In Play, Et Cetera: Observation(s) of GameDay

“In play, run(s),” has been a common theme of Didi Gregorius’ at-bats over the last couple seasons. (via Keith Allison)

In play, no out

It is the top of the first inning of the Yankees-Rangers game on May 23, and slugger Aaron Judge has just put a ball In play against starter Doug Fister. The result: no out. Watching for updates, wondering about outcomes, I, a Rangers fan, wait in a weird suspension between partial knowledge and complete understanding, the gap that separates “uh-oh” from its contradictory descendants, “awwwwwwwwwwww, crap” and “phew!”

“Awwwwwwwwwwww, crap,” as any habitué of GameDay understands, is the typical response of anyone whose smartphone, laptop or tablet has just announced that the worst of all possible In play, no out outcomes has occurred, a “sharp line drive,” say, that placed a runner in scoring position. “Phew,” on the other hand, is the sound he makes upon learning that, among the same possible outcomes, this one is by far the least vexing. The “uh-oh” is softened, ex post facto, by a runner merely reaching first base.

Right now, in my own moment as an overly anxious fan, I continue staring at my iPhone as though it’s the baseball equivalent of the Delphic Oracle, a mystic instrument by which I might unravel the mysteries of the Pastime universe. As it stands, though, the space between updates is a space of unknowing, one whose volume is filled not with live images of the player calling time at second base but, instead, with the familiar typeface of that same old intelligence: In play, no out.

If baseball is a game of waiting — and it is — then following that game on GameDay is a waiting game like none other: a game of waiting on a game of waiting.

***

Slow to unfold but quick to engage, baseball is best witnessed from a really good seat in a really great park. The “rhythms” of the game, so often cited by the bards of the sport, are appreciated most keenly by those who enjoy the added benefits of the sun on their shoulders and a beer in their hands, one warm and the other cold.

Those “rhythms,” so distinct from the hurry-up tempos of basketball and the thumping beats of football, accommodate by necessity the spaces between the action. The time between innings … the pause between pitches … the strung-together moments when post-strikeout infielders go around the horn … each is a central component of the analog form of baseball, the one we grew up playing, the one without the stoppages and long delays. TV, of course, is also a good way to witness the game, but while the clarity of its up-close cameras and ohhhh-I-see-it-now replays can be an absolute joy to behold, it becomes a poor surrogate for the unbroken flow of the in-person, beer-in-the-hand, sun-on-the-shoulders experience. Yep, that slow-motion replay of the split-finger fastball is cool and all, but what you’re missing while you watch that decelerated spin rate is the pitcher wiping sweat.

The replay makes it modern. The sweat makes it timeless.

The most modern way to witness the game, perhaps, is by use of GameDay or software programs like it. GameDay, of course, is the MLB.com program that allows users to track any big league game with the sort of pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play scrutiny that leaves no informational stone unturned. Since its introduction in 2002, it’s evolved to include multicolor graphics that indicate pitch type and pitch angle. The “Feed” page provides additional info, like launch angle and batted-ball speed and distance. At its core, though, GameDay leans on a select few messages to usher a user through the game. Most vital are these, posted when a batter hits a pitch:

In play, out(s)

In play, no out

In play, run(s)

GameDay does make use of other play-by-play updates: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, stolen bases, caught stealings. But what distinguishes those notifications from their In play counterparts is the precision with which they’re delivered and the specificity with which they’re received. A whiff is a whiff, a walk a walk, but those In play updates are the cliffhangers of GameDay theater. They are the in-progress, wait-and-see interludes that turn Schrodinger’s Cat into Schrodinger’s Cry, an exclamation at once celebratory or sorrowful until such time that a great unveiling makes its singular meaning known. Yep, it’s either a crap! or a phew! — a nooooo! or a yesssss! — but at the In play moment it’s both.

Crowning the King of Baseball
Administrators of a venerable but little-known award have some work to do.

