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August 14, 2012

Western Front

Pick the Collie, or Maybe the Weimaraner

by Geoff Young

What if dogs played baseball?

Years ago, when I was writing for a long-forgotten blog, I asked myself this question and made the mistake of doing so out loud. My theory in life is that you ask anything in the hope of finding something, but this crossed a line. In our house, “What if dogs played baseball?” has become code for, “There are no stupid questions, but that is a stupid question.”

Woof.

So, what if there was a Draft Derby? A bizarro-world pennant race for first overall pick?

I've been posting the standings of such a mythical derby on Twitter for a while (complete with snazzy #DraftDerby2013 hashtag), and folks seem to get a kick out of it. Well, I get a kick out of it. I'm not sure when it started (Twitter's search engine is the Jason Jacome of search engines), but the earliest instance I can find is of standings through July 2:

Team

GB

Cubs

-

Padres

-

Rockies

-

Astros

1.5

Mariners

3.5

Twins

4.0

Note that the Astros weren't in first place. This was just before they embarked upon an epic rampage that separated them from the pack. Here are standings through August 12, a mere six weeks later:

Team

GB

Astros

-

Rockies

5.0

Cubs

7.5

Royals

12.0

Twins

12.0

The Mariners and Padres, bitter rivals that they are, have played themselves out of contention. I don't remember when Seattle left the race, but the Padres slipped this past week after winning six straight, including three against the Cubs, who are threatening to pick ahead of San Diego again and who continue to pluck front office types from Jed Hoyer's former club. The latest defection is Director of Scouting Jaron Madison, who played a large role in the 2010 and 2011 drafts that helped rebuild a depleted Padres farm system.

Meanwhile, the Astros are making a mockery of the race. At one point they had lost 33 of 37 games, which is the worst such stretch since the 1982 Twins. It's also a .108 winning percentage, which is lower than the 1899 Cleveland Spiders' winning percentage (.130) and Kevin Millwood's career batting average (.121).

For good measure, the Astros lost one more game to go 4-34 before breaking the skid on Friday when they became the last team with a walk-off win in 2012. Jeff Bagwell threw out the first pitch, which maybe needs to happen more often. Or just stick him at first base. (Oh, and would you believe the Astros notched another walk-off win the following night?)

Because anything worth doing is worth doing to the point of absurdity, I got to wondering about the possibility of an actual Draft Derby. An alternative postseason for those of us not fortunate enough to have a dog (see what I did there?) in the real race.

It would be a marketing nightmare to run the Draft Derby concurrent with the World Series, so why not punish the worst teams by making them play in December? This would provide excellent incentive for teams not to suck. And a tournament would prevent teams from tanking their way to the first pick. Sure, they would make the anti-playoffs, but now they'd have to win games.

Would the whole “winning thing” penalize the worst teams? Perhaps, but they can call up players from the minors; they can make trades. Whatever it takes, baby.

And because these games matter, there has to be a tie-in to the All-Star Game. The draft no longer alternates between teams in each league, so we can't use the obvious “loser of the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage” to mirror Bud Selig's oh-so-clever World Series solution.

Fortunately there is a solution that is just as sensible as Selig's plan. If an even number of runs are scored in the All-Star Game, the higher-seeded team gets home-field advantage. If an odd number of runs are scored, the opposite is true.

How many teams should participate? Four. Why four? Because.

Let's use 2011 as an example:

  1. Astros, 56-106
  2. Twins, 63-99
  3. Mariners, 67-95
  4. Orioles, 69-93

For the first round, we have two best-of-seven series: Astros vs. Orioles and Twins vs. Mariners. Home-field advantage for this round is based on record, so it's Astros and Twins. Then the winners face each other in another best-of-seven series. And because six runs (an even number) were scored in the 2011 All-Star Game, the higher-seeded team gets home-field advantage. So if the Astros and Twins win, Houston gets home-field advantage in the finals because the National League got that fifth run in the seventh inning (Pablo Sandoval is so clutch!) to make the final score 5-1.

Excited yet? Wait, it gets better.

Say there's a tie for that final spot. For example, here is 2009:

  1. Nationals, 59-103
  2. Pirates, 62-99
  3. Orioles, 64-98
  4. Royals/Indians, 65-97

We could break the tie based on, say, run differential. Or we could create even more excitement with a one-game play-in. Imagine, if you will, the Royals and Indians on a cool December evening (full play-by-play as simulated in my mind available on request, although it requires suspension of disbelief; Luke Hochevar walking 6 in 5 2/3 innings could happen, but Yasuhiko Yabuta allowing no runs seems less likely, even though he did it in three of his 12 appearances that season)...

