Lowell Cohn: Baseball's real power lies in the ball, not the bat

  • San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Santiago Casilla, right, hands the ball to manager Bruce Bochy, center, and heads for the dugout as catcher Buster Posey, left, looks on in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins Friday, May 16, 2014, in San Francisco. Miami won the game 7-5 and Casilla was the losing pitcher. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Let's talk about the ball — the ball in baseball.

A while back, Tim Hudson was relaxing in the Giants' clubhouse before one of his starts. It was a day game. About 11 a.m., pitching coach Dave Righetti walked out of the coaches' room and went over to Hudson and handed him a ball.

Think about that a moment while I give you another scene.

When Art Howe managed the A's, he told me this story. On one team he knew about the starting pitcher became ill the night before his start. The manager — I forget his name — drove to the ballpark early the next morning and put the ball in the baseball shoe of a long reliever. When the reliever arrived at the park, he saw the ball in his shoe and knew he was the starting pitcher that day.

So, the ball, that beautiful tight white sphere with the red stitches, is the basic implement of baseball. It also is symbolic in the culture of baseball.

You already know about the symbolism. You've seen it enacted a million times on a baseball diamond. When Bruce Bochy walks slowly to the mound, toward Tim Lincecum with runners on base in, say, the sixth inning, when he walks out there to remove Lincecum, what does he do?

Bochy holds out his hand.

And Lincecum or Matt Cain or Tim Hudson or any of the starters politely places the ball in Bochy's hand. It also could be Sonny Gray giving Bob Melvin the ball. It could be any team.

The meaning?

Well, that's fascinating. When a pitcher is given the ball, has the ball, he is empowered. He is in charge of the game. The ball and the game are his.

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