#534: Error on the Play

September 25th, 2015

Ring ring.

“Hi!”

“Hi… We’re still friends, right?”

“Yeeeeees?”

“The tickets were for last night’s game.”

Loud laughter.

Thanks to a wonderful Christmas gift from my sister, I’ve spent the last few months going to Cubs games. I shivered in spring, baked a bit in summer and had an amazing time following this don’t-jinx-it season.

The last game of the multi-game package was Wednesday, when the Cubs faced off against the Brewers in a match-up that wasn’t on Thursday after all.

A great summer capped by a season-ending error.

The plans for today’s essay, a meditation on the power of baseball to connect people (and a few timely rants about that terrible goddamn Jumbotron), had to be scrapped as well.

This led me to start thinking about errors and the Cubs, which led me to the world’s premier source for information you’re mildly interested in but not interested in enough to do real research on: Wikipedia.

Turns out Wrigley was the right place for this.

The error records for five of the seven positions in baseball (counting outfielders as one) belonged to players who spent all or part of their careers playing for the team that under various names (White Stockings, Colts, Orphans, Microbes) would eventually become the Cubs.

That’s Cap Anson for first basemen, Hippo Vaughn for pitchers, Dandelion Pfeffer for second basemen, Bad Bill Dahlen for shortstops and Piano Legs Gore for outfielders.

Technically, Piano Legs only holds the National League record for errors by an outfielder. The overall record is held by Tom “I Don’t Have An Awesome Old Timey Baseball Nickname” Brown, who switched between leagues in his 17-year career. I just really wanted to type “Piano Legs Gore.”

I guess were I to excuse myself for bungling both a great night out with a friend and a great gift from my sister, I could point out that Cap, Hippo, Dandelion, Bad Bill, Piano Legs — sweet god those names — were legends.

Cap Anson I knew was big, but the other surprised me. Hippo Vaughn held a hitless duel in 1917 that lasted nine innings. Dandelion batted in more than 1,000 runs in the 1880s and 1890s. Bad Bill hit over .350 twice for the Cubs (then Colts).

And Piano Legs’ record of seven stolen bases in one game in 1881 has been matched once, but never bested.

They made errors because they got in there every time. They were the best, so they screwed up the most.

An article I found on baseball statistics explained it in the best possible way.

“The easiest way not to make an error is to be too slow to reach the ball in the first place.”

So although my sister is going to be a little hurt I screwed up her present and I have a round of teasing ahead of me from my friend (It’s OK. She and her boyfriend got an impromptu date night out of it.) I’m not going to kick myself too much for this.

I had a thoughtful, wonderful gift from a beloved family member. I had people I care about who shared or would have shared each game with me. I cheered and yelled and sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” from those two wonderful seats time and time again.

I had a fantastic season, even with the E.

Give me an old timey baseball nickname (I’m leaning toward “Rotary Engine” or “Toothbrush”) and, after this season, I’ll still feel like one of the greats.

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Childhood memories of Wrigley (and not actually liking sports that much)

An old man who rides his bike to games

The crowd after the Cubs

On Ernie Banks

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