***

In play, run(s)

Aaron Judge, courtesy of an error by Jurickson Profar, is at first base. Well, he was. With Didi Gregorius facing Fister, GameDay has just announced that the Yanks plated one run and maybe two. But which is it? Is it a run, singular, or runs, plural? There’s a pretty big difference, but for now it’s Schrodinger’s Score. And so I wait.

This is how GameDay handles the fan. It holds him hostage to a moment that already happened, prisoner of a past he can’t yet see. Separated from his own eyewitness, he is subject to fragmentary info and at the mercy of a message as yet unrevealed. It is a truth made known, already, to a world he only partially inhabits, a place where others now cuss or high-five. And so I wait, on edge, for what to others is old news.

The anxiety is sourced by an odd anticipation, indeed, opposite the angst a fan might feel at the ballpark or in front of the TV. There, the eyewitness waits for what the natural order has arranged: the immediate future. He sees the home run reveal itself inch by inch, its culmination borne by all the moments that have lined up to precede it. By contrast, a GameDay watcher awaits the possibilities of the immediate past, a history, come what may, that already exacted the sweat of its actors. It’s like waiting for a fortune teller to tell you who won the 1988 World Series, or the Oracle to fill you in on who, exactly, killed Abel.

And so, as before, I conjure applicable scenarios in my baseball brain. Okay, Judge was on first, so it took AT LEAST a double to drive him home. Right? Ugh. But wait! Maybe he was running on the pitch, and Didi hit a soft liner, and Judge came around to score! Hey, it’s not THAT bad: one runner in, a man on first base….

The brain, in want of intelligence, will seek its own solutions.

The heart will turn on the space of a word.

Or maybe he homered. He probably homered. I bet he homered.

He homered. Per GameDay, he knocked it over the fence.

Premonitions are just surprises that you’ve already thought about.

***

Game Advisory

Mound Visit.

The top of the first inning has not yet ended, not yet coaxed the humane ministrations of baseball euthanasia, but already GameDay has delivered four words I really don’t want to read — not this early, not in this half inning.

A Game Advisory on GameDay is like a Weather Advisory on The Weather Channel. Just as the Weather Advisory is rarely an announcement of “72 and sunny, with a light breeze from the west,” the Game Advisory, when followed by Mound Visit, is rarely a declaration that things are peachy on the mound. Following Didi’s dinger, in sequential order, were these updates:

In play, no out

Ugh.

In play, no out

This is not going well.

In play, out(s)

We’re still in this thing!

In play, no out

Make it stop.

Ball In Dirt

Called Strike

Ball

Ball

Ball

Austin Romine walks.”

So if Austin Romine walks, that means….

Giancarlo Stanton scores. Aaron Hicks to third. Miguel Andujar to second.”

And so we come to the Mound Visit, a familiar pilgrimage whose visual details are lost to the GameDay observer but whose customary operations — the trot to the mound, the glove-over-face discussion, the pat on the rump — are as easily envisioned as the sweat on catcher Carlos Perez’s undershirt.

Indeed, while the GameDay watcher is blind to one-off outcomes, he is keen to actions so basic that they become a collection of pro-forma exercises: the trot around the bases, like Didi’s; the trot to first, like Romine’s, the trot to the mound, like Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail’s. Each is easy to see, even if you don’t see it.

On GameDay, blind spots are filled with a history of what’s been witnessed. Phone in hand, you don’t watch the game so much as see fragments of games that preceded it.

***

In play, xxx(s)

Do not adjust your screen. There is nothing wrong with your smartphone, laptop or tablet. The symbol xxx(s) is but a cheeky demonstration that the English language has sinned against GameDay users by toying with their sensitive baseball brains.

The word out, you see, has the same number of letters as the word run. And when the bases are loaded, with slugging rookie Gleyber Torres at the plate, well … it would be nice, at a glance, to distinguish a possible grand slam from a positive out.

This sort of uncertainty is a predictable product of a game gone portable, hand-held. Problems of reading comprehension are most acute, I submit, when the reader has placed his phone beside a very hot shower. A grannie and a groundout are among the most disparate outcomes a pitch could produce, but through the steam you see Schrodinger’s XXX(s).

