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September 9, 2011

Baseball ProGUESTus

Feline Intervention

by Dan McQuade

Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.

Dan McQuade was a contributing editor at Walkoff Walk. His sportswriting has appeared on SI.com, VF.com, Philadelphia Weekly, Phillymag.com, AV Club Philadelphia, and many other current and defunct publications. He occasionally remembers to update his blog, Philadelphia Will Do. His Twitter account (@dhm) was named Best of Philly this year; he also runs the @kittyonthefield Twitter account, documenting all cat-related baseball news. He lives in Philadelphia and was positive Kevin Milwood's no-hitter would be the high-water mark for the Phillies this century; he still isn't sure how to deal with their recent run of success.

On Tuesday night, a rare baseball event took place. It had been over two years since the last time it happened during a game; in the time since, there had been an unassisted triple play and nine no-hitters (including two perfect games). It had been quite the drought.

Yes, a cat finally ran onto a baseball field. It happened during the Mets-Marlins game. In the top of the eighth, a little black kitten jumped onto the field from the stands, terrified a woman, and immediately hopped back into the camera well in the stands. The cat was on the field for only a half-second; Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post responded very politely to a ridiculous email inquiry to clarify that the cat didn’t enter fair territory and didn’t delay the game at all. Nobody really seemed to notice, except the few fans near the field.

As cats on the field go, it was a pretty minor event. But, hey! The little furball—Jack McKitten?—was the first on-field cat during a game since a cat ran onto the field during a Royals game in 2009. A cat scampered across Citi Field last year during warm-ups, and one also ran onto the field at a Myrtle Beach Pelicans game last season, but Major League Baseball had been essentially cat-free for two years.

This was a travesty, people, and it’s about time a cat stepped up to the plate and ran onto the field. A cat running onto a baseball field is one of the pastime’s purest traditions. Baseball even developed alongside a similar game called one-old-cat, which evolved from centuries-old ‘cat games’ in Europe.

There is  a long association between cats and baseball, if only on the fringes. The intersection of the two is a field devoid of much research—one can only imagine why!—but one can find bits and pieces.

Yes, there are the Detroit Tigers, founded in 1894, with the name first appearing in an 1895 Detroit Free Press article. There are also myriad minor-league teams with feline-referencing names: Sacramento River Cats, New Britain Rock Cats, Kane County Cougars, Tri-City Valley Cats, Lakeland Flying Tigers, a few other Tigers affiliates. There are others with ‘cat’ in their name: Carolina Mudcats (a fish) and New Hampshire Fisher Cats (a nickname for a fisher, a weasel relative that actually eats cats—quelle horreur!). And there was also Andres Galarraga, the Big Cat, whose nickname allowed sportswriters to come up with ledes like, “Baseball managers usually expect things to be purring by the middle of June.”

There is even a 1950 movie, Rhubarb, about a cat that inherits a baseball team. A rich old baseball owner is impressed by a feral cat's spiritRhubarb doesn't back down from his rich golfing buddiesand adopts him. When he dies, he leaves his hapless baseball team to the cat; the team is tricked into believing the cat is good luck and goes on to win the World Series. The movie is actually fantastic for a kids’ sports movie. I can say with assurance it is the best possible movie made about a cat owning a sports franchise.

Naturally, there have been cat-related baseball promotions, too. Earlier this year, the State College Spikes hosted Purr in the Park, a bring-your-cat-to-the-game promotion. The Tampa Bay Rays gave away a DJ Kitty hand-puppet at a game this season. (He looks happier than the real one.)

But cats go back in baseball history in stadiums, too. Take Ebbets Field: in 1954, someone in the bleachers dropped a cat onto the playing field that escaped three security guards who attempted to chase it. A woman used to bring her cat to Ebbets, paying for a ticket so the cat could sit next to her. And there is photographic evidence of cats living in the stadium (or at least passing through).

One of the most famous cat-astrophes in major-league history came at the Kingdome in 1994, when a kitten escaped onto the turf at the since-demolished stadium. The adorable little kitten—which the announcers originally speculated to be a rat or a muskrat—evaded groundskeepers for a while. When one finally caught it, the cat scratched and bit the poor guy, sending him to the hospital. Wilbur Loo, a Mariners groundskeeper for the team’s entire existence at the Kingdome, accompanied the groundskeeper to the hospital. “We got back here at 3 a.m., and my car had got broken into,” he told The Seattle Times in 1999.

The most famous cat in baseball history, of course, is the black cat that Mets fans at Shea Stadium dropped onto the field in 1969. The cat ran right for the Cubs’ Ron Santo; that season, the Mets completed an improbable comeback from a 9 ½ game deficit to win the World Series. Citi Field even has a plaque documenting the incident. The only logical explanation was that the Cubs were cursed.

That wasn’t the only cat-related incident in New York; during the first-ever regular season game at Citi Field in 2009, a cat ran onto the field behind home plate. (Putting cats on the field might be a warped tradition in the New York area, as a cat ran onto the field during a preseason game during the first year of New Meadowlands Stadium.)

When a cat ran onto the field at Kauffman Stadium in 2009, the announcers speculated that someone had brought their cat to the game. That’s possible, but it’s more likely that the cat actually lived in the stadium. Big stadiums attract individual kitties and colonies of feral cats; there’s leftover food to eat, there are plenty of places to hide, and the cats are sometimes even tolerated as a way of controlling rat populations. Mike Schmidt famously complained to Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News that the runway to the dugout smelled of cat piss at Veterans Stadium. (The cats were rescued before the Vet was imploded in 2004; one of them was later named Pet of the Year.) Cats still live at the now-vacant Astrodome. Joe Torre once found a dead cat at old Comiskey Park.

I’ll play Voros McCracken here and posit that a cat has no control over when it runs on the field; indeed, most of the cats that show up on baseball fields are scared and immediately want to escape. It’s a little sad for the poor kittens, but sometimes these stories have a happy ending: in 2009, a cat ran onto Wrigley Field, attracting some controversy after a grounds crew member picked it up by the tail, which you’re not supposed to do. (Use the scruff!)

Turns out the cat was one of the feral cats that Wrigleyville resident Denny Piazza feeds. Thanks to the publicity from the Wrigley incident, Chicago veterinarian Robert Castillo helped get the cats around Wrigleyville spayed and neutered in order to cut down on the feral cat population. Of course, a trap-neuter-return program does cut down on the number of cats that could possibly run onto ballfields.

Hmm.  I don’t know how to feel about that. You might say a cat has my tongue.

Related Content:  Managers Of The Year,  Wrigley Field

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