The below photo shows Cuban national team catcher Ariel Pestano (with his Cuban League Villa Clara club at the time) in a rare bit of action in Havana last spring. Pestano is tagging out a pair of Industriales runners on the same play during the National Series championship finals. This is not an unprecedented event, having occurred several times in the majors – most notably a few decades back with hall-of-famer Charlton Fisk involved in the rare gambit in Yankee Stadium. But if this recent odd-ball Cuban League play is not altogether novel, how about the several events that follow below?
Baseball fans love brain-teasing trivia almost as much as they love hopeless annual also-rans like the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers. So in the true spirit of the upcoming SABR Day (Society for American Baseball Research) festivities being held around the country on January 29, I offer up the following collection of barroom conversation pieces – to stump your drinking buddies or entertain captive audiences. All these brainteasers (with one exception) are based on events that either actually happened (or at least are reported to have transpired) sometime in the recent or distant past of island baseball lore
1 – This question was recently posed on Cuban television and is merely a hypothetical scenario. But it could well happen even if it so far hasn’t. A game is tied in the late going and a relief pitcher is summoned to the mound to begin a new inning. The pitcher faces only three batters and he retires all three successfully. None of those three batters reaches base. The pitcher then is finished for the day, but when the contest ends he is properly credited as being the losing pitcher. How could this possibly happen?
2 – This second event reputedly happened in aCuban National Series game back in the seventies, although I have never been able to verify its actual occurrence or pin down a specific date or stadium. Again the game is tied in the late innings. The visiting team has mounted a threat and has the bases loaded and with none out. The subsequent batter then hits into a triple play to end the inning. But in the process the batter gets credit for driving home the game-winning run. How does this happen?
3 – A Cuban League batter once incredibly hit into an “official” inning-ending quadruple play. Yes, four outs were actually recorded in the official score book on this one play. Again, how in the world could that happen?
4 – At an international tournament in the late 1940s, a Mexican squad playing the Cubans reportedly had the bases loaded with two retired when the next batsman drew a base on balls and was thus awarded first base. But the inning ended with three Mexicans retired and no runs scored in the inning. How could this conceivably happen? (This incident has been reported in several sources but again I have been unable to uncover whether or not it is only apocryphal. Nevertheless, even it did not actually occur, it theoretically could have under the rules of baseball. So explain it.)
5 – I have saved the best for last. This one did indeed occur and I actually witnessed it in person. It remains the strangest moment in my own half-century of baseball watching. In a recent Cuban League playoff semifinal match staged in Pinar del Río, Habana Province mounted an early threat with one out and runners on first and third. Habana was already in the lead by a 4-0 count if memory serves me correctly. The next Habana Province batter then drove a blast that appeared to clear the fence in left field for a three-run homer. The extra umpire along the left field foul line raced into position and immediately waved his arm in the traditional home run signal. The runners circled the bases, but in the process the ball suddenly reappeared at the base of the wall in left center. A heated dispute obviously erupted between the Pinar manager and the umpiring crew, with the issue being whether the ball caromed back onto the field after striking something behind the wall (thus a home run), or perhaps whether the ball actually struck the top of the wall before re-entering play (a possible ground rule double?). At any rate, the three runners were already in the Habana dugout and three more runs were on the scoreboard. (By the way, the pitcher victimized by this strange “home run” was none other than current Washington Nationals hurler Yunieski Maya. Just an interesting footnote.)
Then the truly bizarre occurred. The umpiring crew chief decided to overrule the call earlier made by the left field umpire, thus nullifying the three-run homer. Only one run was credited, and one out was recorded on the play. What was the umpire’s ruling, why was it made, what basis does it have in the rule book, and who was ruled out??? That ought to keep you busy! (I will give a hint here. I wrote about this incident on this very blog several years back.)
Please don’t email me any answers. I must keep my email in-box free to receive all those daily missives from health care providers, insurance salesmen, angry South Florida readers of many of my recent www.BaseballdeCuba.com columns, and zealous Tea Party fundraisers.
I promise to post the answers to all these puzzles on Saturday, January 29, on the happy occasion of this year’s annual SABR Day celebratory festivities.
P.S. – There may not be much financial reward to be had or many worthless trinkets to consume at Cuban League games. There is no deafness-hastening rock music either. And there are no 22-story flashing video screens. Miraculously Cuban fans somehow find on-field baseball action alone to be entertainment enough. But I am indeed convinced (as perhaps the above oddities illustrate) that Cuban ballpark fans do indeed have much more fun.
From the pen of a writer the Wall Street Journal recently call either “an expert” or “a stooge”. Take your pick. And enjoy the current season. The long dull dry days of summer are only a few months down the road.