The temperature has dropped from the balmy 27 degrees at first pitch here at Kauffman Stadium, but the action is hot, as Willie Bloomquist steps in against Rafael Perez. The Indians cling to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth. After John Buck struck out swinging to begin the inning and Alex Gordon popped to short, Luis Hernandez dropped a beautiful bunt down the third-base line. Jhonny Peralta got a glove on the ball but couldn't field it cleanly and make the throw, so here we are.

Bloomquist is 2-for-4 tonight, with two groundouts and two singles. Perez checks the runner at first, but Hernandez is glued to the bag. Now he comes to the plate, and Bloomquist hammers the pitch to deep left field. Gimenez races back, to the track, at the wall, this ball is... gone! Home run, Bloomquist!

The fans are delirious—whether from victory or the cold, it's tough to say—as their Royals have earned a shot at College of Southern Nevada catcher Bryce Harper in the 2010 draft. A non-denominational winter holiday of your choosing has arrived a little early this year. Do you believe in miracles?

Then maybe the Royals beat the Nationals in the semifinals and the Pirates in the finals, thus landing Harper instead of Christian Colon. All because of Willie Bloomquist. Is there anything he can't do? (Sure, Bloomquist hit an infield single in his only career at-bat against Perez, but stay with me.)

I know what you're thinking: If the Royals have Harper in right, then what happens to Jeff Francoeur? Well, Francoeur has a great arm, and the Royals always need those. So in our bizarro world, he pulls a Reverse Ankiel and becomes a seventh-inning guy.

Is this is a daft idea? Perhaps, but it's no worse than imbuing an exhibition game with significance beyond itself, holding a mythical Draft Derby in December, or wondering what would happen if dogs played baseball.

Speaking of which, not only is that question stupid, it's also unoriginal. Cassius Marcellus Coolidge once documented--through a series of paintings that later netted people other than himself obscene amounts of money—dogs playing poker. In a piece called “One to Tie Two to Win” he also caught them playing baseball, which answers this for us (as do more recent efforts from the likes of Dan McManis, although I prefer the classics). Turns out, it's the same as what happens when humans play baseball, only with dogs.

But the collie batting in “One to Tie Two to Win” looks like Bloomquist. And although the pitcher is off-canvas, I'll bet he bears strong resemblance to Perez. In addition to his more obvious talents, Coolidge also may have been precognitive.

In 1986, William Wegman (no relation to former Brewers pitcher Bill Wegman, as far as I can tell) produced a 10-minute film called Dog Baseball. A short version appeared during an episode of “Saturday Night Live” and featured, among other things, the charming post-game ritual of bobbing for apples and bones.

The episode aired on November 8, 1986. Rosanna Arquette hosted, Ric Ocasek was the musical guest, and then-Mets pitcher/SNL pitchman Ron Darling showed up to issue an apology for the delay in running the episode, which was supposed to air on October 25 but which got pre-empted by Game Six of the World Series.

A quick Google search on “dog baseball” also reveals bird dogs, big dogs, mad dogs, dirt dogs, diamond dogs, top dogs, and lazy dogs. And many teams now have a “dog day” promotion of sorts. Heck, the Padres play in a ballpark named after a store that sells dog food.

Meanwhile, someone once tried to codify dog baseball:

A Dog Baseball team is at least four dogs and their handlers. The game is played with one team out field and one team up to “bat”. The playing field is similar to a human baseball diamond but with cable spools as bases. The field dog positions are left and right field, pitcher, and catcher. Outfield dogs operate on their handler’s commands and batting dogs must remain on a down-stay except when at bat or running the bases. Dog aggression will immediately get the offending dog out of the game for the duration of that game. Handler aggression will immediately get the dog/handler pair disqualified.

Just when you think you've come up with the stupidest idea ever, along comes the Internet to dash your hopes and dreams:

Handlers are responsible for picking up dog poop immediately. Failure to pick up your dogs poop will result in immediate removal from the game for the duration of that game. If a handler poops on the field, that handler will be put on a leash and remain on down-stay for the remainder of the game.

Well, there you go. In conclusion, if dogs played baseball, one of them would end up with the first pick. And that pick might well be quite disgusting. So let's just forget any of this ever happened, okay?

4 comments have been left for this article.

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