The baseball community is searching for something, anything to talk about in the hours usually occupied — at this point in the year — by at least a few and sometimes 15 Major League Baseball games a day. As the coronavirus pandemic delays the season, a robust community that usually gathers around the games, and around Twitter, is comparatively quiet.
Over the past decade, social media has become an inextricable part of the drama — a progression that became ever more apparent during the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing saga.
In the absence of new material for the content engine that is Baseball Twitter, we wanted to decide which pre-Twitter moments (2005 or earlier), would have generated the most absurd and amusing days of scrolling. (We weren’t alone in needing to scratch this particular itch, as ESPN’s Sam Miller also recently dove into each franchise’s most meme-worthy moment.)
So we gathered the Yahoo Sports staff in Slack and identified the baseball moments we think would have “broken” Twitter. – Zach Crizer
Twitter Breaker: The Pine Tar Game
Mark Townsend: Twitter thrives on controversy and chaos. Few baseball games have provided as much of both as the infamous Pine Tar Game between the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees on the afternoon of July 24, 1983.
George Brett, who had hit a go-ahead two-run ninth-inning home run against Goose Gossage at Yankee Stadium, was called out to (temporarily) end the game after the umpires determined he’d applied too much pine tar on the handle of his bat. At that moment, you know what hit the fan. It didn’t stop for another 26 days.
To me, that game is a social media gold mine.
Jack Baer: You can already hear the debates over whether pine tar is actual cheating.
Mike Oz: If this happened in 2020, people would be making all sorts of videos of angry George Brett mixed with songs and TFW memes. Agreed, gold mine.
Some Dude You Went to High School With would emerge as an expert on pine tar for sure. Remember Twitter during Deflategate? It would basically be that.
Zach Crizer: The underrated part of that sequence, also, is the delay between Tim McClelland thinking about it and calling him out.
Townsend: Twitter would have been blowing up during that. And the cast of characters? Second to none. From George Brett to Goose Gossage to Billy Martin. Tim McClelland, who’s seemingly in every controversial scene over the last 40 years.
Baer: Oh god, imagine Goose Gossage with a Twitter account.
Crizer: Also, maybe the most enduring image of an angry baseball player. That screenshot of Brett flying out of the dugout would have consumed your timeline.
Baer: We would have had a full day of meme-ing. Days, even.
Townsend: The Angry Brett is the Crying Jordan of the ‘80s.
And then there’s a protest that was actually upheld. The game resumed on Aug. 18 and the Yankees lost. Imagine the anger in New York. A near month’s worth of content. And when the game resumed, Martin put Ron Guidry in center field and Don Mattingly at second as a “screw you” pretty much to MLB.
Crizer: Would a present day umpire even be able to keep doing his job effectively if he did something that was this controversial, and the protest got upheld and the game had to be resumed later?
Baer: We really lost so much with Billy Martin not managing in the age of Twitter.
Townsend: Billy Martin alone could be a category.
Oz: Over/under on how many days before the umpire got death threats from people on social media?
Crizer: Days is the wrong metric.
Oz: Or maybe minutes, sadly.
Twitter Breaker: Yankee Wife Swap
Baer: The NBA has long been the king of personal drama among the major sports leagues, but let’s go back to spring training 1973, when baseball blew it out of the water with two New York Yankees pitchers announcing the weirdest trade in MLB history.
Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich assembled reporters in Fort Lauderdale and casually revealed that they had swapped wives and children months ago. Just straight up moved into each other’s houses. Marilyn Peterson and Susanne Kekich switched partners but remained with their children.
Oz: This was a great Chappelle’s Show sketch, but I think the Yankees’ version is better. Forget Twitter, this is reality TV gold. Andy Cohen is probably steaming he couldn’t turn this into a Bravo show.
Baer: Even without Twitter, it really is a blessing for historical preservation that this happened with New York.
Townsend: I’m thinking Netflix would have had a seven-part documentary ready before spring training ended.
