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As this series of blog posts about baseball’s dumbest plays shows, it is not just about dusting off the archives of baseball’s long history. If you watch enough games it is only a matter of time before you encounter a head-scratchingly dumb bit of baserunning or an inexplicable bit of misjudgement in the field.
In fact, it was only last year that we witnessed what some observers have called the dumbest play in major league history. This video speaks for itself. Stay tuned for the reaction of the Cubs bench after the play.
It was the top of the third inning. The visiting Cubs had a 1-0 lead with a runner on second with two outs when Javy Baez hit the fateful ground ball to third. The Cubs would go on to win the game 5-3. One could make the case that this was a harbinger of what was to come for the Pittsburghers who would end up being one of only two National League teams to lose 100 games and finished dead last in the National League Central Division.
Writing in Golf Digest (off all places), Alex Myers offered this assessment: “Will (Craig) was responsible for the dumbest play in Major League Baseball history. This is not an exaggeration. You’d have to go to a tee ball game to find something dumber. And even then, this might still be the dumbest play you’d see.”
Interviewed by AP baseball writer Will Graves, Pirates manager Derek Shelton tried to break down what he saw: “We have to make sure we get the force. That’s just where it’s at. I mean if Baez runs all the way back home or runs into their dugout or runs down to the Strip District we can walk down and touch first.”
Graves called it “40 seconds of madness that will likely follow Baez and Craig no matter where their careers take them.”
Craig agreed: “”I guess I’m going to be on the blooper reels for the rest of my life.” His analysis: “It all boils down to me losing my brain for a second.”
Shelton assured reporters that you don’t cut a player just because he makes a mistake. But a week later, that’s exactly what they did, in baseball parlance, designating Craig for assignment. He ended up on the Pirates Indianapolis minor league team.
Will Craig had been an All-American third baseman at Wake Forest. That led to him being drafted in the first round in 2016 by the Pirates. He made his major league debut in August of 2020, playing one game and going 0-4.
In 2021 he got into 18 games, batting .217 in 60 at bats. Shortly after he was relegated to Indianapolis, he headed to Korea looking for a reset on his career. He signed with the Kiwoom Heroes of the KBO. He hit .248 in Korea, with 6 home runs. They chose not to resign him.
At the time of writing, Craig is a free agent.
Baseball’s dumbest plays:
Kew Gardens, London
I have been a lifelong baseball fan, but I admit there are times the game can be a bit slow. From my schoolboy days as a player I can remember how long the innings seemed when you are out in the field and no balls ever come your way. So it is not surprising to find that sometimes a ballplayer’s mind wanders a bit while he standing out in the sunshine doing…nothing.
Do you think that happens to major leaguers? Do they start thinking about where they’re going after the game or what they’re going to do at the end of a long road trip? Surely we expect them to at least keep track of how many outs there are, and e en if they do temporarily lose the plot there’s always the teammates holding up one or two fingers. And that’s not to mention the modern baseball stadiums’ 360 degree signage that makes the number of outs in an inning clearly visible even if you’re buried in a long line at a hot dog stand.
We don’t know what Chicago Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley was thinking on the night of June 12, 2009, that caused him to lose track of how many outs there were with the MInnesota Twins batting in the top of the 8th inning. But knowing what would transpire later in life it’s not likely that he was distracted by warm thoughts about his wife.
What transpired that night was what Bleacher Report writer Doug Mead would call one of The 15 Stupidest Defensive Plays in MLB History.
Here’s his description:
“In an inter-league game against the visiting Minnesota Twins, Bradley had already had a bad day by the seventh inning, losing a fly ball in the sun that led to a run for the Twins.
“In the eighth inning, with two men on base, Bradley camped himself under a routine fly ball and caught it, flipping the ball into the bleachers and posing for a picture.
“However, there was only one problem. There was only one out at the time. The lead runner was sent home on the stupid mental mistake.”
