When I was in grade school, we used to play baseball at recess with a tennis ball and thin wooden baseball bats that we called toothpicks. I’m not sure if anyone else called them that. As you grow older, many of the terms that you believed to be universal as children end up actually being distinct to the lexicon of your locale.

I still find it unbelievable that people have no idea what I’m referring to when I exclaim “smuck teams” during a pick up game of anything. Whereas, I’m quite certain that anyone who spent time in an elementary school in the Peterborough/Lakefield area during the late eighties/early nineties would instantly know that I believed the talent on the two teams competing to be unfairly distributed.

Anyway, I went to a primary school that only went up to grade six. As such, the top of the social food chain consisted of a bunch of assholish 11 and 12-year-olds.

Aside: I normally wouldn’t refer to children as assholes, but one time, I was playing on the basketball court after school hours, and one of the grade sixes who had at least two years on me, shoved me to the ground and stole my hat. I might even be able to forgive such action now if the kid was poor or whatever, but the school was located in a nicer section of the city, and he had fucking Nike Airs while I was still wearing Venture sneakers.

Back then, a typical recess session for grade four boys involved running out to the one diamond in the school in a desperate attempt to get there before the grade six boys did. Every day we hoped for a mere inning or two of baseball before we were forced off by the older kids’ arrival.

Another aside: I imagine grade school and prison have a lot in common.

On one such occasion, we hung around to watch the grade sixes play rather than try to sneak in a few rounds of box ball, which had been outlawed at our school when kids used the game as a pretense for throwing tennis balls at other kids they didn’t like.

Another aside: See previous aside.

I can’t remember the score of the game or the exact teams, but I know that the pitcher on the mound at the time was struggling. He had allowed base runners to get to first and third after already allowing a ton of runs to cross the plate. I’m pretty sure that we were dealing with a smuck teams situation here, because either no one on the one team wanted to pitch or they couldn’t get the pitches over the plate with any accuracy.

Either way, the kid who had just made it to first base was especially vocal about the lack of talent from the pitcher to the point that said pitcher refused to throw any more. After the rest of his team refused to take the mound, the job was extended to the tallest of the younger kids watching … me.

I’m not a very good pitcher. I wasn’t a very good pitcher then. I’m not a very good pitcher now. However, these facts sure as shit didn’t stand in the way of me jumping at the chance to play with the big kids.

Now, I probably need to back up here because it should be explained that even though our little games were played with tennis balls and toothpicks, MLB rules, or at least MLB rules to the best of our understanding were followed. In fact, I’d wager a guess that 75% of the offense was caused by a runner trying to steal a base and inducing a throw from the catcher that was nowhere near the base he was stealing, which would elicit another throw to the next base, which would normally be off line, and cause a collision at the plate. In fact, come to think of it, just as box ball was a pretense to throw tennis balls at the unsuspecting, playing baseball at recess might have just been a pretense to cause home plate collisions.

Anyway, I took the mound. And before I put the tennis ball in my Easton baseball glove (they were all the rage at the time), or sized up the opposing batter, the kid at first base started laying into me about everything from my lack of knowledge of a woman’s anatomy to my sexual preference. In fairness, he was probably more accurate than he realized. I was barely aware of my own penis, let alone a female’s reproductive system. And if I was suddenly enlightened, I likely would’ve found it to be disgusting.

So, with this harassment coming from first base, there I was playing with kids two years older than me, and doing something for which I wasn’t especially talented. Because of this, you might say that I was a bit shaken. You might also say it because I was actually literally shaking. I knew that there was no way I’d be able to get the tennis ball over the plate, and that as soon as I failed to do so, the mockery would be even more severe than it already was.

With these circumstances in mind, I did the only thing I could think of. I pretended to try to pick the runner off at third, then I whirled around and threw the tennis ball as hard as I could at the mouthy kid on first base. I missed the mouthy kid by about three strides, but the ball ended up right in the first baseman’s glove who then promptly tagged the shocked mouthy kid out.

An argument then erupted in which I was accused of a balk, a term that only half the kids playing had actually heard of before. The argument carried on until recess was over, reminding me that if the pretense for baseball at recess wasn’t home plate collisions it was arguing and name calling.

