As fans of the greatest game in the world, not only do we know it to be unpredictable from day-to-day but we also know that anything can happen within a single game. Another great thing is that this game is filled with ifs, from all perspectives: the players, the managers and coaches, the general managers and front office, and, of course, us, the fans. Often these ifs are noticed during crucial moments of a game or season but they exist before every pitch, during every play, and even between innings.
During the game the players say if to an infinite number of situations and they are constantly ready and preparing as anything can happen at any time. To each of these situations there is an even larger number of possible outcomes, and it is different for each player. If the ball is hit to short a second baseman might cover second or go to back up first base, the left fielder charges if the ball gets through, the catcher might back up first or, if the infield is in, the catcher gets ready for a play at the plate. As the batter comes to the plate he thinks, “If the pitcher throws a fastball on the first pitch I’m going to swing at it,” or “If the third baseman is playing back I might drop a bunt down the third base line.” In the on-deck circle the next batter should be thinking, “If the batter in front of me gets on how can I move him over,” or “If the pitcher works me in this manner how am I going to counter?” The outfielder has to be thinking, “With him (insert speedy player) on second, if the ball is hit on the ground in front of me, and if he tries to score, can I throw him out, but if he doesn’t the cutoff is who?” A base runner is always on alert because, if the ball is in the dirt he must be prepared to take the next base if he thinks he can make safely. “If the ball is hit to right, with my speed and the right-fielder’s arm can I make it to third?” As a fan it is easy to forget each of these possibilities for a player because we think, no, we know, that all of this is second nature to the players and they never have to think about things but instead they just play the game. They are always thinking and if they are not they get flat footed and this is where mistakes happen.
As the armchair managers that we are it is always possible to predict a manager’s or base coaches’ idea or plan for a given event, “Well this catcher caught all night last night so he won’t catch today,” or “it’s a tie game at home in the 9th inning, it must be time for my closer.” We get to look at statistics and analyze every move the coaching staff makes but what a lot of people forget is that, while things are often planned out ahead of time, “my all-star shortstop will not sit out unless he’s injured,” sometimes things don’t go according to plan or there are things that can’t be planned because everything is based on the changing circumstances of a game.
“Real” managers also face an abundance of ifs before and during a game or even a full season. They have to decide if a player will continue hitting as well (or not in some cases) as he has been and whether or not he will be in the lineup, obviously this does not include guaranteed starters. The manger must decide if he wants to walk a “more dangerous” hitter to face a “less dangerous,” but possibly more pesky, hitter in a given situation or risk damage being done. Frequently the manager asks, “If this pitcher keeps pitching this way I will have to take him out, but if I do who will I bring in and how will it affect my staff the next few days,” or “if he keeps going like this what pitch count do I take him out after?” If a runner gets on base the manager has to wonder that if a bunt gets him into scoring position will he score if the next few batters get hits. Other times a manager must think to himself, “If this player would only admit to being injured I could work the lineup a different way and we could get him the attention he needs to be the best for the team.” Even base coaches’ deal with ifs, “if the ball is hit to this outfielder do I send this runner or do I hold him up and hope the next guy can drive him in?”
Ifs are not lost on us, the fans, either. The difference is that we don’t have control in the game or any influence in the decisions of the coaches or players. We think, “If he would stop swinging at that slider in the dirt he would be much better,” or, “if he could throw one more strike this inning could be over.” Often times our ifs are in hindsight or reactionary to the game as it develops, “if he hadn’t made that error” or “the pitcher just walked two batters if he was more patient he would have gotten a better pitch to hit.” Or, to go along with a manager’s fear, “if he wasn’t injured we have a chance to win that game.” Fans often have ifs when the game isn’t being played such as, “if that trade had gone through,” or “if we hadn’t signed that player” this season would have gone much better when in all actuality we, as fans, will never know.
Baseball, arguably the greatest game in the world is known as many things. It is the game with the most youth participation around the world. It is one of the few places you can enjoy a summer night with a hot dog, beer and the rest of your family. Baseball is boring, exciting, gut wrenching, relaxing, unpredictable and, in general, a lot of fun. One thing often lost in the greatness of baseball is, while unpredictable and ever changing, it is also a game infiltrated with the word IF, and even these are different depending on the perspective of the person looking at them. Managers, coaches and players see the IF as a planning tool, and make adjustments because of it, while fans typically see the IF in hindsight and wonder what would have happened IF...