A couple of weeks ago one of the regular Feesh Stripes correspondents summarized a prior night’s blowout as a “tough loss,” and I demurred. To me, a “tough loss” was a synonym for “one that got away,” a game you had in hand and then blew – usually, in the bottom of the final inning (regulation or extras) – usually by a narrow margin (there are some exceptions to this; see below).
Baseballspeak, like Yiddish, isn’t strictly defined. Also like Yiddish, it’s mostly an oral text occasionally forced into print. You hear fans, spawrtsriters, spawrts tork raydeo hosts and announcers routinely refer to the all but Akashic “unwritten rules.” Some believe they can be found in the Necronomicon, but fear, rightly so, to enunciate them therefrom.
A more ambitious and less procrastinatory soul than moi could make a career of the lecture circuit and evening speaker’s gambit at Barnes and Noble if he or she were to write an entire book about the unwritten rules, including their sordid history, the rules themselves, those who flaunted them and those who hied happily to their demands. Yes, I do recognize the incipient oxymoron operating here – a book about the unwritten rules. Even so, as MLB imposes ever stricter governance over unwritten rules enforcement – the ejection of Atlantaen Kevin Gausman for retaliating against the amiable Jose Ureña for plunking premature veteran Ronald Acuña last season, for example – perhaps we’re rapidly approaching the time when someone had better get to work preserving all those invisible regulations of conduct before they become indistinct memories duffers like me tell their great-grandchildren.
So, with modest ambition, I propose here to clarify what a “tough loss” is as a prequel to a more robust discussion about the “unwritten rules.” I’ll begin by sketching a few parameters:
1) A “tough loss” cannot exceed a four run differential, since a walkoff grand slam to conclude a late tie is always a “tough” way to lose, especially if the inning opened with an opponent tripling and you’ve walked the bases full to set up the proverbial “play at any base” before getting scalded.
1a): Most “tough losses” should occur in the final inning regardless, whether in the visitor’s top or home team’s bottom of the inning. However, the losing team must have carried either a winning margin or a tie into the catastrophe. A team that got down by four runs in the first inning and then carried their deficit through the final inning, for example, shall not be deemed to have suffered a “tough loss” except as specified in (4) below.
2) A “tough loss” cannot be defined by the injury of a key player unless the injury occurs on the final play of the game and contributes materially to a “tough loss” by four or fewer runs.
3) No game in which your worst pitcher gets beaten, regardless of the circumstances, can be considered a “tough loss” because you knew it was coming all along.
4) A team which appears to have gotten blown out in the early innings, which then chips, pecks, claws and diddles its way to a tie or lead only to lose in the late innings anyway, shall be deemed to have suffered a “tough loss” regardless of the margin of defeat. This is what is known as a “sop.”
That’s my opening gambit. Anyone else who’d like to contribute other specifications for the use of “tough loss” is merrily invited to do so.