For the coming weeks, I am introducing columns that are going to make the reader think. These sporting dilemmas will provide that fork in the road where either direction makes sense, but which often caused some sort of controversy in the respective sport.
June 23, 2012. I was 19, barely scratching the beginning of my college undergrad back in California. During the summer, I ended up taking a job with the local minor league baseball team, the Modesto Nuts, in the High-A California League as their brand new bat boy.
This day felt like any other, and I arrived at the ballpark two hours before first pitch to prepare the dugouts for the game. Little did I know that I was going to be witnessing the longest baseball game of my life, and one that ended in a most peculiar way.
Facing the Stockton Ports for a weekend series, this felt like any of the typical games that I had worked over the past 2 months. Going into the 9th inning, Modesto was leading Stockton by two runs. After a single by Ports catcher Beau Taylor scored two runs, the score was tied 6-6. Extra innings had commenced, and I was on the edge of my seat preparing for the game to end at the crack of a bat.
But that didn’t come until 9 additional innings later.
Roughly around the 17th inning, a lot of discussion was going on with the Ports’ coaching staff. As Modesto came up to bat, Stockton’s interim manager, Todd Steverson, stood on the top step of the dugout and signaled Taylor, the catcher. The Ports intentionally walked the first batter.
But then Steverson signaled to his pitcher, normally a position player pressed into service on the mound due to the length of the game, to balk the runner all the way to third base. After that, the pitcher began to throw pitches down the middle. It really started to hit me — he is trying to throw the game to Modesto!
After one failed attempt, Steverson was able to accomplish that in the bottom of the 18th inning, sending the remaining fans home after a 5-hour game.
A couple of days later, as I was flipping through the television channels, I tuned into the MLB channel. All of a sudden, breaking news broke across the screen, and I saw Steverson’s name. The headline read, “Minor League Coach suspended for intentionally balking runners to end game.”
Steverson preceded this announcement by issuing a statement. The reasoning behind his actions were to protect his players. Between both teams, 15 pitchers were used in the game. Three of those pitchers were position players, as they needed to keep some of their bullpen for the next game, scheduled for early afternoon the next day. Steverson felt that the longer the game continued, the greater chance one of his players could be hurt.
California League President Charlie Blaney disagreed. He said Steverson’s actions had compromised the integrity of the game, and he banned Steverson from the dugout the rest of the season.
Since witnessing that game from the dugout, I really have felt conflicted about whether or not Steverson made the right call. As minor league baseball is meant for development of young players, MLB organizations’ main purpose is to get their top prospects through the system to play at the highest level they can. From that perspective, Steverson was justified.
However, intentionally throwing the game to accomplish that goal puts Steverson in the wrong. No matter how long the game might go, we can’t let what is in our control dictate the outcome of the game. So I do agree with Blaney that Steverson’s decision compromised the integrity of the sport, and his punishment was reasonable.
So what would you have done in Steverson’s position? I would love to hear your input! Send me an email with your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org.