Worst first pitches—and some tips to stay off this list.
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