And of course, by the time the next recess was called, everything was forgotten. The grade four boys rushed out to play. The grade six boys followed and quickly took over. And so it went …

Ahead of this season, Major League Baseball’s Playing Rules Committee approved a proposal to make the fake to third, turnaround throw to first pick off a balk, with MLB executives and umpires in agreement. However, the players’ union vetoed the plan to implement the rule change for this season, saying that they’d like to discuss it further. If they wish to, MLB is now allowed to implement the change for next season, and will likely do so unless there’s a strong objection from the players.

Comments (31)

  1. Has this move ever worked in the history of MLB?

  2. OH MAN! “Smuck Teams” made the evolutionary trek south to Newcastle/Bowmanville/Cobourg too. We’d routinely yell out “SMUCK” when people would switch teams to be with their friends, making them completely unfair.

  3. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen that move work in a major league baseball game. But I think that’s why I love it – watching the pitcher go “Ha! Gotcha!!” with a ridiculous “deception” that literally never fools anyone always makes me smile. RIP, silly fake third-to-first pickoffs. You’ll be missed.

    • I saw it work once this season … I do not remember which game though. I suggest those interested get a subscription to mlb.tv, a list of all the pick-offs and caught stealing’s that have occurred this season and go through until you find it. Like I said, I’m pretty sure I saw it work once….

  4. This is note perfect. Awesome.

  5. On the one hand, I think the balk rule in general is stupid. On the other hand, I think this move is even more stupid, so… good, I guess?

    • What is there to not like about the balk rule? You’d prefer pitchers could wind up, step and pitch, but not release the ball? Then turn and catch a runner trying to steal? You might as well be saying you don’t like having a strike zone at all.

      My guess is that Dustin and his schoolmates’ understanding of the balk rule is about as sound as your understanding of it. Am I wrong?

      • Um, yes. Yes, you are wrong.

        There are circumstances where the balk rule is fine, but there are increasingly fiddling rules and conditions and this that and the other things that are only rarely, if ever, called. Most of the rule seems to be focused on making sure pitchers can’t be clever. Yay! Wait, no.

  6. I think the fake 3rd to 1st is WAY MORE legit than the “lift the leg, stop the delivery and rotate towards 2nd base”.

    Don’t you agree?

  7. I’m pretty sure that this move stopped working sometime around 13 or 14. If you tried it beyond that, it was as sure a sign as any that you were definitively shook.

  8. Playing Smuck – Noun – Messing with people of a junior grade and/or those that are smaller/weaker/inferior to you. Particularly while in highschool.

    Usage: I’m going to play smuck with that grade nine kid. Watch this. It’ll be hilarious.

    -90′s Crestwood student.

  9. “the kid at first base started laying into me about everything from my lack of knowledge of a woman’s anatomy to my sexual preference.”

    LOL! When I read this I immediately pictured a kid telling Drew “You suck dick” or something along the same lines but a little more graphic. Then I read the next sentence.

    “In fairness, he was probably more accurate than he realized”

    Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  10. Is boxball the same as redass?

    • wow. red ass. blast from the past right there

      • I broke my nose, arm & wrist on a single play in red ass. But the most important part was that I made it to the wall before the ball was thrown there. My ass wasn’t red, but the rest of my body sure was, especially my favourite sweater. I still miss you, Florida Gator!

      • We got to enjoy the height of Red Ass and Red Rover in Terry FOX PS before they banned it in late 85 or 86.

  11. We used ghostrunners in Wasaga Beach too.

    These harkening back to childhood pieces are always fantastic, and I’m usually amazed at the memories and the emotions that flood back. Excellent.

  12. I`m missing something. What is the rationale for making it a balk?

    I suppose it doesn`t usually work and maybe wastes time. Unfairness as between right and left handed pitchers (not that lefties don`t have a better situation to begin with…).

    If you know of a better rationale, feel free to make it known.

  13. That is a fantastic story. I do think that a lot of the time the best part about recess was the arguing.

  14. I’m curious to see how they word this rule, because as long as the pitcher makes a clear attempt to put out the runner at third base, he *should* become an infielder, at which point he can shove the ball up his own ass, if he wants.

    The key point is a *clear* attempt to put out the runner at third base. He should have to actually step towards the base, as the rulebook has said for generations. He should also have to fake a throw.

    In fact, that’s the only part of this rule that umpires need to actually enforce: the pitcher has to step towards third base, as opposed to picking up his foot, then putting it back down again, as pitchers have started to do in the last decade or so. There’d be no need for a new rule.

  15. I just googled Pat Hentgen pick off move and I read this article. The most enjoyable Dustin Parkes article I have read.

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