Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Hardest Play in Baseball?

Ciao from Rome everybody. This will be one of the few times that I post during the next 4 months because I will be away from American sports. Nobody likes a guy who talks sports out of his ass, and I wouldn't feel comfortable discussing serious hot button issues such as the Great Verlander for MVP Debate of 2011*. But I do love writing for this blog, or writing in general, and sometimes you hear something, or see something, or even taste something that inspires you. Inspiration is a funny thing in that way, it hits you like a ton of bricks and you can't seem to shake the idea that has come to you.

*I don't think that Verlander should be the MVP. Cy Young undoubtedly, but I have trouble thinking somebody is the most valuable player in a league when they only affect their team once every 5 days or so.

So there I was, awake at 10:30 AM, watching a game recap of the Giants shutout loss to the Dodgers that had ended only a few hours prior. I don't know why I still care about a Giants team that has the worst 2nd half offense in almost 40 years. I guess thats the point of being a fan though. Loving and caring about a team through the good(last years world series championship) and the bad (2004-2009). So I cued up the recap, and right before the recap there was an advertisement as there usually is with these types of things. In the advertisement the TV in the background asks "What is the hardest play in baseball?" A mom wanders into the scene, nonchalantly states "The unassisted triple play" and goes about her business.

Boom, a ton of bricks. Really? The unassisted triple play? I've been rabidly caring about baseball since I was about 8 years old. I know all about the history, and the uniqueness, and the scarcity of it. There have been 15 unassisted triple plays in the history of baseball. The Cleveland Indians, for all of their years with no championship have seen 3 of them. The Chicago Cubs have seen more unassisted triple plays then championships in 100 years (1). The fact that this play happens less then "not very often" is not lost on me. But is it the hardest play? I dont think so.

There are many difficult things in baseball. It's a difficult sport to be good at. If you fail 7 out of 10 times you are one of the best players in the game. So therefore hitting by itself is pretty difficult. Theres the no-hitter and the perfect game. Very difficult by any standard, but there is so much riding on everybody else being good as well. If you strike out 26 batters and on the last batter of the game and the ball goes through your shortstops legs, the perfect game is lost. So much is riding on everybody doing everything they need to do perfectly for 27 outs in a row that it is one of the hardest things to do. For me, it's too team dependent of a feat, so its out.

I guess the one thing that I'm thinking of is the cycle. Its what I've been building up to all along. A personal feat that requires everything to go right. The cycle is similar to the Unassisted triple play in that sense, but I think it's in a different class. Major League Baseball has seen the cycle 276 times. A couple of players have done it twice, and less then that have done it three times. Either way, its happened a lot more (relatively) then the UATP. Heres what I think separates the cycle from the UATP: Speed and Power. Both feats you need luck, but the requirements for the Triple Play end abruptly at "luck". For the cycle, you need Speed and Power.

Home runs, singles and doubles are fairly easy to come by for a talented Major League player. That's not to minimize the difficulty of hitting them, but they happen way more often then triples. Triples are the key to the cycle, and hitting one when its your last leg of the cycle is like finding a Park Place sticker in McDonalds monopoly game when you already have Boardwalk*. Triples themselves rarely happen, and hitting a triple when you've already hit a single, double and homerun is incredibly unlikely.

*McDonalds gives out thousands of Boardwalk tokens every year, but only a few Park Places. That's how they keep you coming back for more, those sneaky bastards.

So that's my opinion on this matter. The unassisted triple play is the rarest of all plays, but probably not the hardest. The cycle requires things other then luck. And the perfect game is incredibly team dependent. What are your thoughts on the hardest feats in baseball?


Anonymous said...

stealing home is the hardest

Anonymous said...

I would argue that the cycle isn't a "play." I think stealing home or possibly an inside the park home run are the most difficult offensive plays. For defensive plays I would think it would be a triple play involving an outfielder or on a bunt maybe? I'm really not sure, but I do agree that unassisted triple play requires mostly luck and also the ability to catch a ball that the other team thinks is a hit which is probably within the skill set of most major league short stops and second basemen.

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