As a long-time Chicago Cubs fan I was able to witness both of Jon Lester’s famous throw his glove to first base plays live as they happened. When the first happened I thought to myself, “Wow, how crazy is that.” When the second took place I wondered how many more times such a play has taken place and we simply didn’t see it or don’t remember it having occurred? Thanks to Drew Gagnon of the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Wei Chuan Dragons I’m now left wondering why that play seems to be more common in modern times.
A couple of weeks ago Gagnon was in the middle of a start against the Rakuten Monkeys when he made a fantastic behind-the-back snag on a one-hopper. Gagnon reached into his glove to make the throw to first and wouldn’t you guess it, the ball was stuck in his webbing. He did what Lester had done before him and threw his entire glove to first base to get the out. The play itself was, as stated, fantastic. There’s nothing common about the actual skill involved in the making of the play. That part remains a lot of fun to watch unfold, whether it’s Lester or Gagnon on the mound.
The shine isn’t off of the play in any way. It doesn’t matter that it has now happened at least three times in the past six years. That’s still a minute number of occurrences compared to plays that are actually common. But, it did get me to thinking about how often it likely has happened throughout professional baseball history. I’m not about to drown you in math, to be honest, I wouldn’t know where to start with figuring out the likely occurrences of this particular glove toss. That being said, I do have common sense and common sense tells me that this play has to have happened numerous times before.
The next stop in my brain was on the idea of what has allowed this play to become more visible. Sure, it’s likely happened a fair number of times in the past and we simply haven’t heard of those times or in my case just don’t recall them. But, why is it happening more now? There are, I believe a few easy to discern reasons for that.
First and foremost, the pitchers of today are better athletes than the pitchers of the past. Maybe not with a bat in their hands, but when it comes to fielding their position they undoubtedly have better range and reflexes than pitchers of old. They can get to more balls and this gives them more opportunities for the ball stuck in the webbing of a glove occurrence to take place.
Secondly, gloves are better designed nowadays. This may seem like an oxymoron since a ball getting stuck in a glove is technically a failure of the glove. However, that’s not really true, the glove did what it was supposed to in all three instances of this play that we know about. It went deep in the glove, was snagged by the webbing, and held in place for a potential out. Older gloves wouldn’t have had the layers of webbing and possibilities for ball capture that modern gloves do, at least, I don’t think they would.
Lastly, we have more eyes on games now. Whether we’re talking affiliated or unaffiliated ball, so many leagues broadcast their games in one medium or another these days. More eyes on the product mean we are more likely to see these unicorn types of plays take place. They don’t happen all that often, but when they do we can now see these plays, whether they happened in Chicago or Hsinchu City. Don’t ever doubt the modern accessibility of baseball making the impossible seem almost common.
I look forward to the next time the ball gets stuck in a pitcher’s glove. It’s a play that happens irregularly enough and is always fun. At least nowadays we know there’s a likelihood of the moment being broadcast as it happens and then shared worldwide for all to see. Lester, then Gagnon, and there’s no telling who will be next or where.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – CPBL Stats