- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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GUNSLINGER OF THE MONTH
No one knows how hard a human being is meant to throw a baseball. But in Philadelphia, people seem to be convinced they know exactly how hard one human is meant to throw a baseball.
That human is their new friendly neighborhood closer, Billy Wagner. And in theory, it ought to be a good thing that his new fans in his new town applaud his unique ability to propel a baseball 100 miles an hour.
Except that they've applied one slight stipulation to that applause:
In case that wasn't clear, we can sum up the crowd reaction to Wagner's appearances at Citizens Bank Park this season this way:
Fastball that hits 100 mph: Cheering, stomping, roaring, fainting, weeping with joy.
Fastball that commits the crime of traveling at "only" 97-99: Booing, hissing, moaning, rioting, calls to 911, thousands demanding their money back.
Now we're not sure what this reaction says about the state of civilization. Or the accuracy of ballpark radar-gun readings. Or the clearly demented citizenry of the Philadelphian metropolitan area.
But since it's our mission in life to chronicle baseball goofiness wherever it surfaces, Wild Pitches has been groping with just how to properly respond to the sight of people demanding that a guy throw a ball 100 miles an hour. So we did what we often do at times like this.
We asked this column's longtime MVP, Phillies outfield-quotesmith Doug Glanville, for a constructive suggestion.
"I think we should treat it like any other moving violation, to keep the Philly faithful happy," Glanville told Wild Pitches. "It will be the reverse of a speeding ticket, more like a `moving-too-slow' violation."
And how would we enforce that violation? Glanville suggests baseball should hire a highway patrol officer (or at least Erik Estrada) to visit the mound on a motorcycle and "arrest" Wagner every time he commits the crime of launching a pitch under 100 mph.
"Whenever Wagner throws a pitch below 100," Glanville suggested, "the officer then has to ride out to the mound -- maybe pop a wheelie for extra effect -- and write a citation."
(This just in from the Supreme Court: Glanville says this would not count as an official trip to the mound).
On one hand, this might run afoul of the speed-up-the-game authorities. On the other, it sure would be quality entertainment. And we wouldn't have to confine the fun to some occasional ticket-writing. Glanville also envisions a postgame Wagner extravaganza in which "everyone will join in on the festivities."
"We could have a post arrest jail-cam, lawyers and, since Court TV is having so much fun, we can cover his hearing," he proposed. "Maybe even have a special day when he is allowed to throw only 98 mph. Call it `Slow Day' or something like that."
Slow Day, naturally, would have to carry some other promotional benefits, to make sure that fans would stay with the program. We'd propose, say, cutting the price of hot dogs and cheesesteaks by two bucks when Wagner is in the game. That will either make the customers happy enough to avoid booing -- or distract them by sending them sprinting for the concession stands.
But those are just small-picture measures. In the big picture, Glanville said, there's no telling how much money everybody could rake in on this one simple idea, if marketed properly. For instance, he theorized, how about a 100-Or-Else video game?
"I envision a game where you have to throw 100 mph -- or face arrest," he said. "Then maybe, when the policeman is riding out to the mound, three times a game, you can have Hulk Hogan come out and defend Wagner. If Hulk Hogan doesn't float your boat, with the click of a button it could be Godzilla, Superman, Johnnie Cochran, Shaft, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
"Of course," he realized, "we may have some problems with licensing."
Aw, licensing, schmisensing. It's just more good old-fashioned (uh, make that new-fashioned) fun at the ballpark. And we're ready any time Erik Estrada is.
MAIN SQUEEZE OF THE MONTH
Maybe in most of America, they don't consider Billy Hall to be quite as historic a figure as, say, Abraham Lincoln. But here at Wild Pitches, we know better.
We're pretty sure nobody has ever had two back-to-back days on a baseball field to rival the two pulled off by Hall and those innovative Milwaukee Brewers on April 27 and 28.
In the first of those two games, they won a game in which they trailed three different times (including 8-6 in the bottom of the ninth), also blew a three-run lead, handed out nine walks and saw their opponents (the Reds) commit five errors.
And ... ohbytheway ... their swift-footed catcher, Chad Moeller, also happened to become the first Brewer ever to hit for the cycle in Milwaukee that day.
Moeller started the night three for his last 24. So naturally, he homered in the second inning, doubled in the fourth, tripled in the fifth and singled in the seventh. He just made one mistake:
He did this in the first season after the Brewers and Harley Davidson dissolved a long partnership that used to include offering a free motorcycle to any Brewer who hit for the cycle.
"They ought to give him something," Brewers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly told Wild Pitches. "At least give him a Schwinn or something."
Instead, though, all Moeller was offered was the chance to make the final out of what would have been a lousy game to lose. For all kinds of reasons. Not the least of which was that it would have broken a bizarre 17-game winning streak by teams that had a player hit for the cycle.
"Boy," Donnelly said, "we sure came close to screwing that up."
But instead, Moeller hit a ground ball to third base. Which Reds third baseman Brandon Larson fielded ... and threw away. Which kept this game alive. And set the stage for the first act in Billy Hall's march to history.
Act one was a walkoff, two-run, two-out homer off Danny Graves that seemed to be about as dramatic as wins ever get. Until the next night, that is.
In that game, the Brewers wrote an even crazier script -- by falling behind, 9-0.
Not to suggest that the odds weren't real hot that they were about to stampede back from 9-zip to win this game. But ...
