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Prep Sports

INFIELD CHATTER: Sometimes I'm right, sometimes you're wrong

Tim Kurkjian, who anchors the very short list of my favorite ESPN personalities, has both an unbridled passion for baseball and a uniquely quirky storytelling style.

His Twitter feed is always entertaining, but on Friday he fanned a few flames with a series of tweets intended to stake his position on controversial yet utterly meaningless things that help pass the time while sitting through yet another mid-inning pitching change. The thread:

“Today, we will present five statements, all worthy of interpretation. They are not the rants of a pedantic little twit, just the harmless observations of a curious guy who loves the game. Your input is welcome.

“Batting around means that 10 batters, not nine, bat in one half-inning.

“Striking out the side means that three batters come to the plate, and all three strike out. Facing six batters, striking out three and allowing three hits, is not striking out the side.

“It’s RBIs, not RBI. The comparable is POWs, not POW.

“Complete game shutout is redundant. Walter Johnson had 110 shutouts, not 110 complete game shutouts. But May 31, 1988, Neil Allen entered scoreless game after 1 batter reached base. He finished the game, allowing no runs. He was credited with a shutout, but not a complete game.

“A ground rule double is specific to the ground rules of the ballpark in which the game is being played. When a fair ball bounces over an outfield fence, it’s an automatic double, not a ground rule double.”

Tim may not be a pedantic little twit, but I sure can be. I generally agree with the five points, though they don’t all inflame my passions. But I did have to interject when I saw WCMY play-by-play man extraordinaire Sean Frey assert in his own tweet Monday night that there’s a distinction to be made between striking out the side and doing so in order.

Nice guy, Sean, but dreadfully wrong in this instance. The key phrase is “the side,” presumably a reference to each team claiming one side of the field and those sides taking turn at bat. Once three outs are recorded, the side is retired and the teams switch places.

The way grammar works in my brain, the further interpretation is “the side” equates to “everyone who came to bat in a particular half inning.” Therefore, a pitcher who walks the first, third and fifth batters but strikes out the second, fourth and sixth did not strike out the side, but rather walked three, stranded three (we hope) and recorded three Ks.

Following this logic, we’d have to argue that retiring the side in order and “three up, three down” are essentially equivalent, and I’m OK with that. Savvy broadcasters will use more nuanced phrases in the event of an out, single and double play to end the inning, saying the pitcher “faced the minimum” or some other distinguishing phrase.

A non-Kurkjian talking point that raises hackles in some corners is the notion of games above or below .500. After Monday’s loss the White Sox were 22-42, which almost anyone would say is 20 games below a .500 winning percentage, because only by embarking on a 20-game win streak could the South Siders has as many wins as losses.

Of course, had the Sox won 10 more times already, they would be 32-32. With 98 games left that may be a silly contention. But they finished 2017 67-95. One school of thought says that’s 28 games below .500, but flipping 14 Ls to Ws would have them end the season 81-81.

This is a situation where I can more easily see both sides and tend to grasp conventional wisdom, as most reasonable folks understand the intent of the statement. When it comes to striking out the side, however, I am right and if you have another take you can just go watch soccer or something.

Kurkjian is considerably more agreeable.

“I had no idea that five random, harmless observations would generate this kind of reaction,” he wrote. “Thank you so much. There are no right or wrong answers here, all that matters is what YOU think, and what YOU believe. Just another reminder of the greatness of baseball.”

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