Saturday, July 30, 2005

Take me out to the really weird ball game

Taiwan's got another game-fixing scandal going on in its professional baseball league -- a league that hasn't even finished recovering from its scandals of 1998. Now, I could write about how odd it is that the league has singled out foreign players as problematic when most of the names involved seem to be Taiwanese ones, but that speaks for itself. What I'm going to write about instead is the series of very unusual things I saw happen at a game I attended tonight. None of these unusual things, by the way, had anything to do with game-fixing.

The game in fact was very crisply played, and ended with a 2-1 score. The pitchers were doing their level best, and they're the only ones in position to reliably throw a game. The umpiring also appeared top-notch.

That said, I saw some things that were just jawdroppingly strange.

I saw a center fielder, during a conference on the mound, lie down on the field of play. He remained there for two to three minutes. He spent some of that time stretching, but the fact remains that he was lying down on the field of play. In the spirit of understatement, I'll simply note that I've never seen that in Major League Baseball.

I saw a groundskeeper abandon his rake during mid-game field maintenance. That's right, he just plain left his rake on the field. It was eventually picked up by the man operating the little buggy that smooths out the infield. But only after the rake had gotten run over.

I saw a pitching coach standing on the mound, watching critically, while a relief pitcher was going through his warm-up tosses. A pitching coach doing that in the States would probably find himself subject to vicious retribution of some kind.

Finally, on what was a difficult but probably makable play for a third baseman fielding a grounder, I saw a pitcher fail to get out of the line of the third baseman's throw to first. The third baseman was forced to throw high, and the ball sailed over the first baseman's head, and this "error" led to the winning run. A play like this isn't unheard-of -- anyone can make a mental mistake -- but the pitcher didn't even seem to be aware that he'd blundered.

Looking at the play cynically, of course, I could argue that it was on that very play that the pitcher threw the game -- that in the current environment of suspicion, he couldn't risk tossing gopher balls all game long, so he had to look for a chance to botch things in the field.

But I don't think I'll make that argument. A man doing something as mercenary as throwing a baseball game probably doesn't have the, what shall we call it -- the strength of character necessary to stand around nonchalantly with his back to a play and depend on a teammate not to throw a 70mph strike into his ear -- which is what the third baseman would have done if he'd innocently depended on the pitcher to do what he should have done.

Of course, this is the whole problem with game-fixing scandals -- there's no way of knowing for sure what's real and what isn't.

No comments: