Last week, many of us gathered with our families to eat unhealthy amounts of food and discuss the most important political, social, and sports-related issues of the day. These gatherings tend to be sufficiently large to necessitate the introduction of a second table where it is traditional to stash the second-class citizens of our families, i.e. children, who are incapable of participating in such heady, reasoned discussion as that which engulfs the premier, adult table.
As adults, we often yearn for times when life was simpler. As children, we didn't care about what affect refugees might have on the moral fabric of our nation, how Sam Hinkie is undermining the very testosterone-driven competitive nature sport is founded up on, or the relative merits of each guest's side-dish contribution to the table. Back then, life was simple. All we wanted to do was chase a baseball around the diamond and throw it wherever we chose, regardless of context.
This edition of Breaking the Show, our infrequently-occurring spin-off on Jon Bois' Breaking Madden series, pays homage to the kids' table and days when life was as simple, or as inexplicably complicated, as hitting the cut-off man.
A primary, if not the distinctive characteristic of little league baseball is the inability of anyone on the field to make competent defensive plays on the baseball. On one of my little league teams, we had a kid called Mark. Mark was not good at baseball, even by the standards of our middling team. But, one game, by the grace of the baseball gods, Mark got a moment in glory. He hit a routine grounder to the first baseman that went through his legs. When the right fielder didn't realize that baseball was being played Mark took off for second. The right fielder, in his self-inflicted hurried attempt to redeem himself, overthrew second base sending the ball into left field foul territory. Mark, who didn't know how to slide, was rounding third by the time the left fielder got to the ball. Not the fleetest of foot, Mark could easily have been thrown out at the plate with any throw that was not purely terrible. But, you know how this ends. The throw was downright incompetent and Mark scored on the little leaguest of little league home runs.
I never hit a home run and I was better than Mark. I hated Mark. Everyone hated Mark. Little League Baseball, however, loved Mark on this day.
Slow dribblers that go between the first baseman's legs because he failed to sully his glove in the sweat-drenched infield dirt. Throws to parents in the bleachers. A helpless right fielder hitting the deck, hands protecting his head from the ball that is sure to concuss him only to later find out it landed 10 feet to his left. The thankless plight of the cut-off man, frantically waving his arms and shouting with no realistic expectations that he will ever come close to touching the baseball. This is little league baseball and little league baseball is all of these things.
It's beautiful, in a way, if you think about it. After displaying such purity of ineptitude, any self-respecting adult would pack his bags and leave town, or, at least, run off the field and curl up in a ball in the darkest corner of the dugout, underneath the bench with the slobberiest ball of discarded bubble gum. But those kids: They keep on keeping. Moreover, after the game, they run to their parents with a glow in their eyes after a perceived job well-done. Would that they never change.
In this edition of Breaking the Show, grown men are going to be burdened with the fielding chops of your local little league baseball team. We're not talking Taney Dragons here. These players will be cut from the same cloth as those who allowed Mark to achieve glory.
As best I can tell, players have four attributes that directly affect their fielding in MLB 15: The Show: Arm Strength, Arm Accuracy, Reaction, and Fielding Ability. Catchers have a fifth fielding-related attribute: Blocking. I lowered all four/five of these attributes to 0 for every player, including pitchers, on the two teams selected to play in this game. If the rating system is to be believed, these 50 men will field at a level that MLB 15: The Show considers the baseline for human existence. No other attributes--Speed, Hitting, Pitching--were changed.
I selected the Royals and the Phillies to participate in this game. I picked the Phillies because The Good Phight is my platform for presenting these games to the world. The Royals got the nod for a couple reasons. First, they are by far the most strikeout averse team in the league. More balls in play in this experiment means more opportunities for fun. Second, they are recognized as an above-average if not elite defensive team. These ratings adjustments are an opportunity to take them down a notch. Humility isn't such a bad thing for recent World Series Champions.
With sides declared, then, let's head out to the field.
This game was played with the most recent rosters available in MLB 15: The Show, so the starting lineups looked like so:
For all the build-up, this game started quite normally. After Alcides Escobar led off with a double to the right field corner, Ben Zobrist grounded out to Maikel Franco, Lorenzo Cain struck out, and Eric Hosmer flew out to Cody Asche in left. While the throws were weak and the routes circuitous, there was nothing to indicate we had done anything morally unjust toward these baseball players.
The bottom half of the inning offered only a slight glimpse of the dastardly manipulations that lurked beneath the surface. After an Odubel Herrera walk and a couple harmless infield groundouts, Salvador Perez offered the first glimpse into the depths we were about to enter.
These things happen. Perez and Johnny Cueto have not had the smoothest of acclimations to each other, so getting tied up on something as simple as a high fastball cannot be completely unexpected. Perez is clearly frustrated by this particular exchange, but there are no signs that this is anything out of the ordinary.
While consecutive doubles from Aaron Altherr and Ryan Howard gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead before Cody Asche flew out to end the inning, it is prudent at this point to chalk this up as simple bad luck and not the result of a meddling blogger.