***

In play, out(s)
The message, like All-U-Can-Eat, is mighty conditional.

Its meaning is wholly contingent on where you sit and how you see it.

Right now, in the bottom of the third inning, I’m sitting in a swivel chair and keeping up with a 4-0 game. I see it like this: Oy vey. The string of In play, out(s) has kept coming for my Rangers, one weak grounder and feeble dink after another. In fact, with two down, Yankees starter CC Sabathia has a no-hitter going. Just one more In play, out(s) and he’s through three, clean.

Of course, In play, out(s) came with a different implication in the top of the first, when, through the steam, I saw that Torres had indeed grounded out. A moment of hopelessness gave way to one of immediate hope, the one state of mind that keeps a fan in the game on GameDay. Now, with two down in the bottom of the third, Texas center fielder Delino DeShields has stepped to the plate.

Ball

Here we go.

Ball

It’s happening.

Ball

Rally!

Called Strike

Game over.

Called Strike

Everything is awful.

In play, out(s)

Aaaaaaaand there it is.

***

In play, run(s)

At the plate is, or was, Nomar Mazara. Per GameDay, the Rangers right fielder has just driven in a run, or runs, on a 79.4 mph slider from Sabathia.

CC’s no-no was already a no-go, you see, Shin-Soo Choo having spoiled it with a “single on a ground ball to center fielder Aaron Hicks.” Now I wait, once again, for intelligence that others have gathered. As ever, the brain makes use of this elastic interlude by concocting the likely scenarios.

Well, Choo is hardly a burner, so Mazara had to have hit at least a double, right? Sweet! Oh, but what if the outfielder hit the cut-off man, and he fired to second base to nail Mazara? Man, why do bad things always happen to me?

There’s a history here. Yesterday evening, I saw the cruelly equivocal nature of In play, run(s) play its horrible mind games in the worst way. I looked on as Mazara, with the bases loaded, produced an In play, run(s), and I waited … waited … waited, with the excitement of a lad at Christmas, for a Santa-like GameDay to deliver the exciting news of a grand slam. To the contrary, the Grinch-like GameDay delivered the less exciting news of a run-scoring groundout. Bah, and humbug.

Disappointments are only presumptions that get wickedly dashed.

Now, steeled for disappointment, I wait, captive of a past impending.

After a protracted pause, the update at last appears on the screen: “Nomar Mazara homers (11) on a line drive to right center field. Shin-Soo Choo scores.”

Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!

In an instant I realize that GameDay can make a game more thrilling, or, rather, a celebration more dramatic. Privy to analog baseball, the eyewitness watches the moment unfold from the crack of the bat through the inevitability of the arc. The GameDay watcher, by contrast, must bow to the messenger, like a high-school senior waiting … waiting … waiting to learn if he’s been accepted or merely wait-listed at Yale. At the ballpark or in the TV room, a celebration is softened, perhaps, by what seems its preordination, the steady evolution of the reason you have jumped from your seat. But when you hold the messenger in your hand, with all that digital oomph stored inside its unseen circuits, the updates come like combustion, and you erupt.

As for me, I erupt again, minutes later, when GameDay takes its own sweet time to inform me that In play, run(s) means Ronald Guzman has homered.

Jurickson Profar scores. Ryan Rua scores.”

Might I add that Ronald Guzman also scores.

***

Game Advisory

Mound Visit.

Moments after Guzman’s homer, the Game Advisory says it’s “72 and sunny, with a breeze blowing Rangers fly balls out of the yard,” basically. Nonpartisan in its programming, the Mound Visit has slanted toward Sabathia and his five earned runs in one half inning. Meanwhile, as the pitching coach pats CC on the rump, probably, I take a moment to check the details of Guzman’s blast. Of course, while checking, I don’t hear the comforting thrum the crowd, nor do I see festive shots of kids eating ice cream out of batting-helmet cups. I do see, though, that Guzman struck a ball exactly 100 miles per hour and 360 feet. Absent the steadier joys of analog baseball, there’s something to be said for a punctuating piece of digital data.

