Hamaven Yaven
Masechet (Tractate) Baseball

Recently, there was "Jewish Night" at Shea stadium (NY Mets). My friend and I went, and we decided to send out two trusty virtual reporters, Ella Rina (E.R.) and Ella Tfila (E.T.) down to the field with hidden nanophones (that's 1/1000th of a microphone) to determine the answer to that age old question:

"What are they discussing on that pitcher's mound?"

Ella Rina has explained to us that there are, basically three types of conversations:

  1. The chevruta: This is when the catcher alone goes to the mound to talk to the pitcher.
  2. The shiur: This is when the manager goes to the mound the first time in an inning.
  3. The mussar: This is when the manager goes a second time to the mound. Inevitably, this must be some severe punishment, as this is immediately followed by the pitcher leaving the game. Typically, pitchers try to avoid the mussar.

Ella Tfila reported on some of the conversations that occurred during the August 4, 1998 Mets Game vs. The San Francisco Giants. To avoid "lotion horror" and possibly being ejected from future baseball games because of slander and playing with the rosin bag, Ella does not mention any of the players' real names. Of course, Ella doesn't KNOW any of the players' real names, anyway, but that's beside the point.

In the top of the third, the Mets catcher went to the mound for a chevruta:

Pitch: So, nu? Vat's de matter now?
Catch: Listen, I just want to tell you that you should pitch no higher than 1 amah out of the strike zone, because even bedi'eved (by leniency), the umpire won't call it a strike. And try to speed up your pitches so we can all get out of here before sof z'man kriyat shema (end of time for reciting Shema), OK?

Ella Rina explained what goes through a pitcher's head between pitches. Have you noticed he walks around the mound too much, picks up the rosin bag, drops it, rubs his hands, chews tobacco, spits, scratches himself, all before he finally throws a ball to home plate? What is going on all this time?

E.R. explains that the pitcher is contemplating a tough sugya (section) of the Talmud. The walking around the mound is to fulfill the precept, "vehalachta bidrachav". "Thou shalt walk in his path". The pitcher would rather himself walk in His path than walk the batter to first base!

The use of the rosin bag is an allusion to the children of Israel all united in one place. The baseball field is partially made of sand thus resembling Israel as the "sands of the Earth", thus scattered about. The rosin bag represents the collection of these scattered grains in one place forming unity and thus, controlling the destiny of the game. After all, the game cannot continue until the pitcher pitches the ball!

The tobacco chewing and spitting is simply because the pitcher gets hungry on the mound. Since the mound may be considered a makom (place of) tum'ah (unclean), the pitcher cannot make a bracha (blessing) prior to eating. Hence, by chewing tobacco and spitting it out, he is not really eating, thus he need not make a bracha.

The scratching minhag (custom) originated from a mistranslation of a Yiddish word. Many years ago, when Sandy Kofax was losing a game, and things looked bleak, he went off the mound and began to krechtz (sigh), "Oy vey! Vat a day! How do I make this batter strike away?" From there came the expression, and rule, "A pitcher who is in trouble should krechtz to relieve his frustrations." However, as Kofax passed on, and got into The Hall of Fame, people started to say, "A pitcher who is in trouble should kratz (scratch) to relieve his frustrations." Thus, came about the custom to scratch rather than to sigh.

E.T. explains that the reason the pitcher keeps nodding his head "yes" and "no" is that he is contemplating the result of a makhloket (dispute) and it takes him some time to decide which Rabbi might be right. Occasionally, the pitcher really cannot decide, as E.T. discovered the other night when there was an "expanded" chevruta. The first baseman joined in together with the catcher on the mound.

1st base: "Hey guys? What's the problem
Catch: Now, I thought I told you what the signals mean. Index finger means Bet Shamai, Pinkie means Bet Hillel."
Picher: Oh, was that it? I thought the index finger meant Hashem is watching and the pinkie meant "let's have fleishigs (meat) after the game!"
1st base: "No, you shmendrik and a half! The index means throw a fastball and the pinkie means that the catcher has an itch on his index but can't get his finger out of the glove. Got that?

Meanwhile, the yoompar (umpire) has joined in on the chevruta also.

Yoomp: "Hey! You guys are taking too long! My wife said not to come home so late because I'll miss tikun chatzot (midnight prayer). Let's get on with the game, OK?"

Sometimes, E.T. says, it's hard to tell the difference between the expanded chevruta and a shiur. The difference, of course, is that a shiur always involves the manager, where the chevruta never does. Problem is, sometimes the manager TELLS the players to make an expanded chevruta, in which case, technically, this is a shiur, but not really. E.T. refers to this as a "syag leshiur" (building a "fence" around the shiur). I just prefer to call it an excuse!

In the 8th inning, it seems that the Giants pitcher got into some trouble. They were one run up, but had the Mets fastest runner in scoring position. A shiur occurred on the mound.

Manager to pitcher: Now, we're taking dinner orders. We decided we're going for Chinese food tonight.
Pitcher: But I prefer chulent!
Mgr: I'm sorry, but we've had enough chulent the last few nights! Now, you better tell me now, you want Moo Goo Gribenes (chicken fat, with the hardened skins) or Sweet and Sour Egg Kichel? (The only "mop" and "shovel" good enough for pickled herring onions. A necessity when you run out of toothpicks!)
Pitch: I don't know. Let me get this last guy out, and I'll let you know in the dugout between innings, OK?
Mgr: OK, but you better finish it soon, 'cause the boychiks ("dem bums!") here are getting mighty hungry.

Well, it seems that the thought of food made the pitcher lose concentration. He not only walked the next batter to load the bases, but he had a wild pitch, and walked the next two after that. This was far more than the manager and the dug-out-chiks could tolerate.
Mgr: OK, what's the problem. Why did you allow three men to score?
Pitch: I'm sorry, I was hungry. You know, I was thinking about getting Liver Lomein with an Egg Keichel Roll.
Mgr: Are you meshugah? You were hungry? That's what cost us three runs??? You were hungry? Get outta here and get the whole team some food! The whole dugout is hungry! Come on! Give me the ball! (Oy! He was hungry! Ah nechtigeh tog! ("Why didn't I trade him yesterday?"))

Well, now that you have some idea of why baseball games take so long, I would suggest that next time you go to the park or stadium you might want to take a Ramba"m (Maimonedes explanation). I have a feeling he might explain what the BATTERS do when they step out of the batter's box between pitches.

Until then, this is Ella Rina and Ella Tfillah saying if you understood this, then you're a Maven.

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