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August 2, 2011

Pebble Hunting

The Error Face

by Sam Miller

Anybody who played even one game of tee ball can remember how awkward it was to stand on the field after committing an error. It felt like everybody was staring at us, and all we wanted to do was kick the dirt or cry or throw our glove down on the ground and run home. And that was back when nobody actually was looking at us; consider what it must be like for major leaguers who know that, after every error, a camera will be focused on them.

There were 15 errors committed on Friday. After 12 of them, the TV broadcast cut to the fielder who made the error. Unlike youth leaguers, major leaguers generally respond to an error in predictable, telling ways. There are six common Error Faces, all in play Friday, all of them significant:

1. The Unnatural Follow-Through
Description:
Defender, having failed to achieve prime directive, does uncharacteristically exaggerated action signifying play’s end: kneeling on ground for many seconds; slooooowly bending down to pick up the loose ball; continuing his forward momentum for about 10 steps more than necessary; abruptly stopping in his tracks and watching the ball roll away; etc. 

Danny Espinosa

Other Friday examples: Neil Walker, Carlos Pena, Justin Upton
What the fielder hopes we will think: “The fielder understands he has made an error, and he understands that we have witnessed it, and he isn’t denying the error was made. But he also knows that, in the end, the entire pursuit is absurd. What are we doing here? Playing an elaborate game that not only achieves nothing real, it doesn’t even mimic war or tribal territorialism, like other sports. The whole thing is a farce. If it weren’t a farce, then why would that guy be doing deep squats on the infield while holding onto the ball?”

2. The Pained Grimace
Description:
Defender, having let down his teammates, typically pulls the edges of his lips inward and stares off in the distance, as though he were having blood drawn and didn’t want to see the needle.

Brandon Wood

Other Friday examples: Justin Upton, Scott Sizemore, Gio Gonzalez
What the fielder hopes we will think: “It’s clear now that he’s not very good at baseball, but it’s also clear that he wants to be. It hurts him deeply to make that error and let down his team. He may not be good, but he’s scrappy. He’ll scrap for us.”

3. The Charlie Brown
Description: Like the hero in the traditional monomyth, the player has left his home to answer the call to adventure, but in this case he has failed in his mission. He must now travel back home a failure. He walks slowly and stares at the ground, because he’s a clumsy commoner who can’t be trusted to perform simple physical tasks like throwing to first base, or walking.

Gio Gonzalez

Other Friday examples: Nolan Reimold, Carlos Pena, Chase Utley, Scott Sizemore
What the fielder hopes we will think: “I’m so mad! Grrrrrrrrrrrr. Oh, nevermind, I think he’s crying. He’s so sensitive. He’s kind of cute.”

4. The Spit
Description: Player, trying to reset his body after the error, does a token action to loosen himself up. Spitting is common, as are exaggerated chewing of gum and licking of fingers.

Scott Sizemore

Other Friday examples: Gio Gonzalez, Neil Walker
What the fielder hopes we will think: “Despite the error, he’s clearly a ballplayer. He’s spitting and everything.”

5. The Glove Off
Description: A relic of Little League, when staring at the glove was the best way to communicate that the error should be blamed not on the fielder but on the shoddy equipment provided to him by his annoying dad who wouldn’t get him a new glove even though he asked like five million times. Staring at a glove is not an option for adult major leaguers, who are provided excellent equipment. But the impulse remains, which leads to fielders taking off gloves, pounding gloves, flexing gloves, and generally obsessing over their gloves.

Justin Upton

Other Friday examples: Brandon Wood, Neil Walker

What the fielder hopes we will think: Nothing. This is a subconscious action.

6. The I’m Cool
Description: Player makes error but has been there before and is cool.

Ted Lilly

What the fielder hopes we will think: “He’s not worried, so I’m not worried. It’s cool, dude.”

Alex Gonzalez has made 183 errors in his career, far more than anybody else on this list, and his error face has developed into a full routine. Consider that on his error Friday, he hit all six targets, AND the super-secret bonus error face: The Pebble Hunter, in which the fielder searches for the stray stone that disrupted his performance. 

(In order: Grimace/Unnatural Follow-Through; Unnatural Follow-Through; Unnatural Follow-Through; Grimace; Charlie Brown; Spit; Glove Off; Pebble Hunt; I’m Cool.)

It’s cool, dude.

Sam Miller also writes for the Orange County Register.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

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