This emphasis on information, some have claimed, dehumanizes a very human game. Data, they say, comes at the expense of the in-space actions that produce it. One example is the strike-zone graphic on the GameDay page. In providing a visual representation of the path of each pitch through a nine-region grid, it endeavors to do the impossible: to plot a four-dimensional experience onto a two-dimensional space, but without the linear perspective or painterly shadings of, say, Picasso.

In that context it fails. Nothing is as beautiful, in baseball, as a cylindrical bat “squaring up” to a round ball and delivering an elegant arc above a distant fence, and no amount of graphical information can duplicate the ineffable proof of it. On the other hand, Picasso could have never made known that the old guitarist in The Old Guitarist hit a 78.6 mph slider in the inner bottom square for a 360-foot dinger.

***

Game Advisory

Mound Visit.

It is the top of the fifth inning, and the reason for Doug Brocail’s Mound Visit is not the sort you see in movies, when, in a familiar trope, the coach says to the pitcher, “So … where ya goin’ to dinner tonight? Me, I’m doin’ tacos.”

No, the reason is that, without even asking, the Evil Empire has sent a litany of In play, no out and In play, run(s) updates to my iPhone, and Doug Fister, bless him, needs to go eat some tacos or something. Having just yielded a go-ahead, three-run homer to Gleyber Torres, he’s gone. Arriving to the mound is reliever Tony Barnette, against whom Brett Gardner promptly doubles. Next, after the first pitch to Judge, comes this dread message: In play, run(s).

Please be a single. Please be a single. Please be….

Aaron Judge homers (13) on a fly ball to center field.”

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Don’t kill the messenger, they say, but I’m going to strangle my phone.

***

Called Strike

Suddenly, this whole affair seems a stupid formality, a required part of the curriculum designed to get us through the mandatory nine dumb innings. With the Rangers down 10-5 and headed toward certain Death Star doom, Shin-Soo Choo has just taken a CC Sabathia sinker for a called strike one.

I don’t know why I bother…

In play, no out

Oh! So you’re saying there’s a chance.

To the plate comes rookie Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

Called Strike

Oof.

Swinging Strike

Woof.

Foul

Face it, Isiah, you’re like the doomed wildebeest wriggling free from the cheetah.

Foul

The wildebeest is bloodied, hobbled, but the camera still rolls.

In play, run(s)

Wait. What … just … happened?

A triple has made it 10-6.

To the plate steps Nomar Mazara.

Foul

Hmmmmm.

Ball

Hmmmmm.

In play, run(s)

IS THIS REAL LIFE?

Game Advisory

Mound Visit.

The message, so wonderfully partisan, is so what you want to see.

***

In play, out(s)

With two on and two out in the fifth, Texas left fielder Ryan Rua has just delivered what I’ve taught myself to expect, what I’ve wielded as a hedge against despair. Still, the words In play, out(s) do deliver a sting, like the words “We regret to inform you….” And so the inning ends, with the home team down, 10-7.

In a modest way, though, GameDay has cushioned the blow. That is, I didn’t have to watch the .167-hitting Rua flail at a four-seamer on the inner edge. I simply learned about it, like I was learning about the actual wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

***

Swinging Strike

Down goes Austin Romine, to end the top of the sixth.

Per GameDay, the Yankees catcher swung at — and, more importantly, missed — a 69.3 mph change-up from reliever Alex Claudio.

It seems, at times, a zero-sum GameDay. What I gain in missing Rua’s flailing defeat, I lose in missing Claudio’s eccentric success. Soft-tossing to the extreme, he clings to the big leagues by his fingertips, from which those pitches tumble away from the bat.

You should see them.

***

Game Advisory

Mound Visit.

It is the bottom of the sixth inning, and with the bases loaded and one out, Yankees reliever David Robertson has just walked Kiner-Falefa to add to the Rangers’ run total. The score is now 10-8, in favor of New York. Presumably, the pitcher and pitching coach are discussing the next batter and not tonight’s dinner plans.

