Of Pitching and Poetry

Quiz in the Hall / Quiz Warms Up, by Jim McTaggart

I love watching how people throw a baseball.

When I go to games, I study pitchers warming-up in the outfield and in the bullpen. In between innings, I find my eyes drawn to the infielders and outfielders making throws and try my best not to be jealous of the ball boy playing catch with the corner outfielder. (I figure this is the only conceivable way I’ll ever play catch with Alex Gordon.) I get a kick watching umpires, while wearing all of their cumbersome protective gear, throw a new baseball to the pitcher.

Throwing a baseball is poetry.

I have no idea how Carter Capps learned to hop and throw. I’m not exactly sure it’s legal, but it sure is mesmerizing to watch.

Hunter Pence’s unorthodox mechanics are a result of Scheuermann’s Disease which affects the flexibility in his spine, but not the strength of his arm.

Infielders and their sidearm flings or jump-throws across the diamonds. Poetry. Catchers throwing laser strikes to second from their knees. Poetry. Outfielders winding up to throw 300-plus foot bombs to double a runner off of first base. Poetry.

I miss watching Dan Quisenberry pitch. Quiz was the submarine reliever for the Royals in the mid-80s who jokingly confessed that he found “a delivery in my flaw.” He never threw a 100-mph fastball and was a poet both on and off the mound. His success came via double-play inducing sinkers and a wholehearted trust in who he was and what he could do. He didn’t try to throw like Nolan Ryan; he tried to be the best Dan Quisenberry.

When I played wiffle ball with my best friend Brian in his backyard, I pretended I was Dan Quisenberry. A submarine delivery with a wiffle ball led to pitches that would break feet. I remember aiming behind Brian’s back, hoping the ball would still catch the outside corner of the strike zone.

I found a couple pictures of Quiz when I visited the Hall of Fame and was glad to find him there. I am convinced that he deserves a plaque. (Joe Posnanski has done the research and written about it multiple times as has Bill James who said that no pitcher ever made fewer mistakes than Quiz.)

Professional baseball seems obsessed with throwing the ball harder and harder and harder. I confess, it is pretty exciting to see a radar gun light up with 100+ mph pitches, hearing the catcher’s mitt explode with power. But I miss the pitching poets, those who exposed their souls and creativity on the mound and in life, tempting hitters to swing from their heals only to softly dribble a ground ball to second or weakly fly out to center.

In this power-obsessed world of efficiency and profit, I am grateful for and challenged by friends who live their lives as a poem, peeling back the masks and muscles and bravely laying bare souls and a trusting creativity in what it looks like to be simply and beautifully human.

Quiz

He pitches

poetry

flawfully, fearfully flung not-so-fastballs

delivered with self-doubt

humbling, humored self-awareness

praying for ground balls

to find friends and fielders

inning-ending double plays

three-inning saves.

Quiz’s quirks earned

a World Series ring

and statistical perfection

“never a pitcher

made fewer mistakes.”