play for in 2013. Their signings will likely not elicit the media coverage that Josh Hamilton and BJ Upton did, but Nieves and Moylan will help their team win in 2013.