How inside-the-park homers can save us all
As you probably know, we here at the JPT have little use for some of the ancient ways of baseball scorekeeping. We do not believe that pitchers single-handedly win games. We do not think a batting average that simply pretends walks do not happen is as rigorous as it might be. We do not consider a player who protects a three-run lead in the ninth to be a savior, do not agree with the masses that a batter who drives in a run has done significantly more good than the runner he drives in, do not think a stolen base should be taken away from the runner simply because the defense was indifferent.
But perhaps our biggest beef with the way baseball has been scored involves that concept known as "errors."
Baseball is the only game in the world, I feel sure, where a scorekeeper determines the worthiness of a play before entering it into the record book. If a quarterback throws a bad pass that deflects off a defender's chest and bounces into the receiver's hand, it is considered a completed pass. Of course. By baseball scoring, it would be identified as a defensive error and marked in the quarterback's record as an INCOMPLETE pass.
If a hockey player cracks a slapshot from the blue line, and the goalie sees it clearly and reaches up his glove hand, and the puck deflects off the top of the glove and tumbles into the net, it is considered a goal. Of course. By baseball scoring, it would be marked as a goalie error and recorded in the winger's ledger as an empty shot on goal.
If a basketball player drives to the basket and scores because the whole defense he is facing falls asleep, nobody rotates, nobody even notices, and the coach is frantically calling timeout so he can go crazy on his guys, and Jeff Van Gundy is screaming "DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW TO PLAY DEFENSE?" it is still considered a basket. Of course. By baseball scoring, it would be marked a "Van Gundy," and recorded as an unearned bucket and marked as a missed shot for the player.
This is the lunacy of baseball errors and how we score them ... but, hey, we have been scoring baseball this way more or less since the dawn of time. A batter hits a ball and makes it to first base -- it is often called "a single" in baseball terminology. But If someone in the booth high above the field determines that a defender SHOULD have made the play the batter is recorded as out for the back of his baseball card. A batter hits a ball and makes it to third -- a triple, some might call it -- but someone in the booth high above the field believes that the defense should have stopped him at second, he is considered for all time to have hit a double.
It's dumb. But it's ours. To go back and re-record baseball history -- to rewrite all those hit records and eliminate earned runs and ERA from the books -- would not make many people happy. This is baseball. We have errors in it. We accept this the way we accept so many of the absurdities of this big and wonderful game.
Except, it seems, on inside-the-park home runs.
OK, let's break down this inside-the-park home run from Denard Span Saturday night. First inning, Giants-Phillies, couldn't be a more meaningless game (except NO Major League Baseball game is meaningless), Jerad Eichoff was pitching for the Phillies. Span led off the bottom of the first and on the first pitch, he hit a long fly ball to right field. Off the bat it looked like it would be an outside-the-park home run but instead, it hit the fence, maybe a foot from the top. It was a blast.
The ball then bounced off the fence, and Philly right fielder Cameron Perkins seemed in reasonable position to glove the rebound and hold Span to a double. But Perkins is 6-foot-5 and and a rookie and the ball dribbled beneath his glove and rolled away. Perkins chased after.
Cameron Perkins then kicked the ball.
I'll repeat myself in case that was unclear: Cameron Parkins then kicked the ball -- he kicked it with such force that the ball rocketed past Phillies center fielder Nick Williams, who had come over to help. Span kept running, of course, while Williams raced after the ball, retrieved it and threw it into the infield. By the time the ball had reached the infield, Span had scored.
It was ruled an inside-the-park home. By the rules and longstanding customs of baseball scorekeeping, that was ABSOLUTELY NOT a home run but it was because -- my theory anyway -- they're ALWAYS ruled inside-the-park homers.
See, few things in sports are more fun than inside-the-park home runs. Official scorers don't want to take them away. You can't blame them. Who wants to be the one to call that super-fun Span play a double and a two-base error?
Earlier the year, Joey Gallo hit this "inside-the-park" homer.
As I wrote at the time, on that play Blue Jays' left fielder Steve Pearce:
Misjudged how the ball was hit.
Lost it — perhaps in the lights.
Took a route so terrible that the ball ended up behind him.
Mistimed his leap or whatever that was.
Put his glove in the wrong place to actually catch the ball.
Went crashing into the wall and fell down.
The Perkins kick is even more egregious -- at least in the Pearce thing there is the long-held (and ridiculous) pretense that you don't call errors on outfielders who don't touch the ball. But there is no possible way, using the long-held logic by which baseball games have been scored, to call the Perkins play anything but an error. He KICKED THE BALL.
But they called it an inside-the-parker because they did.
And I couldn't be happier about it. That's really the point here. We can't get rid of the error; that would be a hugely unpopular move for baseball fans. But we can slowly, methodically, systematically stop using them. Sure, people will scream, "Where have the standards gone?" and "They never call error anymore!" and "Joe DiMaggio never threw to a wrong base!" But over time, we can just starve the error until it is no longer any sort of factor in the game.
But over time, we can just starve the error until it is no longer any sort of factor in the game.
Yes, the instinct to give guys inside-the-park homers even on obvious errors is a good one. Great things happen in sports on errors. Hanging curveballs lead to the most awesome home runs. Loose defense leads to the most spectacular soccer goals. One linebacker getting out of his lane leads to 75-yard touchdown runs. Turnovers turn into glorious fast breaks. A tennis serve that just misses its spot leads to extraordinary winners. One drops the left, the other delivers the devastating right cross.
These are the sports we love, it's about the give and take, the fall and rise, the mistake and the triumphant response. Denard Span hit a baseball well, and he kept running, and he scored. It's an inside-the-park home run.
Life is so much more fun this way.