Best at-bat ever?

Around here, and around the Internet, all the news from Wednesday’s Cubs-Dodgers game was about Alex Cora’s at-bat.

For those of you who missed it, here’s the pitch-by-pitch.

Pitch 1 – Ball
Pitch 2 – Called Strike
Pitch 3 – Ball
Pitch 4 – Foul
Pitch 5 – Foul
Pitch 6 – Foul
Pitch 7 – Foul
Pitch 8 – Foul
Pitch 9 – Foul
Pitch 10 – Foul
Pitch 11 – Foul
Pitch 12 – Foul
Pitch 13 – Foul
Pitch 14 – Foul
Pitch 15 – Foul
Pitch 16 – Foul
Pitch 17 – Foul
Pitch 18 – Home run to right field. Jason Grabowski and Alex Cora score

Because I had just watched the Cardinals game and had to get up at 5:45 the next morning to get to work early, I went to bed just before that inning. Stacey came into the bedroom early in Cora’s at-bat to inform me that Cubs announcer Pat Hughes had said, “For those of you just returning from a brief vacation, Alex Cora is still at bat.”

Much later–or so it seemed to my sleep-addled brain–she returned to tell me that Cora had fouled off fourteen pitches. Soon after, she sadly delivered the news of his home run. But even though she’s a Matt Clement fan and was sad to see him lose the battle, she was willing to concede that it was pretty impressive.

Two other notes:

1. Is Matt Morris trying to take up Johnny Damon’s slack? Check out this photo. It’s not there yet, but he’s on his way to turning his hideous chin friend into a real beard.

2. The comment by Pat Hughes reminds me of two great baseball radio moments I’ve been meaning to share with you. One is a great bit of description by Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon. Describing Matt Morris pulling up short to stop at third base, he said, “He stopped so short that if he’d been a train, he would have jackknifed the last half-dozen cars.”

The second is from a discussion Ron Santo and Pat Hughes were having the other day at Wrigley. It was chilly and windy, but Pat, expecting better weather, had decided to have the crew take out the window panes that protect the announcers from the elements. Ron was on his case about it, complaining that after so many years at Wrigley, surely he knew better than to take out the windows in May. Pat peppered Ron with questions like, “So, Ron, would you say it’s a pain to have these windows out?” and “So, Ron, would you say that it’s an open-and-shut case?” Ron continued his rant, oblivious to the joking.

Original comments…

Levi: Baseball Prospectus has a good point about Damon’s beard: he missed a chance to raise much more money for charity. He should have set up two accounts, one for keeping the beard, one for shaving it, and asked for donations to each. The one with most donations decides the fate of the greatest beard of the decade.

stacey: levi, what is the point is saying i’m a matt clement fan without linking to a photo of him? he steals my heart with his super pitching, tall socks, and super cuteness!

Luke: The at-bat reminded me of Matt Williams’ great at-bat in the 1989 NLCS against the Cubs, although it was only eight foul balls. Here’s an interesting write-up about it (scroll down to “Foul ball!”).

“According to research by STATS Inc., each foul ball shifts the balance in favor of the batter. After Williams’s fifth foul, he was the favorite over Wilson. Why? Physically, the more pitches a batter sees, the better he can adjust to movement and velocity, and therefore time his swing. There is also the psychological toll on the pitcher to consider.”

There’s also some talk of the precision foul ball, like the scene in “The Natural” where Hobbs tries to snipe the photographer when he’s taking BP after his injury.

“The carefully aimed foul ball is a rare but potent weapon, as Richie Ashburn once discovered. The Phillies outfielder was one of the best ever at repeatedly fouling balls off to frustrate and overwork pitchers, skilled enough to lead the league four times in on-base percentage. There came a day, however, when one of Ashburn’s teammates called upon him to fine-tune his fouling skills. The teammate, who was angry at his wife, implored Ashburn to hit the ball at his wife, sitting in the left-field stands. Ashburn forgot about it until he happened to spray some fouls in that general area. When his teammate yelled from the bench, “two seats over, one row back and you’ve got her,” Ashburn hit the next ball elsewhere, drawing the line at assault.

“Ted Williams, in My Turn At Bat, confessed to an occasion when he didn’t draw such a line. Maddened by one of his chronic Fenway Park hecklers, Williams tried to hit the critic with a foul ball. Since the fan sat behind third base, Williams had to go literally out of his way in his attempt, eschewing his pull-hitting instincts to aim left for several swings. He didn’t hit his target, but he probably made his point.


