A few weeks ago, members of the Pitcher List staff and I came together to draft our favorite parts of baseball, from home run robberies to fans catching foul balls with their children in hand. It was one of the most entertaining drafts I have ever been a part of, and I came away from it feeling extra grateful for all of the moments, large and small, that make baseball special. My final lineup skewed more towards the historical, which may not be for everyone, but I believe I came away with one of the more stacked rosters in the draft. Take a look at my selections below, and see for yourself.
1.1 Ballpark Sounds
With the first overall pick of the Best Things About Baseball Draft, I felt a lot of pressure to represent both myself and baseball well. After all, I had to pick out the single best aspect of the sport we all love, which is no easy feat, or at least, it shouldn’t have been. However, there was never a doubt in my mind about what I was going to select. Because it was the first overall pick and the best thing about baseball, I thought it deserved a little more pomp and circumstance, so I even had a prewritten monologue ready to go:
With the first overall pick of the Best Things About Baseball Draft, I’m selecting the sounds of the game.
They’re the sounds I hear in my head every night as I drift off to sleep.
The way that the dirt scrapes when a runner dives headfirst to barely beat out a tag to steal second base.
The roar of the crowd when the hometown legend walks to the plate for the final time in his career.
It’s the soft and familiar cadence of the man or woman in the booth rocking you to sleep every night as you hide under your covers, praying that your Mom doesn’t catch you staying up past your bedtime and that you can finish the game.
It’s that first pop of the glove each spring, that signifies a new day where anything is possible.
It’s the way a leather ball meeting a wooden bat can sound like a gunshot echoing across a forgotten Sandlot, forcing anyone passing by to stop in their tracks and pay attention.
Finally, it’s the family in Brooklyn crowding around their old radio to hear the crackling static of the final few outs of the World Series.
To me, the sounds are what makes this game great. Because it sounds like home.
I don’t think I can put it much better than that. I think baseball, more than any other sport, is rooted in its sounds. It’s the only game that sells an ambiance, and that’s why I think it deserves the top spot as the best thing about baseball.
2.8 Vin Scully
After taking the sounds of the game with the first overall selection, the no-brainer follow-up pick had to be Vin Scully. I considered Scully (like Griffey Jr. later in the draft) to be representative of all of the best broadcasters in the game, from Red Barber to Joe Davis. Along with the sounds of the ballpark, the voice of the men and women in the booth is the other half of the auditory marriage that makes this game so great.
Vin represents the best of that union, and listening to his stories about ballplayers of eras past was a key part of my childhood growing up. I can’t count how many times I was lulled to sleep by the gentle sounds of his voice as he waxed poetic about Willie Mays, or Jackie Robinson, or Sandy Koufax. To be honest, I’d listen to him read a calculus textbook.
His replacement in the booth, Joe Davis, is a different voice, but a young legend in his own right. Where Vin spun the legends of baseball’s history, Davis and his partner, Orel Hershiser, form a perfect duo that can break down advanced analytics in an easy-to-grasp way while continuing to deliver the personal narratives that make baseball so special.
A great broadcaster can feel like an extension of your own family, and whether you listen to Davis, Bennetti, Orsillo or another, they can make you feel right at home even when everything else seems to be falling apart.
For your enjoyment, here is one of my favorite Vin Scully tangents:
In retrospect, this is probably my first reach of the draft. That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t get a chance to talk about one of my favorite aspects of baseball: the knuckleball. The knuckler, along with other ‘junk’ pitches like the spitball (legalize it!), is one of the things that give baseball the character and mystique that I believe other sports lack.
For one, they have a long and storied history in the game: the outlaw Eddie Cicotte, of Black Sox infamy, is reported to have been the inventor of the modern knuckleball, though some credit it to Lew Moren all the way back in 1908. Despite increases in athleticism and velocity throughout baseball’s progression to the modern-day, the junkball has persisted. From the Niekro brothers in the 1970s and 1980s to R.A. Dickey‘s Cy Young season in 2012, the knuckleball has more or less survived, proving that you don’t need to throw 100 to get major league hitters out.
Even today, the junkball lives on in pitchers like Rich Hill and Zack Greinke‘s eephus pitch. It’s entirely antithetical to how baseball is currently played, and a link to the Wild West days of when pitchers doctored up the ball with tobacco juice and vaseline. It’s one of the many reasons why baseball’s history sets it apart from the other major league sports. Here’s hoping we see another knuckleballer in the major leagues soon.
To be honest, I think K-Struts were a bit of a steal at this point in the draft. While I had gotten sniped on bat flips earlier in the round (seriously, how could I let that happen?), K-Struts were still there, making this pick a no-brainer. Despite being the resident bat flip guy here at PL, I actually do prefer the pitching side of the game (blasphemy, I know), and feel that as a whole, K-Struts are one of the coolest celebrations on a baseball diamond. There are few things as satisfying as a swing and miss in today’s game, and so you have to strut your stuff when it’s looking filthy.
That said, I don’t think anyone has done it as well as Marcus Stroman. See for yourselves:
A good K-strut just oozes cool. And the shimmy? You didn’t have to do them like that Stro.