Bradley was always something of a loose cannon. During the 2004 season, he sauntered up to the plate, started arguing with the home plate umpire and got himself ejected. At first he walked calmly back to his dugout, but then threw a bag of several dozen baseballs out onto the field and followed that up by throwing some of them into the stands. Later that season, a Dodgers fan threw a water bottle at him after he had lost a fly ball in the lights. Bradley picked up the bottle and headed to the stands, throwing it right back. He was restrained by one of the umpires who then ejected him. He was suspended for the rest of the season (it was September) and ordered to go to anger management counseling.
Despite incidents like this Bradley fashioned an 11 year MLB career. He played for eight different teams. He was a guy prone to wearing out his welcome. But he was a .271 lifetime hitter and was talented enough that there always was another team willing to give him a go.
After that game against Minnesota, the next day AP story had this to say:
“The Cubs’ Milton Bradley wasn’t so beloved by the home fans even though his two-run double in the sixth off Slowey halved what had been a 4-0 deficit.
“In the seventh, he lost Jason Kubel’s pop-up in the sun for a single and got a late jump while failing to catch Michael Cuddyer’s RBI bloop double for a 5-3 Twins lead and then it got worse.
“With Nick Punto on third, Harris on first and one out in the eighth inning, Bradley caught Mauer’s flyball and, thinking the inning was over, posed for several seconds before throwing the baseball into the seats. As Punto scored easily on the sacrifice fly to make it 6-3, Harris was awarded third base on Bradley’s error as boos cascaded down from every section of the ballpark.”
And what did Bradley have to say for himself: “That’s life. These people have high expectations. I have high expectations for myself. I never made a mistake like that (losing track of the outs) in my life. Sue me.”
The Twins won that game 7-4. Bradley was nearing the end of his career. The Cubs traded him to Seattle at the end of 2009 season. He lasted until early in the 2011 season when the Mariners cut him loose.
Things didn’t go substantially better for Bradley after his playing days. In 2013, he was convicted of nine counts of physically attacking and threatening his wife as well as several other charges and was sentenced to 32 months in prison. He got out, remarried and in 2018 he pleaded no contest to charges of spousal battery. This time he was sentenced to 36 months of probation and 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling. No word on how that worked out.
Baseball’s dumbest plays:
The Eye is Not Satisfied with Seeing, Whitney Museum of American Art
Major League Baseball teams have a bench full of coaches. There’s always a hitting coach and a pitching coach. There’s a bench coach, who I assume is the guy who takes over if the head man blows a gasket and gets ejected. There’s a specialist to coach first base and another to coach third. Out in the outfield is a bullpen coach. But having done the research for this series of the dumbest plays in baseball, I have to think it might be a good idea to trade in one of these guys for a baserunning coach.
While so many of the gaffes I’ve been describing involve bad baserunning. there is one that stands out above all the others. It happened on May 27, 2003 in a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants.
Ruben Rivera was on his fifth major league team at that time. The cousin of legendary Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, the Panamanian was signed by the Yankees in 1990. Five years later Baseball America labelled him the number two prospect in baseball. He made his debut as a September call-up with the Yankees that same year. San Francisco was the last stop in an 8-year major league career.
Rivera did not make much of an impression with the Giants that year. That is until the May 27 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The game was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. The Giants sent up a pitch hittter Andres Galarraga who reached on an error. They then sent Rivera to first base to pinch run for Galarraga.
AP baseball writer Ben Walker describes what then ensued:
“Ruben Rivera got so lost on the bases, even fans at Pacific Bell Park tried to point him in the right direction. His misadventure was blooper tape material, for sure. And he could afford to laugh about it later, too, because his team won.
“Rivera was running as Marquis Grissom hit a high fly that right fielder David Dellucci misjudged, and the ball landed for an error.
“Rivera had already made it to second base, but retreated once he thought the ball would be caught. When it wasn’t, he reversed course again and took off for third.
“Only one problem: While scrambling, Rivera missed second base and wound up on the infield grass.
“At that point, many fans in the crowd were standing, pointing at the skipped bag.
“So Rivera went back, retouched second and headed for third. The relay from second baseman Junior Spivey was in plenty of time to get Rivera at third, but the ball skipped away for another error.
“When the ball rolled loose, Rivera bumped into third baseman Alex Cintron and sped home.
“Arizona shortstop Tony Womack recovered and threw to the plate, and Rivera was easily tagged out.”
Giants announcer Jon Miller called it “the worst baserunning in the history of the game.” Here’s his call:
After that adventure on the bases, Rivera only played in one more major league game. He was released by the Giants a week later. At the time he had 50 at bats and was hitting .180. Rivera resumed his career in Mexico where he played until he retired in 2019. He also played for the Panama team in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.
Baseball’s dumbest plays:
Easter Sunday in Hyde Park, London
Tim McCarver is one of baseball’s best known broadcasters. Working mostly for Fox, he has been behind the mike for 23 World Series and has received a Sports Emmy Award three times. His role is color commentator, the expert. It is a role requiring perceptiveness and insight. Those are qualities that escaped him on the night of America’s bicentennial (July 4, 1976) during a doubleheader between the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium.
McCarver had a storied career in Major League Baseball, spanning four decades from 1959 to 1980. Most of his best years were with the St. Louis Cardinals. Twice he represented the Cardinals in the all-star game and he was their regular catcher in both 1964 and 1967 when they won the World Series.
After 10 years with the Cardinals, McCarver was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970. His career waned after that and he moved to Montreal, back to St. Louis and then on to Boston. He was pretty far down the pecking order, third string catcher, at Boston when he was released and joined Philadelphia for the second time.
During his end of career stint with Philadelphia he was primarily known as Steve Carlton’s personal catcher. The Phillies ace preferred the veteran McCarver over the team’s regular catcher Bob Boone.
That’s why McCarver was behind the plate for the first game of a doubleheader at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium on Bicentennial Day.
An Associated Press story describes what happened:
“It isn’t every day that you hit a grand slam home run in the major leagues. It’s even more rarely that it turns into a three-run single
“That’s what happened Sunday to Tim McCarver of the Philadelphia Phillies in a National League baseball game.
“After McCarver hit the ball 380 feet into the right field seats at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, he inadvertently passed team-mate Garry Maddox as he rounded first base.
“McCarver was immediately called out by home plate umpire Satch Davidson and his drive was reduced to a three-run single.”
Maddox had been on first base and had slowed down to see if McCarver’s shot would be caught. It would have been McCarver’s first home run of the year. He ended up only hitting one homer in the 47 games he played for the Phillies that year. His baserunning guffaw proved to have little effect on the outcome of the game. His bases loaded ‘single’ put the Phils ahead 4-0 in the second inning and they would go on to win 10-5. The Pirates came back to win the second game of the twinbill.
But on that night, McCarver showed another quality that would stand him in good stead in his later career as a broadcaster: some good humor. He told Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon: “”Hey, what could I do except laugh about it?
“I mean, you screw up right out in front of 30,000 people it’s kinda tough to hide. Besides, how can you dig a hole in artificial turf?
“Anyway, it’s definitely the longest single I’ve ever hit. I knew it was gone (McCarver had hit 83 previous homers, five of them grand slams) and I’m into my Cadillac trot, head down.
“First time I notice Garry is when I’m even with him. I tried to back-pedal but Ed Vargo (first base umpire) looks at me and says I’m out.
“I guess the moral is to hit ’em so they get out of the park quicker.”
Baseball’s dumbest plays:
That Babe Ruth was one of the greatest of the greats on the baseball field is indisputable. He was one of the first five ballplayers elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His season and career home run records stood for decades, without steroids or souped up baseballs. Twelve times he led the American League in home runs. Seven times he was a World Series winner. He was an All-Star, an MVP and a batting champion. And yet was it possible that the great Bambino had a rush of blood to the head that cost his team a game? And, not just any game, but the seventh and deciding game of the 1926 World Series.
The Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals split the first six games of the World Series. The decider was played at Yankee Stadium. The Cardinals had kept their hopes alive in game six as their ace Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched a complete game. One day later, Alexander came out of the bullpen in game seven and entered the ninth inning looking to protect a 3-2 Cardinals lead. He quickly disposed of the first two batters when up to the plate strode the mighty Babe. Ruth hit .300 in the World Series, with four home runs and five RBI’s. He had already cracked one in the fourth inning of game seven. Alexander pitched cautiously and ended up walking Ruth. That brought Bob Meusel to the plate.
Meusel was a fixture in the Yankee outfield throughout the 1920’s. He was a .309 career hitter and had hit .315 in 1926 with 12 homers and 78 RBI’s. But Meusel’s turn at bat would turn out to be inconclusive. On Alexander’s second pitch, Ruth took off for second base. The throw to second base was on the money. Ruth was out. And the Yankees were out. Game over. The Cardinals were the champions.
So Babe Ruth, for all of his glorious accomplishments, cost his team the series with an ill-advised break for second. Well, not so fast. While Ruth’s attempted steal has often been treated as a massive mistake on his part, there is some revisionist history afoot. And the revisionists are pointing the finger at Meusel.
Writing for a web site called Baseball Egg, Dan Holmes, pointing to the Sporting News as his source, offers a different take on the game’s pivotal play:
“He (Alexander) started Meusel with a fastball that Bob was late on. At that point, something happened that has been forgotten to history. Apparently, Meusel signaled to Ruth for the hit-and-run. The Sporting News reported that ‘Meusel, after swinging viciously at the first pitch, put on the hit and run with the Babe on the next pitch.’
“This is where the Babe’s reputation is exonerated. Where a mistake is corrected. Ruth wasn’t stealing second base. It wasn’t a lark, a moment of hubris. It was a set play called by the batter.
“Alexander went to the fastball again with the same result: Meusel missing it on a big swing. Ruth got his jump and sped his piano legs toward second base. But at the moment he arrived, Rogers Hornsby also received a perfect throw from catcher Bob O’Farrell and slapped on the tag, getting Ruth on the right toe. The game was over, the series was over, the season was over.
“But Babe Ruth has been wearing goat horns for too long. His steal attempt that ended the 1926 World Series was not a steal attempt. The real goat was Bob Meusel, who called for a hit-and-run and didn’t succeed in the ‘hit’ part.”
What did the sportswriters covering the game think of this play? Jon Flynn, sports editor of the Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Mass., corroborated the hit-and-run story.
“Bob Meusel, who had collapsed afield in the fourth and had fallen down at bat in the fifth and seventh innings with men yearning to score, again had a chance to keep himself out of the world’s series boob ranks. The first pitch was a strike, Meusel swinging and missing the ball. Manager Huggins called for a hit and run play. Babe got off with the pitch but Meusel failed again. He swung and missed the sphere which O’Farrell caught and got to Hornsby ahead of Ruth. George Herman slid for the bag and was tagged out, the night watchman at second base deciding that Babe arrived behind schedule.”
Perhaps it is a testament to Ruth’s popularity that no one was ready to point the finger at him. Brooklyn Daily Eagle writer Thomas S Rice, offered this justification:
“Ruth’s attempt to steal second yesterday was logical in that he had a good gambling chance. He was beaten mechanically. He is still an excellent base-runner, despite his large size, his troubles with his legs and his ankles, and the natural slowing up that comes from continuously playing major league baseball through 18 seasons. He made a clean steal of second on Saturday.
“Ruth figured he had a gambling change to steal second and score on a long single. John J. McGraw would almost certainly have figured the same at that stage of the game. This writer would have taken the gamble on Catcher Hank Severeid making a poor throw with a wet ball. As it was, the play was close. Like Icarus, Ruth failed, but he failed in a great attempt.”
Baseball’s dumbest plays:
Q. Where is the largest collection of Japanese Cherry Blossom trees in the U.S.? (hint: it’s not Washington)
A. Branch Brook Park, Newark and Belleville, N.J.
There are more than 5,000 of the Japanese flowering trees in Branch Brook Park. The Essex County park was the first county park in the United States, dating back to 1895. It was designed by the Olmstead Brothers landscape architects. The first Cherry Blossom trees were donated to the park in 1927 by Caroline Bamberger Fuld.