“Any discussion of foul balls must celebrate Luke Appling, the Michelangelo of the mis-hit. Appling once deliberately fouled two dozen balls into the stands to get even with his own ballclub’s failure to provide free passes for a couple of his friends. Another time, he aimed at a peanut vendor who had laughed when a fan was struck by Appling’s previous foul. “I’ll fix him,” Appling declared, then nailed him in the head; the vendor had to be carried out.”

There are worse claims to fame than to be the “Michelangelo of the mis-hit.”

Steve: So…ah….um….ah….who …uh…will join me in my…uh…loathing of Ron Santo? It seems that…ah….just when I have enough ammo to spread my..uh… hatred (like when he irresponsibly crashed his car after suffering insulin shock, like when he was characterized as “despondent” after not getting into the hall of fame) he goes and becomes…um….ah…. a double amputee without a bladder. I feel like…um…Frank Grimes in that Simpsons episode. You know….the…um…the….um…the….only person I’m destroying with… hatred for Santo is myself. Um….Um….Worst color guy ever! All….ah…he’s good for is ….YESSS!!!!… rooting in the pressbox, kissing Sammy’s ass, (“just because Sammy has struck out seven times in a row, it doesn’t mean he’s not seeing the ball good.” He’s due.) wearing Pat Hughes out about his clothes and going on ad nauseum about the attendance quiz. But God forbid YOU rather than he make a joke about one of his three toupees. Pat Hughes is a Saint.

Levi: I’m not entirely sure I believe the Luke Appling story–two dozen fouls is more than I’ve ever heard of anybody hitting. But I could be wrong. To do that to demonstrate irritation is a pretty hilarious reason.

Every pitch of the Cora at-bat is at, so I got to see it. Three things stood out. First, Clement kept throwing the same pitch, to the same location, over and over. His location was right on, every time. Second, Cora hit all but one of his fouls to the first-base side, and they almost all looked very very similar. None was in the air, which made the home run seem even more surprising. And third, after a few pitches, Vin Scully was stuck saying, “And another foul.” Over and over again.

Levi: I love Santo, despite agreeing with nearly every word Steve says. Especially that Pat Hughes is a Saint.

Luke: I will! I will! As Levi and Stacey and Bob well know, I agree with nearly word Steve says, especially that Ron Santo is the worst color guy ever.

Bob can testify how I put my palms to my ears when, in the 9th inning of a close game, Ron has nothing to add but “Noooo!” and “Yesssss!” and “Ohhhhhh!” and “Heyyyyy!” My latest annoyance has been his tendency to start anecdotes with two outs, resulting in Pat having to say, “…. and Sammy Sosa strikes out to end the enning. We’ll hear the rest of Ron’s story about (nonsense unrelated to baseball) after this break.”

Come the Sox series, I’ll be listening to Ed and John over on AM 1000. Sometimes I even prefer to listen to the Sox game, so brilliant are Ed and John, and count on the occasional update to know how my Cubs are doing.

Steve: Amen to the Rooney and Farmer comment, but don’t you think Farmer is getting a little out there at times? Sometimes he gets this “know it all” air about him that makes him a bit pretentious. Iíve learned a lot about baseball from listening to those guys. They can make the AL fun. Back to Hughes and Santo: Here’s another one that might not actually have happened but might as well have.

Pat: Bases full of Cubs two outs
Ron: Uh…I..uh got a fax here from….uh….Beverly in Davenport Iowa. She loves the…uh…Cubs and wants to uh…wish…
Pat: Alou hits a drive…
Ron: Yes!!! Cmon! Yes!!
Pat: And Bonds squeezes it for out #3
Ron: No!!!!

Levi, why do you love Santo so much? Is it for the same reason every kid at the Special Olympics gets a medal? That’s what’s so frustrating about this hatred. No one will contradict my general assesment of the man, instead they just say stuff like “He’s a legend” or try to start some argument with me about Santo being in the Hall of Fame.

Levi: I will admit to being completely bowled over–robbed of my ability to think critically–by his resolute fandom, his Charlie-Brown-worthy yo-yoing between absurd, childlike hopefulness and Dostoevskian despair, and by his (apparently) complete lack of any pretension.

Plus, he should be in the Hall of Fame.

stacey: although i concede that ron santo is an absolutely horrid baseball announcer, i really do enjoy listening to ron and pat. it’s like hanging out with two great friends. one of them knows a lot about baseball, and the other one’s got a french-speaking canadian dog and a Really fat cat that exercises until it is sweaty in a giant hampster ball. and they both really love the cubs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *