Outfield of Manute, Wilt, Kareem could get the jump on Oriole Park homers

John Steadman

June 26, 1992|By John Steadman

It's difficult to believe when Abner Doubleday chased the cows out of the pasture and was overtaken with an attack of inventive inspiration, while in the act of conceiving the game of baseball, that he had anything in mind resembling jumpball. That's what the Baltimore Orioles have in their new home park. Part jumpball, part baseball.

Maybe Doubleday should have considered the aspect of jumpball when he put the grand old game together on that summer afternoon in 1839. It admittedly adds an exciting dimension. But is it truly baseball or should it be considered a hybrid idea that distorts the sport?

The Orioles excel at jumpball. Outfielders Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux are the unofficial leaders in the jumpball department, with two each, followed by David Segui, who picked one off in right-centerfield. A jumpball is recorded when a high fly ball or line drive heads toward the leftfield or left-centerfield stands, or even to an area in right-center, of the team's new park and a potential home run turns into an instant out.

Seeing either Anderson, Devereaux or Segui retreating to the wall and springing into action is a momentous thrill. On a combined basis, Anderson, Devereaux and Segui have stolen five home runs so far and the season isn't even half over.

They go airborne, extend a gloved hand and frequently deny the hitter a home run. This is not Al Gionfriddo robbing Joe DiMaggio of a homer in the 1947 World Series, one of the few times DiMaggio showed emotion on a baseball field when he kicked the dirt as he neared second base upon realization his momentous shot of 415 feet had been caught in spectacular style.

Similar acts of larceny are being perpetrated by the current Orioles, led by Anderson and Devereaux. It's good theater. The catches aren't as difficult as they might appear. Either they do or they don't. And, with the modern glove, skill in making catches is minimized.

All that's needed is to get where the ball is headed, time the jump, put up your arm and, more often than not, it hits the glove and locks itself inside the pocket. For the spectator, it's an enjoyable aspect of baseball when the jumpball comes into play. However, if it happens too frequently and becomes repetitious, then it's no longer a surprise.

Speaking hypothetically, what's to prevent an outfielder from taking a portable stepladder to his position and opening it up when a ball is carrying toward the fences? Obviously, the rulemakers would have to call an emergency meeting to legislate against portable stepladders being used in a major-league game.

Roland Hemond, the Orioles general manager who thinks of everything, supposedly is contemplating offering contracts to several basketball players and utilize them as the last line of defense. Hemond has in mind bringing Wilt Chamberlain, 7 feet 1, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 7-2, out of retirement and putting them on the roster.

He also may trade for 7-7 Manute Bol and suggest to manager John Oates that he use him, along with Wilt and Kareem, in late innings. They would become known as the Baltimore Home Run Blockers. Interesting, too, is they have the physical structure to sprawl forward, backward and sideways to cut off balls that otherwise may fall in for base hits. Having them in the lineup, for defensive purposes, would give the Orioles an ideal home-field advantage.

Imagine, too, the demand for tickets once Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Bol, representing an insurmountable picket line, are in the outfield. The clamor for seats is at an all-time high. Their presence would compound ticket requests and bring even more fans to the park.

The seven-foot-high fence in leftfield is a particular annoyance for the umpires. They have to be prepared to call interference when fans reach down to try to catch the ball in an effort to keep it away from a pursuing outfielder. It may be that the American League is going to tell the Orioles to remedy the situation.

A possibility open to the Orioles is they could attach Plexiglas to the leftfield wall to give it added height to minimize the potential for interference. It would be similar to what's used in a hockey arena and would not obscure or distort the vision but would prevent fans from interfering with the play.

That way jumpball remains an interesting sidelight to baseball in Baltimore.

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