There’s a reason we still make high schoolers read Greek tragedies: everyone needs to learn about hubris. But I think the Mariners August opponents might have skipped class on those days because they’ve gotten TOOTBLANed left and right this month. If you’re new to TOOTBLANs, it’s an acronym developed by Tony Jewell at his Cubs blog in 2008, and it stands for Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop. As we’ve covered this season before, the term is perfect, capturing the combination of indignity and relatability found when someone gets cut down for poor baserunning. But with the Mariners having capitalized on their opponents’ blunders so often this month, maybe it’s time to go a little deeper on why the TOOTBLAN brings us so much joy.
It began with this perfect execution on August 2.
They should use this to teach Little Leaguers pic.twitter.com/UWIBHG25sL— Action Zach (@RealZachMason) August 3, 2022
Here we have five players all staying aware of everything that’s happening while still making perfect throws. Too much modern baseball commentary exists in the clash between the cranky oldsters and the youths and nerds. We love the TOOTBLAN because it usually requires defenders to execute on fundamentals, and that’s something that brings the two factions together. Sports fandom is supposed to be about community, and the TOOTBLAN is the rare balm that gets all of a team’s fans on the same side. Everybody loves Baseball IQ.
But not every TOOTBLAN has perfectly executed fundamentals. In the next series, Jesse Winker made a mistake, but J.P. Crawford picked him up to cut down Magneuris Sierra trying for an inside-the-parker. Doesn’t he know only Sam Haggerty can do that?
Baseball is overflowing with statistics. It always has been, and new ones spill out every day. Finally got your arms around sabermetrics? Here comes Statcast data. But in every statistical revolution, defensive statistics have been the laggards. And one reason why is that in contrast to pitching and hitting, defense usually involves more than one player, making it a challenge to apportion credit. But the bean counters’ bafflement is precisely the joy it brings to the eye watching the actual game: Team work. Here we see Jesse Winker, who stood up for his teammates, literally fall on his face, and J.P.’s cannon bail him out. This should have been an embarrassment for Jesse Winker, but instead it’s Magneuris who ends up bare-assed.
Still, sometimes it’s about the contrast, as when the Angels got caught in strike-him-out-throw-him-out double plays in back to back games, neither of them close calls.
Catch me once, shame on you. Catch me twice, shame on me. The laser beams from Cal are drool-inducing. But art is all about contrasts, and here, that’s Cal’s throws juxtaposed against the Angels making the same blunder twice within 18 hours. Like a kid who can’t control himself with their Halloween candy, their eyes for the extra base are bigger than their legs can handle. Cal’s great, sure, but there’s a reason these plays involve calling the runner a nincompoop. It’s art.
It’s similar to teams running on Jesse Winker three times in two weeks. After catching Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Sierra, Mike Gallego decided to send Phil Gosselin on a ball to left. The chutzpah!
There’s only one reaction here: “What were you thinking?” It comes as no surprise of course that Anaheim’s coaching staff is full of jackasses making terrible choices. And if any team should be cautious about temptation, it should be the one that calls themselves the Angels.
Yet that’s part of what makes the TOOTBLAN so watchable. To ask “what were you thinking?” implies that the mistake was obvious, that you could have done it better. This makes the TOOTBLAN different from so much else on the field. Only a few of us on this earth can throw a 90-mph slider, but you could coach third base better than Mike Gallego. Maybe the tomato men should try updating their scouting report on Jesse Winker when he’s got the Mariners infielders as relay men. I would have by now.
This all reached its apex on August 9th, when the Mariners were up all night to get lucky, erasing the Manfred Man three times in consecutive extra innings.
Three times a nincompoop.
No matter how impressive the play, there’s always something a little expected about the force out or the put out. The TOOTBLAN reliably manages to surprise. And I think that’s the final source of joy in it. How improbable was it to punish three miscues in the highest leverage moments to keep an already improbable game going? Even the haters had to admit that the Goldsmith Grind was warranted on calling that final double play.
It only takes 360 feet to circle the bases and score a run, but the Mariners have stopped runners from doing it 14 times in 13 games this month. Winker’s done it from left, Julio from center, and Haniger from right. Every infielder has made a play—even a pitcher. Forget Dominate the Zone; the Mariners have been dominating the basepaths.
To be sure, the Mariners haven’t caught every runner, and turnabout’s been fair play on occasion. But overall, Seattle has commanded the running game lately. The TOOTBLAN brings us joy because it requires team work and executing on fundamentals while at the same time being a little silly, a little unpredictable. It’s a lot like the 2022 Mariners.