Mark Buehrle had to cut short his post-perfect game press conference to take a phone call.
From the president.
In today’s column in the Chicago Sun-Times, I talk about Barack Obama’s first pitch at the All-Star game last week, and the pressure civilians and celebrities alike feel when they’re asked to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a ball game.
The whole first-pitch thing is supposed to be fun, but I know celebrities that have turned down the offer rather than face the prospect of trying to throw a ball 60 feet, six inches in front of tens of thousands of fans who will cheer lightly if you make a decent toss, and laugh out loud if you mess up. Poor Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate of the Howard Stern show talked about his first pitch for weeks leading up to the event and even had a long conversation with a sports psychologist—and then his worst nightmare was realized when he short-armed a wild pitch in front of a huge throng at Citi Field.
As someone who survived the experience, a few tips:
There’s no point in practicing beforehand unless you’re going to do it from a regulation pitching mound. A lot of folks make the mistake of walking off the approximate distance between the pitching rubber and home plate and playing catch with a friend. Then, on the big night, they’re standing on the mound, which is a very different sensation than throwing on a flat surface. Your natural instinct is to throw the ball ‘down’ from the mound—-which is why so many pitches travel about 55 feet before dribbling sadly to the ceremonial catcher.
Don’t try to be fancy. Do not pitch from the stretch or launch into an elaborate wind-up. On the other hand, don’t throw flat-footed. Just take a small wind-up and throw the ball overhand (not three-quarters or sidearm), aiming at the catcher’s head. That way, if you’re even a foot lower or a foot higher than your target, he’ll catch it on the fly.
Follow through, just like you were taught to do as a kid. A lot of first-pitchers short-arm the ball, aiming it at the target. That’s a surefire recipe for throwing the ball two feet to the left of the catcher.
If you feel the need to ‘cheat up’ a bit, do it. You don’t have to throw from the pitching rubber if you’re worried about getting it there on the fly. It’s a lot better to throw a strike from 57 feet than it is to bounce one in from the rubber. That said, you can’t cheat as much as Dick Cheney did:
Just remember: no matter how bad your toss, you can’t do worse than the mayor of Cincinnati.
And if you’re not a celebrity, you’ll probably survive even a lousy first pitch without it turning into a YouTube moment. Probably.
As for the worst first pitches of all time…
Chris Rock is really lucky. His first pitch at Yankee Stadium is the stuff of legend—but there seems to be no video record of the disastrous effort. Rock and Adam Sandler took the mound, promoting their remake of “The Longest Yard” (talk about disasters), and those who were there say it was immediately obvious Rock hadn’t played much baseball as a kid. Maybe he hadn’t played ANY baseball as a kid. It may be the only public appearance Rock has done in the last 20 years that wasn’t recorded. (If anyone has access to the video, please share!)
Others have not been so fortunate. Their lame tosses live on in YouTube infamy…
In descending order of awfulness, the worst first pitches of all time (we’re giving Chris Rock a break because I’ve yet to see video evidence of his folly):
10. Dick Cheney
9. Annika Sorenstam
8. Mark Wahlberg
7. Kim Kardashian
6. Trent Edwards
5. Adam Carolla
4. Mariah Carey
3. Gary Dell’Abate
2. Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory
1. Carl Lewis
From USA Today:
White Sox Memories
***1/2, 2009, Shout! Factory, unrated, $20
Missing are second baseman Nellie Fox’s old TV commercials for Favorite Chewing Tobacco, but there still is enough here to make grown South Side Chicagoans cry.
Back story: After upsetting the Cubs in the 1906 World Series, it’s on to 1919’s Black Sox Scandal; tales of shortstop Luke Appling fouling off countless pitches; 1959’s “Go-Go” Sox; owner Bill Veeck’s exploding scoreboard and, much later, Disco Demolition Night; “winning ugly” in the ’80s; the 2005 World Series win; booth royalty Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and Harry Caray; all-time position picks; film critic Richard Roeper plus fellow fans Michael Clarke Duncan and George Wendt.
Extras, extras: Postseason finales; no-hitter ninth innings; Jim Thome’s 500th homer; more.
Major League Baseball has nixed the YouTube video of Gary Dell’Abate’s now-infamous first pitch disaster last weekend at Citi Field, where the lifelong Mets fan unleashed a soft toss that looked like something from the Wild Thing’s arsenal in “Major League.” It was about nine feet high and another nine feet outside.
Poor Gary. Due to his status as the longtime producer and frequent on-air presence on Howard Stern’s show, he’s been on the fringes of fame for years—-and he’s a major figure in Stern Nation, where ball-busting is the real national pastime. Dozens of local and national sportscasts ran with the video, and Howard, Robin and in particular Artie have had a field day on the show this week, spending hours dissecting the moment, erupting into gales of laughter at Gary’s expense. They even had a phone interview with Yankees’ outfielder Johnny Damon, who said it was among the worst ceremonial first pitches he’d ever seen. (Damon did his best to avoid Artie’s comments about A-Rod, steroids and women.)
UPDATE: Thanks to Ian for this link.
This is the thing about those ceremonial first pitches: the potential downside is about a thousand times bigger than the upside. I know exactly what Gary was going through in the weeks leading up to his first pitch. He was fretting on and off the air about making a fool of himself—and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I guarantee you, if he goes to the mound at Citi Field next week with nobody in the stands and no cameras rolling rolling, he probably throws a strike right down the middle. But it’s the knowledge that you might f— up and it might become a YouTube moment that plays games with your psyche.
