The intentional walk as we know it is dead. MLB announced back on Tuesday that, starting this season, pitchers would no longer have to actually lob four pitches out of the strike zone for the batter to get first base. From here on, at least unless they change their minds, an intentional walk will just happen with a signal from the dugout and the batter gets the base automatically.
Some people out there have very strong feelings about this change, probably because it is change and we all have our things where we fear change. Although I’m not going to lose much sleep over not having to watch any more intentional walks play out all the way, I have to admit that baseball is losing at least a little something by this change.
Those hardy Orioles fans who stuck out most or all of the dark years of the 2000s surely remember the night that the Orioles failed to walk Miguel Cabrera. If it’s not the quintessential moment of the losing Orioles years, it’s surely on the Mount Rushmore of that time period. It’s hard to fail worse than that.
The night was June 22, 2006. The Orioles got eight innings of one run baseball from Kris Benson, of all people, and even so they entered the eighth inning of the game against the Marlins with the score tied, 1-1. But they finally rallied and scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth and only had to cruise to victory. I mean, three outs to get, a four run cushion, how could they screw THAT up, right?
Well, LaTroy Hawkins happened, and then Chris Ray happened, and before you knew it the game was tied, 5-5, and headed into extra innings. That’s some substantial failure already and yet it was all still prelude to the moment of ultimate failure.
Hanley Ramirez, then rather young, led off the 10th with a bunt single against Todd Williams. He advanced on a groundout, bringing the already-dangerous young slugger Cabrera to the plate with the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Sensibly, O’s manager Sam Perlozzo opted to issue the intentional pass to Cabrera, preferring to take his chances with Cody Ross batting instead. Don’t let Cabrera be the guy to beat you is advice that’s been true in the whole decade since. Then this happened:
Here on the TV call, Jim Hunter and Jim Palmer almost can’t even believe it. The disgust in Palmer’s voice as he sees the replay and asks, “What is this?” is palpable. If you were watching in those dark days, you were probably quite disgusted as well. This was pretty bad, even for the bad Orioles.
Williams was removed not long after blowing the game. Kurt Birkins proceeded to blow it farther. Williams survived the rest of the year in the O’s bullpen, despite stinking, and they even brought him back the next season, when he was so bad they had to DFA him. They were dark times.
What’s even worse is this: The 2006 Orioles actually won 70 games. From 2007-11, they were unable to win even that many. As bad as the 2006 Orioles were, as embarrassing as this moment was, they had yet to hit rock bottom!
If the intentional walk rule change sticks, nothing like this will ever happen again. That makes a moment like this Williams-Cabrera failure even more special for its scarcity.
Thankfully for Orioles fans, it’s been a few years since any more of these embarrassing moments have been added to the pile. I don’t miss those days. But I think baseball might miss the chance for more of these quirky little plays to be added to its annals.