Jim Leyland still hangs around, even though he does not manage anymore, and it's a good thing for all of us. The former major league skipper loves to tell stories and Leyland spun a doozy Monday in Detroit Tigers camp about a moment with the Pittsburgh Pirates he wished never happened.
This particular Leyland mistake came May 17, 1992, when the Pirates trailed the San Diego Padres by three runs with one out in the ninth inning. As reporter Chris Iott at MLive.com notes, you could look up the game at Baseball-Reference.com.
Tom Prince singled against Mike Maddux and closer Randy Myers came in to face pinch-hitter Gary Redus. For some reason, Prince — who came into the season with one stolen base in 84 career games — took off for second base on the first pitch. That reason was Leyland. He told MLive:
"Tom Prince was on first," Leyland said. "He was a slow catcher. We were behind about three runs late in the game and my steal sign that day was if I put my arm up on the back pad (behind the bench) in the dugout. I was looking at something on my thing and I put my arm up. I was looking at my lineup card or something. I looked up and the (expletive) took off.
"He did the right thing and he got thrown out by 20 feet, and we ended up losing by one run. We made a little comeback, and we ended up losing by one run."
The memory came to Leyland because of the mishap with signs made by new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus on Friday night. It happens to the best of them, even Leyland, who possibly will be put in the Hall of Fame someday.
"People make mistakes," Leyland said. "I see a misspelled word in the paper once in a while."
Possibly even on the interrnet.
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It's rarely attempted for several reasons, most of which are fairly obvious. For starters, it's simply not a natural movement for pitchers as they rarely, if ever, practice making pickoff throws to third base. The throw, in and of itself, is unnatural and awkward, because they're forced to hit a moving target at the bag. For third basemen, it's not a comfortable play either. They have enough to process with a runner at third just in terms of relaying signals and looking for a potential bunt. Now, they also have to think about covering the bag and being in position to receive the throw.
Honestly, it felt like a disaster waiting to happen when Ausmus introduced the drill, and on Friday night a perfect example of just how disastrous it can be played out when a little bit of miscommunication led to a game-ending balk in Detroit's 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees.
Yes, the dreaded walkoff balk, which isn't a first in baseball, but it's certainly a rarity. The most recent walkoff balk during the regular season came on June 17, 2011, when New York Mets reliever D.J. Carrasco balked home the winning run for the Atlanta Braves.
In that case, it was more of a traditional balk as Carrasco simply hesitated on the mound after becoming unsure of the pitch selection. The Tigers balk was a little more complex, and according to Ausmus, it's all his fault.
It wouldn't have been a big deal if the players were all on the same page. However, only pitcher Luis Marte read Ausmus' unintentional sign. Third baseman Francisco Martinez missed it and never made a move to the bag, so the balk was called when Marte threw the ball and it was determined Martinez was not within tagging distance of the runner. Sometimes you'll see that type of balk called at first base when the pitcher forgets they're not holding the runner. At third, though, rarely if ever do you see something like this, if only because that pickoff play was never in anyone's playbook until now.
The good news? It's only spring training. This is exactly what these exhibition games are for -- an opportunity to work out the kinks, try some new things and see what catches on.
The potential bad news? Given how emphatically Ausmus sold the play as a defensive weapon last month, he won't nix it based on one mistake in March. However, this should serve as a reminder of just how ambitious the play is and how important it will be for everybody to get on the same page before unveiling it in a game that counts.
Fantasy video on Yahoo Sports
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I answer some reader questions in 2014's first mailbag.
After the MLB Winter Meetings, I mildly checked out. Time to fully check back in and see where Brad Ausmus' first edition of the Detroit Tigers is heading with Opening Day getting closer all the time.
Can the Blue Jays do what they were supposed to in 2013? Will they even reach .500?
Tigers counting on Rondon to get key outs this season.
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