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.
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.
Bochy empowers Javier Lopez in the eighth inning when Lopez comes in from the bullpen to face a lefty. Lopez has the ball and the game in his hand. A batter or two later, Bochy might walk to the mound to remove Lopez because a right-handed hitter is due up. Lopez surrenders the ball, surrenders the game, is no longer in charge, no longer empowered. Simple as that. So much said silently through the ball, the custom of ball succession always honored and respected among pitchers and managers.
Baseball is the only team sport I know of where the object is NOT to share the ball. In soccer the players share. They kick the ball to each other. In basketball the players pass the ball to each other. Sometimes, people think the quarterback in football is like the pitcher in baseball. No. the quarterback does not own the ball. He must get it from the center. After he gets it, the quarterback's job — for the most part — is to share and distribute to receivers and running backs. The ball is not his. In baseball, the pitcher owns the ball until he doesn't. And he does not share — the less sharing the better. A flawless game would be 27 consecutive strikeouts. The ball passes only between the pitcher and catcher. The catcher is a necessity because the pitcher cannot pitch to himself. In a flawless game, the seven fielders would stand there gazing at the clouds and the batters never would make contact.