Siberian Baseball

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Glove Whisperer

Watch enough baseball - and particularly in the late innings of a blowout - and chances are you're going to hear an announcer cracking wise about pitchers and catchers having a discussion while keeping their gloves over their mouths.

"Har, har," the announcer will say, "I didn't know that we had so many lip readers in the big leagues."

If they're feeling particularly spry, they'll also throw in, "Apparently the Rays/Yankees/ Cardinals have hired someone on the staff to monitor what's being said on the mound."

This never ceases to annoy me. It tells me two things: 1.) That these announcers are morons or incredibly naive to think that a league that sees stolen signs, complete tear downs of signal systems after a player is traded and a new breed of cloak and dagger pitch selection (see Varitek, Jason) wouldn't stoop to trying to lip read in key situations; and 2.) they never read Ryne Sandberg's autobiography, Second to Home.

In it, Sandberg writes about the 1989 Playoffs against the Giants and what transpired in Game 1. The Cubs were down 3-0 early, rallied back and were down 4-3 in the fourth with the bases loaded and Will Clark coming to the plate.

Greg Maddux was struggling, and (Don Zimmer) had the lefty, Paul Assenmacher, ready in the bullpen when he went out to see Maddux with the bases loaded, two outs and Will Clark due up.


As they were speaking, Will Clark walked back to the visitor's on-deck circle and stood next to Kevin Mitchell. And while Zim and Greg spoke, Clark read Greg's lips. Clark already had a double and a homer off Greg, but he saw Greg repeat what Zim said: Fastball in.

Clark knew what the pitch was going to be and sure enough it was a fastball in - but not far enough in for a guy who knew what pitch was coming. Clark was looking for it, got it, fully extended and hit that fastball in, out onto Sheffield Avenue for a grand slam.

It was 8-3 and Game 1 was basically over.


After we heard about what Clark had done, we were amazed. We've all tried it before, but I don't know anyone who has known for sure what the pitch was going to be by reading someone's lips...

I know one thing: Since that day, Greg Maddux has never had a conversation on the mound without putting his glove over his mouth.

So, there it is, hidden on page 143 of a pretty bad autobiography, where one of the game's premiere pitchers was burned by a lip-reading stroke of luck. I can't imagine that once Maddux started adopting the practice it took long for others to start mimicking him, regardless of the reason.

So, the next time some color commentary-spouting knucklehead asks that great hypothetical question, "When has that ever worked?" you'll know.

Game 1 of the 1989 playoffs at Wrigley Field when Will Clark put the game away with a back-breaking grand slam.

(Image from

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