We have started to do something kind of fun as a family — we have started reading plays together. Yeah, I know, that sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? Our first play was probably my favorite ever: 12 Angry Men. I have bored people to tears with long thoughts about 12 Angry Men — I love it completely. Each person in the family played three jurors. I cannot even begin to tell you how spectacular it was seeing our 9-year-old act out the role of Juror No. 7, the somewhat soulless salesman who just wants to get the verdict over with so he can go to a ballgame. It’s fair to say she got into her character.
Anyway, I think our next play will be “Inherit the Wind,” another favorite. I have quoted from Inherit the Wind often here, and there’s one passage in particular that I probably think about at least once a week. It Henry Drummond talking about the price of progress:
“Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. … Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’”
Every now and again, you read or hear something that calibrates your thinking. I can honestly say that before I read that quote, I had never thought about the hidden costs of technology. To me, technology was (and is) wonderful … I’m a gadget junkie. As you know, I’m an infomercial junkie. New stuff makes everything better in every way. Take air conditioning. What possible drawbacks could there be to air conditioning?
Only after thinking about it did I realize that there ARE costs to air conditioning — energy costs, environmental costs, air quality and so on. Perhaps most hidden there’s the cost of camaraderie and togetherness. People used to be outside so much more, and it led to neighbors talking and joking and sharing their lives because it was too hot to go in. We don’t do that now. Believe me, I’m not giving back air conditioning, but there is a tradeoff. That’s what the Drummond quote has made me think a lot about. The hidden tradeoffs.
Tuesday night, Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes made a throw for the ages. I’m sure you’ve seen it — but I’m also sure you want to see it again. Here it is:
If you watched it first on this video, like I did, there is a very clear order to your amazement. The first time around there is disbelief. You see Cespedes get to the bouncing ball, attempt to cut it off, and then watch as the ball rattles around in his glove and starts to roll toward the stands in left field. Before he gets to the ball again, the camera cuts to Howie Kendrick rounding third and heading for home. At that point, your brain flashes a clear image, a clear expectation — Kendrick will score easily, perhaps without a throw. Only in the next instant, the camera flips to the long angle, and you see the baseball flying almost directly over Kendrick’s head. The ball lands in catcher Derek Norris’ glove, he slaps on the tag, and, impossibly, Kendrick is out.
Impossible is the word.
Of course, the mind does not easily accept the impossible. It happened — it clearly was not impossible. So you watch the first replay. That shows Cespedes chasing the ball into the wall, picking it up cleanly with his bare hand and in one overpowering motion heaving the ball toward home plate. The throw is high but right on target, fiies into Norris’ glove and he makes the tag. Out. Is is not impossible. But it is still breathtaking.
The second replay is a close-up of Cespedes — you see the ball bouncing away from his glove and then you see how cleanly he is able to scoop up the ball with his throwing hand. The ball bounces low off the wall, kind of hops up and skips into his palm — there is no need for any adjustment before he threw it. He is able to just jump into his throw home, which is beautiful.
The third replay is from behind — it shows how high arcing Cespedes’s throw was. At it’s apex, it is probably 30 or 35 feet off the ground. It’s fascinating to watch Norris’ reaction as the ball approaches — there’s almost a casualness to the way he catches the ball. Is he trying to deke the runner? Is he in disbelief? He places the tag and then shows the glove and ball to the umpire, who immediately makes the out call.
The fourth replay is at the plate — it shows Norris making the tag. This angle is not all that great, actually; the first time I saw it I was not entire sure Norris got the tag down before Kendrick foot touched the plate. But the second time I could see, yeah, he gets Kendrick.
Then there is some footage of Cespedes pointing to a teammate, people talking (presumably about the throw), the replay officials in action and so on.
All of this was amazing — we live in an amazing and wonderful time of high-definition streaming video and a bunch of camera angles even of an A’s-Angels game in June. Every game is on television. Every game is on our devices. Every magical play can be broken down and watched again and again. It’s so great to be a sports fan in 2014. So what could we POSSIBLY be trading off?