"To be honest, half my family went to sleep," Donnelly admitted. "Even Scooter, my dog, went to bed. And my other dog, Salary Cap, went to bed. My wife went to bed. My son, Bubba, went to bed. They all apologized. I'm pretty sure about 4,000 of the 8,000 fans went to bed. I even thought I saw Bernie (Brewer) dozing off."
But the Brewers then jolted them back to life. By pulling to within 9-4 in the sixth. And 9-6 in the seventh. And then coming all the way back to 9-9 in the eighth.
Before this, the Brewers had never actually come from nine runs behind to win any game in their history. The Reds hadn't lost a game they led by nine runs since Sept. 28, 1930. And the last time Donnelly was on a team that trailed by nine (or more) and won, he was playing in the Steubenville, Ohio, Babe Ruth League.
"We were down, 11-1, to Bankers Life and came back and won," Donnelly reminisced. "Iron Head Cybulski doubled in the last two runs. I remember it well. I was on second base."
Well, Iron Head Cybulski wasn't available this night. But Billy Hall was. And in the 10th inning, one night after his dramatic walkoff homer, he laid down a game-winning, game-ending squeeze bunt.
From a walkoff to a squeeze-off. On back-to-back days. Who'd have thunk that?
"It's unbelievable," Hall said. "I've never done either. I've never had a walkoff home run or a walkoff squeeze, especially two nights in a row."
Then again, who the heck has? We asked two of our most loyal readers, Retrosheet's Dave Smith and SABR's David Vincent, to compare research projects on this. And after searching back 30 years, they found nobody who had ever had a walkoff and a squeeze-off in two straight games. (The closest, if you're interested, was Darren Bragg, who pulled off both a week apart for the 1999 Cardinals.)
So here's to Billy Hall, for his contribution to historic baseball multi-tasking.
"He's very versatile," said Donnelly. "Or, as Mickey Rivers used to say, he's ambidextrous."
BULB BASHER OF THE MONTH
Many players may grumble about the pictures of them that appear on those JumboTrons from coast to coast. Only Richie Sexson finally did something about it.
On April 26, just before he hurt his shoulder, the angular Arizona masher hit a home run that was well on its way to slamming off a cactus bush in Sedona until it collided with a giant likeness of Sexson's own head, way out there on the really, really big screen in deep, deep, seriously deep center field at the BOB.
We're not sure which facial feature Sexson was aiming for on that board. He was only able to hit his neck. But his teammates still theorize that his blast -- which the Diamondbacks estimated would have traveled 503 feet had that video board not been in the way -- was a clear indication Sexson wasn't happy with his picture.
"That one," Luis Gonzalez told Wild Pitches, "could have been an ugly-finder."
`Ugly-finder' must be one of those technical baseball terms we're not familiar with. But we're assuming it's some form of plastic-JumboTron-surgery.
Those JumboTrons do cost real American money, though. And manager Bob Brenly says he was told the bulbs Sexson busted would cost $350 to fix. Fortunately for Sexson, owner Jerry Colangelo "gave him a hall pass" on this bill, the manager reported. But Brenly is pretty sure that wouldn't have been necessary.
"I have a feeling," the manager chuckled, "that if he wants to keep breaking lights on the Jumbotron, our pitching staff would be glad to kick in a few bucks."
TUNDRA VS. TUNDRA-FEST OF THE MONTH
Hee Seop Choi faced Sun Woo Kim last month. You might have missed that. But it was believed to be the first time in major-league history that a Korean hitter faced a Korean pitcher. Remember, you heard it here first.
Well, we're sure that was big, big news in Kyung Buk. But it pales in comparison to the really historic mano a mano that took place April 11 at Fenway Park:
Versus Josh Phelps.
In what, we're pretty sure, was the first meeting ever between a hitter and pitcher who both, um, were born in that baseball hotbed known as ... Alaska.
All you need to know about Alaska's (ahem) pipeline to the big leagues is that the all-time leader in most hits by an Alaskan used to be Schilling (with a whopping 114). Until last year, that is. When (who else?) Phelps passed him.
That passing of the Alaskan baton was an event so monstrous in significance, it was actually missed by Schilling himself. But that, he told Wild Pitches, was only because he wasn't even aware Phelps was a fellow Alaskan until we informed him.
After allowing two hits to Phelps last month, though, Schilling said he could see that Phelps had "that certain something extra."
So now he knows just what the source was of that something extra (i.e., 20 years of grilled halibut). In fact, now you all know. But now we also know what a huge opportunity baseball missed.
It isn't every day two Alaskans square off -- well, when they're not on two dog sleds, anyway. So what should baseball have done to commemorate this historic event? Free tickets to the Iditarod? A tank full of king salmon?
Schilling's proposal: "Alaskan Tan Night."
All kinds of possibilities there, he said. How about everyone "with skin as pale as ours gets in free?" Or maybe "free spray-on tans as they enter the park?" Or even "a three-night stay at the igloo resort of their choice?"
"Or maybe," Schilling went on, "play the Alaska state song instead of the Canadian anthem?"
Or possibly, he ruminated, "they could make snow balls, and hand them out on Josh Phelps Night." But then he reconsidered. What, he worried, if "things go awry," and that snowball giveaway turns into a frosty version of Disco Demolition Night? No one wants to see what folks might do with those snowballs if they got riled.
Yep, if something like that went down, it could blemish the entire reputation of Alaskan big leaguers everywhere.
Both of them.
So in retrospect, that Alaskan Tan Night is sounding like a heck of an idea.
Only in Philly could a Billy Wagner 98-mph heater get booed. It's enough to bring Erik Estrada out of retirement.