Oz: Can we just stop and say it’s not good to treat wives, girlfriends — or any woman for that matter — as a commodity to trade? That being said, I think the weirdest part is … HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THIS TO YOUR CHILDREN?
Baer: Yes, to both things.
Crizer: For those of us addled souls that live on Tweetdeck, it’s worth noting for the less diseased that it is pretty common for legions of beat writers to tweet out, say, “The Yankees are having a press conference later today. No word on the topic.”
That usually means something like, donating to charity or naming the left field foul pole after a corporate sponsor. This would be … not that.
Townsend: And what about the wives section at the ballpark? Do the other wives just casually ask what happened?
Crizer: Even if they don’t ask, there has to be at least a couple months of adjustment period where they understandably forget that this happened and ask about the wrong husband. But: The tweets. Oh boy the tweets.
Baer: The weirdest Jomboy breakdown ever.
Townsend: Twitter would still be making fantasy athlete wife swap trades.
Crizer: If anyone ever got pregnant again, the instant joke would be that one side threw in prospects.
Baer: Maybe it’s for the best this happened pre-Twitter, now that I think about it.
Oz: This would break Twitter.
Baer: So many “Wait, that’s why Fritz Peterson is trending?” tweets.
Townsend: Thinking about it, I’m not sure Twitter would have survived the ‘70s.
Oz: I don’t think either of those relationships, as odd as they had to have been, would have survived social-media scrutiny for even a few months.
Crizer: How many baseball players have “Husband, father, Bible verse, whatever” as their bio?
Baer: I mean, it would still be accurate.
Townsend: Journeyman husband, maybe.
Oz: Is it crazy that the Yankees wife-swapping dudes handled this better than the Houston Astros did their cheating press conference?
Baer: “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the marriages.”
A brief interlude: Randy Johnson kills the bird
Crizer: Chris Cwik couldn’t join the group chat, but had a short and sweet suggestion: Randy Johnson killing the bird with a pitch. Imagine the memes.
Baer: Randy Johnson is 2020 and the bird is us.
Townsend: It’s the GIF that keeps on giving, or GIFing.
Baer: Everyone reading this, go check out the logo of Randy Johnson Photography.
The best thing you’ll see today: The logo for Randy Johnson’s photography company is of a dead bird. pic.twitter.com/RnEx3E3PWU
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 6, 2015
Oz: Nailed it, Jack. People would turn that bird into so many things. Bless the creative people of Twitter who would do many things that would make me say, “This is website is free.”
Baer: it would also help that Randy Johnson would already be Twitter’s favorite pitcher. He was an inner circle Hall of Famer whose name was Randy Johnson with the nickname The Big Unit.
Twitter Breaker: The Albert Belle Bat Incident
Oz: In 1994, Albert Belle got caught using a corked bat against the White Sox, but let me tell you, if Twitter was around then, this incident would be like “Tiger King.” Or at least the Astros’ cheating scandal.
The ump confiscated Belle’s bat during the game, put it in the umpires’ room. This is where things get good. As we know, baseball players have too much time on their hands and undying loyalty to the people in their clubhouse. So Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley was sent to retrieve the bat and leave an uncorked bat in its place. I’ve watched enough “Law & Order” to know this is evidence tampering and that’s bad — but boy is this an amazing baseball caper. The umps caught on, realizing it was a different bat, but Chicago P.D. and a former FBI agent were called in to investigate.
Just imagine the memes here. And all the people who would be coming forward with weird Instagram videos claiming to know the truth. It would be gold. Eventually, MLB proved what really happened and Belle was suspended for 10 games, but that was knocked down to seven games, which in retrospect seems like quite a deal for Belle and the Indians.
Baer: Almost as good a deal as paying $5 million, draft picks, a GM and manager for a World Series.
Townsend: Honestly, why hasn’t there been a “30 for 30” on this? This is one of those stories that would have defined Twitter had it happened in this era.
Baer: Albert Belle with a Twitter account, mercy.
Townsend: Albert Belle himself would have been the ultimate villain for baseball Twitter. Even without this event.