5.1 Pitchers Screaming After Ks
Along the same line of thinking, I absolutely love when pitchers leave it all on the field and unleash their emotions with each pitch. Whether it’s Clayton Kershaw screaming his head off at anything less than perfection, or Gerrit Cole dropping an F-bomb on a live microphone after carving up a hitter, sometimes baseball’s unscripted moments provide the greatest entertainment.
It’s a release of energy following a high-stress moment, and possibly one of the funniest parts of watching a game. It breaks up the grind of an at-bat when watching at home, and provides quick laughs when watching with a group. It’s also a testament to the laserlike focus of the pitchers on the mound, especially when they’re blowing off steam at an otherwise decent pitch that just missed their spot.
6.8 Stolen Bases
I’d argue the stolen base is probably the most exciting “routine” play in baseball. Which is bittersweet, seeing as it is quickly becoming less and less frequent with each passing year. While the rise of analytics has given us a lot of great new information and generally improved upon many aspects of the sport, some of the streamlining has led to the disappearance of such “small ball” plays, for better or for worse depending on your point of view.
While it may now be considered to be too much of a gamble to advance a base at the risk of giving up an out, stealing probably provides the most entertainment value for the relative cost.
When a runner breaks for second base, the entire crowd is frozen in a mix of fear and excitement as for a moment, they feel like the only ones seeing the chaos that is about to unfold. The defense is caught off-guard and sent into a panic as they scream at the pitcher to step off, or for the catcher to whip the ball across the field. Sometimes they can catch the would-be thief in a rundown, or maybe he just beats the throw down by a hair, diving around the tag. It’s a moment of pure pandemonium— a test of speed, precision, and the ability to keep one’s cool under pressure.
For some, base stealing transcends sport and becomes an art. It’s one thing to catch the pitcher napping, but another skill entirely to take the base when the entire stadium knows you’re running. Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock are two examples of serial larcenists that took multiple pickoff attempts as a challenge, a dare to swipe a bag when all eyes were on them as they danced back and forth in the basepath.
Then, there are those with more courage than sense. To steal home is quite possibly the stupidest, most exciting baseball play in the book. However, in a moment of desperation, it can be a game-changer. In a do-or-die scenario, a steal of home can shift the momentum of the game, and if successful, turn even the most inconsequential game into a memory the fans in the stands will never forget.
I still remember watching this unfold live, my scream caught in my throat as I tried to alert Kershaw through my TV screen. I remember Manny Margot sliding hard into the plate, just barely failing to avoid the tag by Barnes. No matter how this play unraveled, to try to steal home in the World Series was one of the wildest gambits I have ever seen attempted live on a baseball diamond. Few things will ever top that.
7.1 Baseball Names
Ice Box Chamberlain. Oyster Burns. Cannonball Titcomb.
They may not be household names to many, but they are downright bizarre player names, and part of baseball’s long and storied legacy of odd and excellent nicknames and monikers. Of course, many of these are from the very early days of baseball, when players still wore pressed collars and slid in dapper outfits that looked straight out of a silent film.
However, even today we see some truly fantastic baseball nicknames, from everyone’s favorite 2000s speedster, Coco Crisp, to the frolicking Whit Merrifield. These names may not always be at the top of the record books, but they give baseball the color and character that makes it unique.
Here are a few more of my favorites:
Oil Can Boyd, whose stunning sobriquet was sourced from a tall tale of him sneaking rotgut whiskey home in old oil cans to drink in his backyard shed as a kid in Mississippi.
The Only Nolan, a pitcher from the late 19th century who is alleged to have pitched a six-inning game without allowing so much as a foul ball. His nickname was supposedly derived from a common circus moniker, which the owner of his ballclub plastered all over town in an effort to drive more people to see his team.
Chicken Wolf, who once is purported to have eaten too much stewed chicken before a game, leaving him sluggish and contributing to multiple errors later that day. As his penance, his coach christened him “Chicken,” a nickname that stuck with him for the majority of his career. Only in baseball.
8.8 History/tradition of the game
As a student of baseball’s long and storied past, I had to cap off the Best Things About Baseball Draft with an all-encompassing selection of baseball’s century-plus history and traditions. Unlike the NBA (est. 1946) or the NFL (est. 1920), MLB has existed for over 150 years, dating all the way back to when Civil War veterans began playing a modified version of the English game of rounders. With that history has come generations of stories, thousands of players, and a record book that allows for the comparison of modern legends like Mike Trout with the great players of years past. It truly is a grand and masterful tapestry, that is added onto with each successive season.
In no other sport can you somewhat reliably compare the careers of players from 60 years ago to those of the modern era, and yet, because baseball has remained largely unchanged for much of its existence, you can make those generational connections between heroes like Sandy Koufax to their current-day counterparts like Clayton Kershaw.
It’s not a perfect history by any means, and baseball’s past of excluding Black and Brown players is one of the greatest injustices in sports. Recognizing the Negro Leagues as a major league is a step in the right direction, but the sport remains far from correcting those errors. To gloss over the many missteps of MLB would be doing those players, their families, and history a great disservice.
Still, it’s a game that has been passed down from grandparents and from mothers and fathers, and a game that I hope to pass on to my own kids someday. It’s a family tradition, and one that has persisted at times in spite of itself. The story of baseball is the story of America, and one that will hopefully endure for years to come.
Photos Wikimedia Commons/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)