Like the first inning, the second began innocuously. Mike Moustakas led off the inning with a dinger to left, which, really, misses the point of this entire experiment. We want the defense to try to do things, Mike. It is very rude to get a run without allowing the weakened defensive abilities of your opponents be a factor. Alex Gordon followed with a single to left and advanced to third on a stolen base and an Alex Rios groundout. Johnny Cueto came up and smoked a line drive to right center which was sure to score a run, but:
Hey! That's not supposed to happen. Herrera's reaction does not look like a 0. Diving catches, presumably, are outside the capabilities of players with 0 fielding ability. What is this? Why is this? How is this? To paraphrase Nietzsche: Ratings of zero are something that shall be overcome All ratings have created something beyond themselves. What is the ape to a man? A painful embarrassment. Odubel Herrera is a man in that he overcomes himself.
Fortunately for the purposes of entertainment, that was to be the end of any and all overcomings. In the bottom half of the inning, after a Carlos Ruiz single and two weak infield popups from Andres Blanco and Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, the overman, exposed the Royals defenders for the apes that they were altered to be.
There's a lot going on here, as is typical of a little league-style inside the parker, but I want to focus on only a couple aspects. First, look at how far Cain's zeroed out arm strength forces Escobar into the outfield for the cutoff. I mean, he fields the throw some 300 feet from home plate. What's even the point of trying at this point with at least one additional cutoff man needed to get the ball to home to catch Herrera? Second, Eric Hosmer ends up trying to corral that second throw out near shortstop. But, instead of catching the ball, the ball sails right through his glove and dribbles to around the pitchers' mound. Our first taste of little league play!
With that display, the floodgates were officially opened. Sensing an onset of the yips, Alcides Escobar led off the top of the third with a bunt attempt. His senses were spot on.
What followed was a complete disaster for the Phillies. The Royals put 7 runs on them in the inning to turn a 1-4 deficit into a 8-4 lead. Disappointingly for our purposes, little of this was the direct result of comical defensive miscues. Sure, Ryan Howard drew Freddy Galvis off second on an attempt to turn a double play and there was another passed ball, but these are relatively common occurrences. The Phillies are bad, but we didn't need to go through all this trouble to conclude that.
Starter Aaron Nola did not survive this particular inning and was pulled for David Buchanan.
After a one-two-three top half of the inning, the Phillies attempted to make some faint murmurs in the bottom of the fourth. Still down 8-4, the Phillies managed to load the bases with two outs after Freddy Galvis put enough English on a ball to confuse Ben Zobrist.
This, the first, and only, error officially recorded against the Kansas City Royals in this particular contest sent Ned Yost into such a fury that even Larry Bowa would be ashamed of it.
His fire and determination clearly quickly manifested in the play of his team as they got Maikel Franco to pop up to end the inning with the lead intact.
Jerome Williams came on for the Phillies to keep the deficit manageable, but, being Jerome Williams, he failed in this task. He gave up a leadoff double to Sal Perez and the Royals were able to bring him around to score to stretch the lead to 9-4.
The Phillies did muster a run, their last of the game, in support of Williams in the bottom of the inning. After Aaron Altherr tripled to lead off the inning, Sal Perez issued his second passed ball of the game, yet again on what appeared to be a fairly benign pitch from Johnny Cueto, to give the Phillies a mercy run.
6th - 8th Innings
Our little league fielders certainly hit their stride a bit after the 5th inning. Maybe they were seeing the ball better, or their coaches gave some sage advice on the order of "watch the ball into your glove," or "make the easy play," or "don't drop the fucking ball or we're not going down the street for water ice after the game." Whatever it was, it worked as the players showed remarkable competence for the better part of three innings.
One minor glitch in this narrative came in the top half of the sixth. Escobar led off with a routine grounder to right field that should have been a single. But, now in his 4th at bat of the game, he saw first base as merely a mile marker on the highway to second base. No one with non-existent arm strength and arm accuracy was going to get him out at second. So he took second.
Ben Zobrist then followed with a routine fly out that forced Cody Asche to run slightly backwards to track it down in left center. Escobar, already identified as not being one to stop at a base unless absolutely necessary, decided this was his chance to score. And score he did as Freddy Galvis eephused the throw to the plate.
Even our boy Mark from the intro could have scored on that weak-ass throw!
At this point, the game is over. I didn't bother to tell you too much about it because the details were boring, but the Royals entered the 9th securely up 11-5. Insurance runs are never a bad thing though, so the Royals saw fit to add on to their lead. After Eric Hosmer led off with a single and advanced on a fielder's choice, Alex Gordon grounded to Ryan Howard.
However, Howard booted that grounder into foul territory, but recovered the ball in time to potentially make a play at first. Unfortunately, though, Howard confused first base for a basketball hoop and the foul line for the three point arc.
Downtown Ryan Howard made the three pointer in that Jeanmar Gomez caught it on the bag, but he did not make the out. Not even close. Howard's triple, instead, set up Alex Rios to knock in Hosmer from third in the next at bat to end the scoring at 12-5.
Unlike the Madden video games that Jon Bois manipulates with startling aplomb, MLB: The Show offers limited player ratings to alter for the purposes of transforming baseball into a completely unrecognizable sort of game. Credit to the developers of the show for making their product more resistant to the sort of shenanigans their Madden counterparts allow, but, as a result, we all suffer.
Despite all the players on the field having no discernible fielding abilities, only four errors were officially recorded in this game. And while many blunders went unrecognized by the virtual ledger of the official scorers, the game, with a final score of 12-5 still very much resembled a real game of professional baseball.
Perhaps more tweaks are to be found that will turn the baseball featured in this particular title on its proverbial head, but for now, we must conclude that the beauty of MLB: The Show resides in its simplicity.