By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
Rule 4.02 states, "The players of the home team shall take their defensive positions, the first batter of the visiting team shall take his position in the batter's box, the umpire shall call 'Play' and the game shall start."
Jockbeatdoesn't mean to split hairs, but you've gotta admit that "Play" sounds downright effete compared to the authoritative "Play Ball!" Surely any ump who can withstand heckling from fans, frowns of disgust from Paul O'Neill, and shouted abuse from Lou Pinnellaisn't going to daintily instruct the teams to "Play," is he?
"Believe it or not, every one of them simply says, 'Play,' " says Ralph E. Nelson Jr., Vice President of Umpiring for Major League Baseball, confounding the expectations of Jockbeat and Claritin alike. So if "Play" is both officially sanctioned and currently used, how did "Play Ball!" enter the vernacular? Nelson isn't sure, but Bill Francis, Jockbeat's favorite researcher up at the Baseball Hall of Fame, reports that "Play Ball!" appears in printed references at least as far back as 1901. But the term's origins remain murky, at least for now. If any umpires (or umpire scholars) can clear this up, we're all ears.
Not that we wouldn't trust Joe Torrewith our firstborn child, but we couldn't help but notice the alarming pitch counts being rung up by Yankee starters the past week and a half: Orlando Hernandez, 137 (May 13); Andy Pettitte, 143 (May 16); Roger Clemens, 135 (May 20). According to the number crunchers at Baseball Prospectus, pitch counts of higher than 133 are considered "high risk," with even a single outing at this level carrying the chance of diminished effectiveness or serious injury. "It should be viewed as nearly inexcusable to let a starting pitcher exceed 140 pitches in any start," writes BP's Keith Woolner. On second thought, can we have that firstborn child back?