It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Yep, it’s baseball season.
If you took a survey to find out what people think the most exciting play in baseball is, I imagine a home run would be the winner. They might even specify a bases-loaded homer (what we experts call a “grand slam.” Sometimes you’ll hear someone call it a “grand salami.” If you do, pay no further attention to them).
Incidentally, the late George Scott—not the actor, but the power-hitting first baseman of the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers—is credited with coining the term “tater” for a home run in the late 1960s.
One theory of where that came from goes something like this: a batter hits a long home run, somebody says “He really mashed that one,” and someone else says, “Yep, like a tater.”
I hope that’s how it happened.
In my opinion, an inside-the-park home run is as thrilling as it gets.
Thrills aside, the plays I appreciate the most are those that are less exciting but no less important. They’re the ones that require the batter to give himself up: laying down a sacrifice bunt and hitting behind the runner.
Allow me to explain a sacrifice bunt.
Let’s say a runner is or runners are on first and/or second base with less than two outs. The batter squares around to bunt. That means he faces the pitcher while extending the bat over the plate. The idea is to let the ball hit the bat. The best bunts happen when the bat sort of receives the ball, almost gently. Ideally, the ball will then travel a short distance in front of the plate. The base runner has or the base runners have seen the third base coach’s bunt sign, so he knows or they know what’s coming and is or are ready to advance to the next base.
Here’s the important thing: the batter isn’t trying to get a hit. He’s just wants to get the runners to the next base, from where they are more likely to be able to score—thus into what we experts call “scoring position.”
It’s called a “sacrifice” bunt because the batter has sacrificed himself—he has intentionally made an out—in order to help the team. Baseball’s scoring rules acknowledge the value of the act by not considering an at-bat that results in a sacrifice bunt “official,” so it doesn’t hurt the hitter’s batting average.
Hitting behind the runner is even more sacrificial than a sacrifice bunt. Let me explain how that works.
Again, we have a runner or runners on base with less than two outs. The batter tries to hit the ball to the right side of the infield. He does this so the base runner(s) will have a better chance of advancing. He also does this knowing that he is more likely to be thrown out at first. This is considered a “productive out,” particularly if it gets a runner to third with one out, from where he might score in any number of ways.
Hitting behind the runner isn’t called a sacrifice, but it’s more sacrificial than a sacrifice bunt, because it counts as an official at-bat and thus the out hurts the hitter’s batting average.
When a batter successfully hits behind the runner and the camera follows him into the dugout, you’ll see other players congratulating him. The announcer will say, “The players know.”
Sometimes somebody around us hits a home run. They may even hit a grand slam. They may even hit an inside-the-park grand slam. When they do, they’ll get noticed. They’ll be praised.
And sometimes somebody just lays down a sacrifice bunt or hits behind the runner.
Pat them on the back. Shake their hand. Thank them.