I know it sounds stupid and silly, but YOU go out there and throw a first pitch, especially if you’re in a situation like Gary’s, where you know that if you screw up, it’s going to become a part of Stern show lore for the rest of your life. I had similar apprehensions last year in the days leading up to my stint on the mound at U.S. Cellular Field. I’m an OK baseball player—I still play a passable second base in 12-inch softball leagues in Chicago and I still go to the batting cages once in a while. I play catch with my 9-year-old nephew and rarely even feel a twinge in the area where I had rotator cuff surgery a few years back. When the White Sox extended the invite for me throw out a first pitch before a key September game on a Friday night in Chicago, I was thrilled—-but I also knew if I messed up, I’d become a YouTube “star,” at least on a minor level. More than a few people would probably enjoy seeing a video headlined, “Movie Critic Sucks on the Mound.”
I got all kinds of advice from people. Go into a full windup. Pitch from the stretch. Don’t wind up at all—-just toss it. Aim high. Aim low. Goof around so it doesn’t seem like you’re worried.
The Sox were nice enough to give me a custom-made jersey, and also a green St. Patrick’s Day jersey with Jim Thome’s name and number. They also let me bring my nephew onto the field, where he posed for a photo with Ozzie Guillen and received a signed game bat from catcher Toby Hall, who delivered the treasure unsolicited. (What a cool thing to do.)
And then it was time for me to get out there and throw that ceremonial first pitch to Sox ace Mark Buehrle. (There’s a pic in the Photos section.) My form wasn’t exactly Bob Gibson circa 1968—but I managed to get the ball over the plate, a little bit above the strike zone. Buehrle came out and signed the ball, we took a picture, I thanked the Sox and I went up to the stands to join my friends and family, relieved that I had survived the moment without becoming a YouTube punchline.
I can’t help but laugh at some of the jokes they’re enjoying at Gary’s expense on the Stern show, but I’m also feeling his pain. He’s showing an awful lot of grace by taking the countless hits and only occasionally snapping back, but inside it has to be killing him. If he throws a strike, it gets two minutes of airtime on Monday’s show and it’s forgotten. But he tried to aim the ball and he over-thought the moment, and his worst fears came to pass. I honestly feel terrible for him. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal, but in Stern World, oy. There but for the grace of God…
Chicago-area native Denise Richards was once an actress. Her career peaked somewhere after a guest shot on “Seinfeld” as the teenage daughter of an NBC executive (“Get a good look, Costanza?”) and her role in “Wild Things,” one of the great-bad movies of all-time.
These days Richards is known for her tabloid life, which was chronicled in a painfully uninteresting reality series. On Saturday she showed up at Wrigley Field, the latest in a long, long, long line of celebrities to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
It was one of the 10 worst performances in Wrigley Field history.
Of the 1 million-plus entrants in the CBS bracket challenge, I’m currently ranked 54th. Winning this pool is tantamount to winning the lottery. So far, I’ve missed on a handful of games—but I have all 16 of the Sweet Sixteen teams.
As you might guess, that means I’m up more than a little on my individual bets for the book. Stay tuned.
According to a few headlines I’ve seen, Super Bowl ratings were “down” this year.
Technically, that’s true. The numbers for Super Bowl XXIII were slightly below the rating for last year’s Super Bowl, when the Giants shocked the undefeated Patriots. But last night’s Super Bowl was the THIRD HIGHEST RATED SHOW IN TELEVISION HISTORY, behind only Super Bowl XXII and the final episode of “M*A*S*H.” An average of about 95 million viewers saw the game; NBC estimates that 147 total viewers watched at least some of the game. In the New Age of communications, that’s astonishing.
As a television production, the Super Bowl was first-rate. Bob Costas is a Hall of Fame host, and Al Michaels and John Madden are still the best one-two booth combo in all of sports. The camerawork was stellar, with the replays confirming most calls and spotlighting a few glaring errors. (As Madden correctly pointed out, the Steelers’ James Harrison should have been tossed from the game for his fourth quarter cheap shot.)
The show business element was typically mainstream. Faith Hill and Jennifer Hudson did fine with their (pre-recorded) performances, while Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band electrified the stadium with a hammy but infectiously goodnatured 12-minute mini-concert. I don’t know if customizing the lyrics to “Glory Days” really helps the song, but you can’t say the Boss phoned it in.
Some are saying this was the greatest Super Bowl of all time. The play on both sides was much too sloppy for Super Bowl XLIII to earn that designation, but this was indisputably one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time, on a par with last year’s monumental upset. But as a 60-minute contest, it wasn’t nearly as well-played as the Patriots’ 32-29 victory over the Panthers in 2004, the 49ers beating the Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII or the Rams’ 23-16 victory over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, in a game featuring teams with a combined record of 31-6.
As usual, there was nearly as much hype about the ads as there was about the game. And as usual, most of the ads tried far too hard and fell short. Wacky animals, shots to the crotch, Clydesdales, busty gals in juvenile ads for godaddy.com—-we’ve seen this movie before. Conan O’Brien did a funny takeoff on Euro-commercials and a few of the Coke commercials were creative and fresh, but there wasn’t a single ad that will endure as any kind of an advertising classic.
By the way, if you followed my advice for the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, you would have won ALL of your bets. Not that you’d be able to bet if you weren’t in Vegas, right?
If you had one of those “square pools” with your buddies or at work, there was probably a lot of talk today about the halftime score. With just seconds to go and the Steelers up 10-7, the Cardinals were knocking on the door. If you had 0-0 or Steelers 0, Cardinals 4 in your pool, you were looking strong. Either the Cardinals would score a TD to make it 14-10 at the half or they’d kick a field goal, resulting in a 10-10 tie…until Harrison stepped up and made that interception and runback, prompting thousands of squares-playing fans to scream “NOOOOOOOOOO!” while others said, “Wait a minute, do I have 7-7, HOLY SHIT I HAVE 7-7, go go go go go go go!”
Talk about a game-changing play, on so many levels.
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