Up steps Mazara, with the bases still juiced.

Ball

Attaboy, Chill! (I call him Chill.)

Called Strike

Good job, Chillmeister. (It’s a term of endearment.) Pick your pitch.

Swinging Strike

I said YOUR pitch, Mazara, not HIS.

Ball In Dirt

He blocked it? Stupid Romine.

Swinging Strike

He missed it? Stupid Mazara. Glad I’m not watching.

Up steps Jurickson Profar, at the edge of all outcomes: two outs, bases loaded and the score 10-8. The first pitch, per GameDay, is a 92 mph cutter in the center square.

In play, run(s)

Please be plural. Please be plural. Please be….

What a game. I really need to watch. I can’t wait.


John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
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johnnypopsicles
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johnnypopsicles

As a Sox fan, GameDay and I suffered through Game 7 (8th inning) of the 2003 ALCS, but also the triumph of Game 7 of the ’04 ALCS. I know the ebb(s) and flow(s) of ‘In play, out(s)’ and ‘In play, run(s)’ and trying to guess the nature of the hit based on pitch type, pitch location, handedness of pitcher and batter, etc, while waiting for final confirmation. I’ve probably watched more GameDay than real baseball by a factor of 10:1, and it never gets easier.

LenFuego
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LenFuego
Isn’t it remarkable how maddening GameDay still is after a decade and a half? I, for one, do not find any charm in the waiting. At the very least, you would think it would be easy to get rid of the singular-plural issue. The data enterer knows how many runs and outs there have been when they make the “In play” entry. “In play, 1 run” and “In play, 2 outs” should be no-brainers to implement. Heck, “In play, 1 run, 1 out” should be too, for a play like a run-scoring ground out or a sacrifice fly. Imagine how… Read more »
Yehoshua Friedman
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Yehoshua Friedman

“In play, 1 run, 1 out” could also be a hit + an outfield assist or a throw back by the catcher to get the runner trying to take second or third after the run scored.

hopbitters
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hopbitters

Injury delay is one that kills me with lack of useful information. Did Billy Bob foul one off his pinky toe and he’s hopping around on one foot while the trainer rolls his eyes from the dugout or did the pitcher get a line drive to the temple and the stretcher is coming out? There’s a very uncomfortable range of possibility in there.

Also, I know you’re the antithesis of a Yankees fan, John, but you have to admit Didi is one cool cat.

John Autin
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John Autin
I enjoyed this. As a heavy user of GameDay, I offer a few more circumstances that make it uniquely … interesting: — On a “Swinging Strike” for strike 3, that moment’s doubt as to whether the out was recorded — especially if the graphic shows a pitch well out of the zone. When it comes with 2 out in the 9th and a key runner on 3rd base, time actually stops. — The gross oversimplification of describing each ball in play as being hit “to” a fielder. — The haphazard use of the word “sharply.” I’ve seen many bloopers called… Read more »
John Autin
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John Autin
As I write this on Saturday, 6/9, GameDay’s play-by-play of the ChiSox at BoSox has been stalled for over 5 minutes with J.D. Martinez batting, 2 on and no out in the home 1st. With a 2-1 count, we saw “In play, run(s),” on a pitch marked below the zone. But that pitch and result disappeared. A minute later, “In play, run(s)” again, with the pitch up in the strike zone, but again that vanished. Then nothing for minutes. (Same on ESPN, which seems to use the MLB feed.) On CBSSports.com, I learned the inning was over, with a run… Read more »
Da Bear
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Da Bear

At least home runs should be changed to the more accurate “Out of play, run(s)”. Except maybe if Billy Hamilton is batting and somehow manages to find a gap to record one of the ITP variety.

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Injury delay is one that kills me with lack of useful information. Did Billy Bob foul one off his pinky toe and he’s hopping around on one foot while the trainer rolls his eyes from the dugout or did the pitcher get a line drive to the temple and the stretcher is coming out? There’s a very uncomfortable range of possibility in there.