Goin’ to the Show

Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve written about it here. I had never heard the majors referred to as “The Show” before the movie came out, but ever since I saw it, the majors are now “The Show.” MLB itself has licensed the term to Sony, and they have used it to create a very successful franchise for PlayStation. As a result, the two terms will probably be synonymous with each other forevermore.

The high point of the story comes when Tim Robbins’ character, “Nuke” LaLoosh, gets the call to go to the Show. Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis, gets into a fight with Nuke that evening and sports a black eye and a hangover the next day, but they make up and off Nuke goes to the majors. Crash then hits his dinger and hangs ’em up, but he also ends up in a big romp with Susan Sarandon’s Annie, and all ends well. Nuke is shown giving a clumsy interview to a reporter, and the inference is that, after he got called up, Nuke will now be set as a major leaguer. A typical Hollywood ending, after all.

But, as the real-life example of Jeff Ridgway reveals, getting a call to the Show doesn’t guarantee that all will be well. Ridgway pitched for the Durham Bulls, which is a real team and is the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. He was called up to the Show in September–just as Robbins’ character was in the movie–and he entered a game for the first time in a road game against the LA Angels on September 17, 2007. He faced two batters, threw five pitches, and failed to get either man out. Probably not the way he wanted to start off, but certainly not disastrous, either.

The Rays returned home for their final homestand of the season, facing the Red Sox and then the Yankees. The two teams were chasing each other in the standings, and both were looking to beat up on the lowly Rays, in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. After an off day on Thursday, and probably some rookie hazing along the way, the Rays played host to the Red Sox on Friday, September 21. The Rays were trailing 4-1 in the ninth inning, when Ridgway went the mound for the second time in his big league career. After issuing a walk to Jacoby Ellsbury, and hitting Dustin Pedroia with a pitch, he served up a three-run shot to David Ortiz,which essentially put the game away. Three batters faced by Ridgway, 13 pitches thrown, and still no outs had been recorded.

Recording outs is important, since that’s how a pitcher’s ERA and WHIP are calculated. If no outs are recorded, the pitcher’s stats are infinity in both cases. And so it was with Jeff Ridgway at this point. The Red Sox took two out of three games in the series, and then the Yankees came in to begin the final week of the regular season. Ridgway didn’t pitch in the first game of the series, but was called on for the third and final time on Wednesday, September 26.

Ridgway started the top of the sixth inning, with the Yankees holding a 9-2 lead. The game and the season were in mop-up time for the Rays, but Jeff Ridgway was still trying to make a name for himself. The game counted very much for him. After singles by Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Bobby Abreu brought home a run, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with two runners on base and popped out to short. Finally, an out had been recorded, and Ridgway could have an ERA and a WHIP to call his own.

The next batter, Jorge Posada, singled home Jeter, and Ridgway was removed from the game. He would not pitch again for the Rays that season, and was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the offseason. For this outing, he had faced 5 batters and thrown 25 pitches, and retired a hitter who could end up owning some of the game’s offensive records by the time he retires. But Ridgway’s ERA stood at 189.00, and his WHIP was an unsightly 24.00. Facing more batters–and recording more outs–would have brought these numbers into a more respectable range, but it was not to be.

Ridgway did not pitch again in the majors until the 2009 season, when he appeared in 10 games for the Braves and posted a 3.72 ERA and a WHIP of under 1.  However, he did not return to the majors again after that, and presently he may or may not be out of baseball, at the age of 31.

The point of this story is not to denigrate Jeff Ridgway in any way. Most ballplayers never make it to the majors in the first place, and the wide majority of people–myself included– will never play professional sports at all, at least not when our eyes are open and we’re wide awake.

Kudos to Jeff Ridgway, for making it to the top of his profession. However, the point here is that making it to The Show does not automatically lend itself to a happy ending, as Bull Durham seemed to imply that it did.

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