Crizer: Grimsley … went through the ceiling, right?
Baer: Oh my god, I forgot that part.
Oz: Yes, like it was “Mission: Impossible” or something.
Crizer: The Photoshop wizards would have gone completely bananas with this.
Townsend: Matrix memes and all that.
Oz: We would have people reenacting this in videos. Truthers saying it never happened and it’s a deep state conspiracy. The true crime people would have a field day. It would be perfect. I hope someone does this whenever we have baseball again just for the content.
Townsend: And then all the guys with tutorials on how to cork bats like Albert.
Baer: I hope Grimsley got something out of it, though “not being on Albert Belle’s bad side” is a reward in itself.
Crizer: The other thing is: As we saw with the Astros, everyone would suddenly be skeptical of EVERY other team for doing various things in this vein.
It would go from, “Someone went through the ceiling?” to “I bet every team is sending someone through the ceiling.”
Crizer: The juiced ball conspiracy would be about teams going through the pipes to replace balls in the ump bags.
Townsend: Who’s that team’s ceiling guy? For sure.
Crizer: It’s Neifi Perez. Why? I don’t know. But it’s Neifi Perez.
Townsend: I can actually picture several players that would volunteer for that job. You’re telling me Trevor Bauer wouldn’t do that?
[several people are typing … ]
Oz: Trevor Bauer would have a drone to do the job, but yes.
Townsend: And record it for his YouTube channel.
Crizer: Bauer would claim he built a robot that could do it.
Baer: Damn, got beaten to the drone joke.
Oz: I was all over the low-hanging fruit, guys.
Twitter Breaker: The 2004 ALCS
Crizer: Really, Twitter just barely missed one of the peaks of can’t-scroll-fast-enough baseball drama. As much as non-East Coast denizens will bemoan it, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry of the early aughts was scintillating as a collision of characters and storylines. And at its zenith was the 2004 American League Championship Series.
With the buildup in the rearview, including the Alex Rodriguez-Jason Varitek fight from July and the Aaron Boone homer from the 2003 ALCS, this series was a powder keg. It wound up giving us the comeback — remember how ubiquitous “The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” was? — and Dave Roberts’ steal, David Ortiz heroics, the bloody sock game and the A-Rod glove slap.
And of course the real question: How many egg avatars would have promised to get a Red Sox logo tattooed on their forehead if Boston came back to win the series?
Townsend: The Freezing Cold Takes Twitter account would have been busy during that series. I think every game would have been a case study in how baseball can impact emotions.
Oz: One of my favorite things about postseason baseball in the social media era in the communal viewing. We, as baseball people, don’t spend enough time watching the same game. I think that moment on social media would have been all of us becoming Red Sox fans.
But counterpoint to the point I just made: Curt Schilling having a Twitter account during all that might nullify everything I just said.
Townsend: Yes, all of the cringe emojis.
Baer: “Ketchup” would have definitely trended that night.
Crizer: By the way. BY THE WAY. Bronson Arroyo, who relieved Schilling in that game, when A-Rod slapped the ball out of his glove, had cornrows at the time.
Townsend: Bronson Arroyo … man I’d almost forgotten about him.
Oz: Imagine Conspiracy Theory Curt Schilling having to defend himself vs. Conspiracy Theory Twitter about the bloody sock.
Crizer: He’d have a conspiracy theory about who set up the conspiracy theory against him. Paul Pierce’s wheelchair plus extreme culture war politics = Uh, well, something.
Townsend: Boston sports. Never dull.
Oz: Bronson Arroyo could be the Bartolo Colon of that time with Twitter.
Baer: That’s both true, and also funny given that Arroyo debuted after Bartolo.
Crizer: And that Bartolo won the Cy Young the next year.
Baer: He wasn’t truly the Bartolo of Twitter then, though.
Townsend: I’m also trying to imagine who the MLB Network analysts would have been around this time had it existed. The current ones were all on the field here it seems like.
Crizer: Harold Reynolds presumably could have been an analyst.
Oz: I’d vote for Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich.
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