* * *
Twenty-five years ago, almost to the day, the Kansas City Royals were playing in the Kingdome against the Seattle Mariners. Floyd Bannister started that game for the Royals, and he pitched seven superb innings. Kansas City led 3-0 going into the eighth. But to lead off the eighth, Bannister gave up a walk and a single — Jeff Montgomery came in for relief, gave up a single and a double and the score was 3-2 going into the ninth. In the ninth, Royals closer Steve Farr gave up a home run to Jay Buhner and the game went into extra innings.
That 1989 Royals team was actually quite good — they would win 90 games, the last Royals team to do so. That 1989 Mariners was not very good at all — they would lose 89 games. What they shared was this: Each team had a superstar player captured the nation’s imagination.
The 1989 Mariners featured a 19-year-old kid who could do everything on a baseball diamond — Ken Griffey Jr.
The 1989 Royals featured a 26-year-old man who could do everything on or off a baseball diamond — Bo Jackson.
Neither had played much of a role in the game. Griffey had struck out before the Buhner home run — he went 0-for-5. Jackson had singled in the first inning and then stolen second base, but he went hitless for there rest of the game. He struck out to end the top of the 10th. But Bo was about to announce his presence with authority.
In the bottom of the 10th, Seattle’s Dave Cochrane led off with a walk. The next batter was Harold Reynolds, and I can only guess that he missed a sac bunt attempt because Cochrane was thrown out stealing. The manager of that Mariners team was Jim Lefevre, father of current Royals announcer Ryan, and I’m going to guess he did not try to have Cochrane straight-steal that base. In more than 550 career plate appearances, Cochrane stole exactly one base in his career.
Anyway, there was one out, and Reynolds then grounded a ball through the hole between short and third for a single. Reynolds was fast. Two years earlier, he had led the American League with 60 stolen bases. In 1988, he led the league with 11 triples (and also 29 caught stealing). The guy could fly, and so when Scott Bradley ripped a double off the top of the wall in left field, there was absolutely no doubt Reynolds was going to score the winning run.
The Royals left fielder was Bo Jackson.
Here’s what we know: The ball bounced off the wall just as Reynolds was three or four steps away from third base. Jackson caught the ball near the warning track, he might even have been on the edge of it, and he fired the ball home. Reynolds was so sure he was going to score easily that he was surprised to see a teammate motioning for him to slide. Jackson’s throw went 340 or so feet in the air and smacked into the the glove of catcher Bob Boone who reached left and, impossibly, tagged Reynolds out at the plate.
Impossible is the word.
What followed is legend. Reynolds threw his helmet in an action between disgust and disbelief. Then, people began telling stories about the throw. Bob Boone admitted that he thought the game was over and he started walking off the field only to see this baseball flying at him at warp speed. Ryan Lefebvre, just a kid at that game, had also assumed it was over and had gone down into the clubhouse only to hear … silence. His father would call it a supernatural play.
“Now I’ve seen it all,” Bradley would say.
I always liked Bo Jackson’s description — he almost seemed to resent his ability to do remarkable things. “I just caught the ball and threw,” he said. “End of story. … It’s nothing to brag about. Don’t make a big issue out of it.”
My favorite image, though, is one told by my old friend Dick Kaegel, who was covering the game for the Kansas City Star. The game lasted 13 innings (the Royals eventually won 5-3). It ended at 11 p.m. in Seattle, 1 a.m. back home in Kansas City, and Kaegs went downstairs and into the Mariners clubhouse to get a quick reaction. The first thing he saw was Harold Reynolds watching the replay on television. There was only one replay available and only one. It was unclear and jumpy — it never showed Jackson getting to the ball or throwing it, it never showed Bob Boone catching it either, it never even showed that clear a picture of the tag — and so Reynolds just watched the play and rewound, watched the play again and rewound again, watched the play again and rewound again.
Harold Reynolds never was able to figure out what happened. I’ve talked about it with him: To this day, he doesn’t know what happened. The throw was impossible in 1989, and it is impossible 25 years later.
Maybe you don’t see this as a tradeoff at all, but it seems to me that this is a price of technology. Of course I wish there was high definition video of the Bo Jackson throw — like there is of the Cespedes throw — so that I could break it down, see how it happened, enjoy it again and again. But, perhaps even more, I’m glad there isn’t. I have unlocked the mysteries of Cespedes throw — we all have. It took five minutes. Meanwhile, I will think about the Bo Jackson throw every now and again for the rest of my life.