I am not a sabermetrician. Not because I don’t “believe” in it but because I’m not really smart enough/dedicated to try to understand it. I have read Baseball Between the Numbers and Moneyball (even though that’s not really a book that teaches sabermetrics), so I get the concept and that some of the old ways of analyzing baseball aren’t really accurate. An easy one to prove is wins for a pitcher. Look at last year’s Cy Young winner.
Despite my sabermetric inadequacies, I do have a friend who gets it and I regularly follow some of his favorite writers, namely Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski. The latter I do not follow as closely because he is the king of long-form posts. Kind of funny since I’m kind of the prince of verbosity. Willing to write tons of pages about myself but not willing to read any others. Probably says something about me and about why I don’t have a ton of regular followers.
One of the Joe Posnanski posts I managed to break down and read entirely was this one. It’s an interesting post that begins by mocking a writer who used the typical “mom’s basement” term to demean some nerd who understands things a lot better than him. Posnanski goes on to talk about the great games that took place in his mom’s basement when he was a kid. Fun to read about but mostly it reminded me of the games I played with my brothers. Games I hadn’t thought about in a while.
There was one game that I played with both my brothers and, many times, visiting cousins or neighbor kids. We called it Basement Baseball. I think you can kind of understand the premise just from the title, but there were some interesting quirks about the game. First, our basement had those high up basement windows that let enough light in just to remind you that it was daylight out and you were in your basement playing Sega. Because I had actually broken one once and had to pay for it, we made sure to use balls that wouldn’t break the windows. These came in the form of those cheap plush mini balls you get in a random kids’ meal. Ours came from White Castle. Funny, because I never recall actually eating White Castle as a kid.
Historians never documented basement baseball. This photo of Tyler and I hanging out in another basement will have to suffice. Tyler is the one wearing a raquetball racket cover on his head. I was busy writing and had no time for such foolish actions.
Also in the confined quarters of a basement, a regular bat would not work. If you swung it, you might end up bopping the person in the ondeck circle (the bottom of the stairs). So we had to improvise. Our family was way ahead of the recycling curve. Back before there was home pickup of recycling, we used to store our recycling in bins under the basement stairs until the stairs were overflowing and then we’d load up the Ford Ranger (probably sitting four across the front, with the stick shift between one of the boys’ legs) and take it out to Clermont County on our way to the garden and recycle it. I would like to say it was because we were an environmentally concerned clan, but I have my suspicions that it was more a way of keeping from paying for more garbage bins per week. So with a bin full of two liters and Sunny Delight bottles under the steps, we had our pick of Eastons and Louisville Sluggers.
Each “bat” had its own specific qualities. Lotsa Red Pop had a cheaper, thinner plastic. I think this helped envelop the ball and direct it down the third base line better. Big K Sparkling Punch was a tighter plastic and the ball kind of popped off of it. Plus as an added bonus, you were using a pink bat that smelled like strawberry chemicals. My personal favorite was Sunny D. We used it sparingly for some reason. I think we liked to police ourselves and not get too much of an advantage. The ball seemed to go farther off of it. I’m not a physics teacher but I think it had something to do with the size of the gallon bat. It also made the most satisfying “whoomp” noise when you caught the meat of the bat. Gallon milk jugs were the occasional failed experiment due to their lack of a neck and a round body.
The writer taking his basement technique to the backyard. Check out those leg muscles powering through the foul tip.
But the bats weren’t the only unique element these little Doubledays came up with. We also had a strange playing field. Our basement was unfinished for many years and right in the center of the open space was a metal pole. It was clearly an important support for the house but it was a very unfortunate part of Sanderson Field. But as kids with limited construction budgets we made do. In fact it was just a little off center in the basement to the point that we could make it our third base and foul pole. To the right side we had a cement wall where we positioned first base across from the pole. Second base was against the adjacent wall which also doubled as our centerfield and outfield fence. Both first and second were represented by large pillows. I don’t remember the exact rules about fouls and homeruns. I believe if you managed to get the ball up in the windowsill, that was a homerun. Also walls were in play. So there was a lot of strategy to ricochet shots. In fact one method of attack was to get the ball to bounce back into what is normally foul territory. Sometimes if you were lucky the ball could end up buried in the dirty clothes or get stuck behind the toybox in the back corner.
With limited players we of course had ghost runners. Also with limited players we had ghost defense. Instead of forcing an out at first you just threw the ball at the wall. If it beat the runner, the runner was out. But in tag situations, you didn’t even have to tag the runner. You could just bean the runner with the ball so long as they were off the bag. We called these “soakies”. I have no idea about the etymology on that word and as a kid thought it was a universal term. I think this rule benefited my older brother Justin the most because he had an excuse to wing a plush ball at his little brothers without getting into trouble.
The three inventors of Basement Baseball before their moment of genius. I think Justin's jambox as well as the Little Tikes Coupe spent some time in the basement on Heatherglen.
Justin is seven years older than me and nine older than Tyler. At ~14 he was basically an adult to us, so he was required to play the game from his knees. I imagine if he played on his feet he would be able to get from home to first in two strides. I think when Dad participated he played from his knees too. Dad was also pretty good at runner interference. He would reach out his giant adult man arms and just pull you in as you rounded first until Justin found the ball and pegged you with it.
We played Basement Baseball enough that everything was pretty well established including placement of pillows and usage of bats. I think we played long enough that I was eventually big enough to have to play from my knees. It was an awesome game that ended in a lot of stubbed toes or scraped elbows. Then we refinished the basement and created a whole bunch of new memories there. Like windowsill slam dunk contests and knee races around the pool table.
I’ll have to use another post to tell you about another invented game Tyler and I played: Bookseeds (or two man baseball). With preemptive apologies to the Nagys’ lawn.