How a baseball custom began

Sometimes the origin of a baseball custom or tradition gets lost in the mists of time. I wrote a piece last year about how the Star-Spangled Banner came to be played before baseball games, but only after I had inadvertently come upon the story online one day. Other customs, though, are well-defined as to when or how they came into existence. Take a look at Brian Bannister’s photo above for an example of one of them.

If you were to sit down and watch a ballgame all the way through this upcoming season, my guess is you’ll see at least one example of what Bannister is doing over the course of that game. Whenever a conference is held on the pitcher’s mound, the pitcher habitually talks into his glove and, presumably, everyone on the mound can still hear what the pitcher is saying. But on an October evening back in 1989, a future Hall-of-Famer did not do this, and his team paid a steep price for it.

It was the 1989 NL playoffs between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. Game one was the first post-season game ever to be played under the lights at Wrigley Field. The game started off with an offensive bang, and when the Giants came to bat in the top of the fouth inning, the score was 4-3 Giants. The Giants had loaded the bases, and Will Clark was due up next.

Clark had already homered and doubled in a run–by the fourth inning–and the Cubs wanted to keep the game close. Catcher Joe Girardi went out to discuss how to pitch Clark at this juncture, while Clark waited in the on deck circle. Clark was watching pitcher Greg Maddux, who was not speaking into his glove, and read the words “fastball in.” Clark knew what pitch was coming, and he didn’t miss it when it came. His grand slam gave the Giants an almost insurmountable 8-3 lead, and set the tone for a Giants victory in the game and in the series.

It wasn’t until much later that Kevin Mitchell, the hitter who followed Clark in the Giants’ order, spilled the beans about what had happened┬áduring the conference on the mound. And once the word got out, you can be sure that no pitcher would ever take that risk again.

In the card shown above, Brian Bannister is doing more than just showing off how well his glove matches his uniform. He–and all pitchers–have learned from Greg Maddux’ long-ago encounter with Will Clark. Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way.