Saturday, February 24 , 2018, 5:20 pm | Fair 59º


Max McCumber: Time to Salute the Obscure in Sports

One doesn't need a Halloween costume to be acceptably obscure, this time of year or ever. Sometimes all that is necessary is a sports jersey. The same athletic costume worn performing a entirely different task than usual suffices.

Max McCumber
Max McCumber

Although its not their primary role, some standing 7 feet or taller on basketball courts have been fair outside shooters. Not Shaquille O'Neal, who could barely sink free throws. I seem to recall a game staged in New Jersey — well before the Nets moved over to Brooklyn, of which the visiting Los Angeles Lakers had all but clinched the victory. In the final minute or so, Shaq fired a shot from the three-point line. I remember broadcaster Chick Hearn half-jokingly saying, "OK, don't shoot the three, Shaq." Whether or not it was an airball has escaped me, but it didn't come close to a swish.

In high school, I threw the shot put and discus on the track team. Most of the throwing event participants are the slowest ones on the roster. As a joke, we sometimes held a throwers 4x100 relay at the end of meets. Vice-versa, a few wiry distance runners tried their hands at the throwing events at some dual meets.

Kids who pitch in Little League baseball are rarely restricted to such activity; it's customary for them to switch field positions. Not so at the big league level, where pitchers are now specialized down to starters, left-handed one-out, set-up and closers.

Which is why the sight of a position player on the mound in an MLB game is regarded as awkward and comical. It only happens if a team is on the losing end of a blowout score, say 16-1, and a prime opportunity to give the bullpen a rest. Then, or a seemingly never-ending affair that lasts 15-20 innings.

Had the marathon 18-inning Division Series game featuring the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals taken place in the regular season a few months prior, a position player would have been more likely to pitch. The Giants' Hunter Pence would be the most amusing one to assume this role. Considering how unorthodox his style of play is, Pence would probably have a herky jerky windup.

One of the most notable position players to record a pitching appearance has been Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs. On a few occasions, Boggs came in relief as a knuckleballer. His stuff may not have been on the same level as R.A. Dickey or the Niekro brothers, but he got the job done.

On the flip side, a pitcher is often the weakest offensive player in a big league lineup. Sure, I like the traditionalist argument against the designated hitter, as the National League lends itself more to strategic intrigue with double switches. Beyond that, though, it's more amusing to see a hurler at the plate with a goofy, upright stance.

In 1967, St. Louis Cardinals hurler Bob Gibson impressively hit a home run. It caught everyone by surprise. Yes, I'd rather see a pitcher bat than just another offensive weapon in the DH spot. However, I would prefer the American League keep the DH and it stay out of the National. This way, if a Junior Circuit pitcher ekes out a hit in an interleague or World Series game, it stands out as something the crowd least expects.

In the World Series this year, the Giants' Madison Bumgarner may not bat in a game if he's not due to start in San Francisco, but he's no slouch. If not for Clayton Kershaw. he would be a front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award. Bumgarner is not too bad of a hitter either, with four homers in the regular season.

The mere sight of the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs is surreal enough for someone my age. Since I was born the year after their last trip in 1985, it was something I had never been alive to see before their thrilling victory in the AL Wild Card Game. To me, its akin to the Chicago Cubs appearing in the Fall Classic.

Last but not least, yet another Derek Jeter salute, but I must mention the flip play. What he accomplished against the Oakland Athletics in the 2001 playoffs is an enduring piece of baseball lore due to its obscurity. When else has a shortstop nailed a runner at home from the first base line?

What if athletes were all automatons programmed to stay the same spot and perform the same function repeatedly? It sounds more like a science fiction premise than a sporting event. Sports would be deprived of too much character without breaks in routines.

— Max McCumber is a Santa Barbara resident.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >