Now, it's not the perfect inside-the-park homer, because it lacked a play at the plate, a necessity for a truly fantastic inside-the-parker. But it did have a failed leaping attempt at a circus catch in the outfield -- another prerequisite -- and that undeniable moment when it becomes clear that, holy jeez, they're gonna send him home.
It's more fun when it happens for the home team rather than the road team, but its excitement level, as always, was off the charts. This is always mentioned too, within seconds of an inside-the-park homer: It's the most exciting play in baseball.
According to SABR -- as well as a trivia game I think I played as a kid -- there are 14 possible ways for a plate appearance to end. Well, technically, there are an infinite number of ways, if we start including the possibility that a hitter will be attacked by a lion, or sucked into a black hole. But, if we split up inside-the-park home runs and over-the-wall ones, I'm pretty sure there are just 14 realistic ones.
Baseball is a sport whose boring detractors, boringly, always claim that it's boring. They're wrong, obviously, but I'll confess, a few of the potential results of a plate appearances are boring. If the inside-the-park home run is the most exciting play in baseball, what's the least exciting play? Let's try to find out.
We'll rank in descending order of excitement, which will provide the perverse sensation of building suspense as we grow more dull.
1. Inside-the-park home run
For my money, they don't come much better than Angel Pagan's walkoff inside-the-parker against Colorado last year. I love how it slowly dawns on the broadcaster just how amazing this play is.
2. Over-the-wall home run
I know some will want to rank "triple" here, but what can I say, I'm a formalist: I'll take the extra total base. Plus, there are so many varieties of homers, from moon shots to line drives to wall scrapers. I'm a moon shot man, myself. We all have our favorites, but mine might be Barry Bonds' one homer at old Yankee Stadium.
If someone is fast enough, a triple can almost be anti-climactic: If Billy Hamilton makes it to third, you almost wish they'd have tried for home. The best are the fat-guy triples, the ones in which it seems against the laws of space and time that that guy could make it all the way to third. We had a wonderful one in the All-Star Game last year, when Prince Fielder tripled, cracking up Mariano Rivera and everybody else.
The strikeout is more common right now than any other time in the last 30-plus years of baseball, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Crash Davis claimed the strikeout was fascist, but I disagree: A strikeout has a cowboy's swagger. There's nothing more American, for better or worse, than blowing a guy away.
For what it's worth, my favorite variety of double is the slash down the left-field line. My least is the ground-rule double. Also, little known fact: When there is a runner on first base and someone hits a ground-rule double, broadcasters are bound by the U.S. Constitution to say, "tough break for the [offensive team], that hit would have scored [runner on first base]."
6. Hit by pitch
Just because it always takes a second to figure out if it's going to start a fight or not.
No single was ever more perfect than a vintage Rod Carew single.
8. Reach on an error
This one almost seems outdated, considering how irrelevant the error stat has become. (Thanks in large part to some pretty terrible hometown scorers.) Still, everybody loves a blooper reel.
I didn't include "sacrifice fly" as a separate entry here. Fly-outs are more intrinsically interesting than other outs because it always takes a second to decipher whether the ball is in the gap or going to go over the wall. Remember: Always watch the fielder.
The double play is included in here, though it's obviously a more exciting play -- by a factor of two, even! -- than your typical ground out. Also: All Ozzie Smith and Andrelton Simmons groundouts are by definition more fun to watch than almost all homers.
Yes, it's the foundation of any successful offense. But it's still boring. And the intentional walk might be the single most unnecessary bit of kabuki in sports.
12. Sacrifice Bunt
Statistically inefficient, it's the sort of thing that your youth league coach obsesses over but mostly just exists to promote the illusion of selflessness. That's fine for a David Eckstein, but when it's done by someone with the ability to put the ball out of the park -- like, for example, Alfonso Soriano here -- it often has the exact opposite effect as far as helping the team goes.
13. Catcher's Interference
Not technically a plate appearance, it's still a potential result. This one stays out of last place because it takes the stadium about 10 seconds to realize what happened.
The worst part about a foul-out is that even if something surprising happens, like the fielder catching a ball, everyone just goes back to their places and starts over again. The most exciting foul-out in baseball history was probably the end of the 1996 World Series … and wouldn't you have rather that ball been in play?
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