Skippers not immune from lineup card miscues
Over the course of a full regular season, Major League managers will fill out a combined 4,860 lineup cards. Those batting orders will be conceived in their minds, maybe scratched down on paper, phone or computer, set in stone on official lineup cards and sent off to umpires and opposing managers.
With nearly 5,000 lineups flying off managers' desks every season, perhaps we should be surprised that only a few of them contain notable mistakes.
Look no further for a high-profile example than the Dodgers-Giants game on July 6 at AT&T Park. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, one of the game's most experienced managers who's guided his team to two of the last three World Series championships, had to take responsibility for a run coming off the board -- not because of a strategical error, but due to a mix-up between his lineup card and his players.
In the bottom of the first inning of the Giants' eventual 4-2 win, Buster Posey came to the plate as the team's No. 3 hitter and drilled an RBI double to right field to put San Francisco up, 1-0. But out came Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who pointed out that Posey was listed as the Giants' cleanup man. Pablo Sandoval should have been hitting there, not Posey, so the runner who scored on Posey's nonexistent hit was sent back to the bases.
"You feel horrible," Bochy said at the time. "It cost Buster a double and an RBI. There's not a worse feeling."
Bochy owned up to the error but called the conditions around it a "perfect storm." On that day, he had already been preoccupied by his selections for the National League All-Star team, and the Giants' usual routine had been disrupted by a new electronic screen in their clubhouse.
Bochy said his batting order didn't transfer properly onto the iPad that displays the lineup in several places, including the home clubhouse at AT&T Park. That's why Posey was listed third on the lineup cards given to the media before the game, third on the scoreboard in center field ... and fourth on Bochy's official lineup card.
Posey was also fourth in the batting orders the Giants sent to the umpires and the Dodgers, who at least understood Bochy's plight as they used it to their advantage.
"It can happen easily when you make up the lineup with those computers," Mattingly said.
In the Tampa Bay Rays' case, more technology in the lineup-writing process is a good thing. Take it from Joe Maddon, widely regarded as one of the best managers in baseball. A memorable mix-up on his lineup card in 2009 led to a starting pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine, batting third.
In that game, Maddon listed two third basemen, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. Zobrist played third base in the top of the first inning, so when Longoria, intended to be the Rays' designated hitter, came to the plate in the bottom of the first, the umpires ruled that they had burned their DH by filling out a card with two third basemen. That left Sonnanstine hitting in place of Longoria, who hadn't officially entered the game.
Maddon explained that the system the Rays use to enter their lineup prevents most of the mistakes he might make. The key, he says, is still to make sure the correct player is listed as the DH and that the pitcher is in the right spot. So that's what he checks, without fail, before every game.
"I know I read over that sucker two or three times, at least, every night," Maddon said recently. "We have kind of this thing within the computer system itself that should help prevent it. Then [bullpen coach Stan Boroski] gives it to other coaches to read before I read it. So I'd say it's gone over by at least three or four independent groups before it actually gets to the umpire."
Even before Maddon hands it off to someone else to take to the umpire at home plate, he'll pause in the dugout for a moment and read it over again. Better to be safe than wind up with your pitcher hitting third again.
"You try [to avoid mistakes]," Maddon said. "I don't want to say that it's impossible, because it is possible."
It was possible for former skipper Tony La Russa, who accidentally made Yadier Molina unavailable in a 2011 game because he mistakenly included the catcher in the starting lineup on a planned day off. And really, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire explained, it's possible for everyone.
"We're all responsible for looking at that card. Believe me, that's a nightmare," Gardenhire said last month. "We stare at this thing and look at it over and over and over. We still -- still -- on certain days, when there's a lot of stuff going on early, you'll send one over [to the opposing team] and go, '...We have two guys playing center.'
"[Before] it leaves this office, I swear I look at it 8,000 times. I read it. I have two coaches here. We all read it. Spelling, everything. And ultimately, they'll come walking back in, 'You've got three left fielders?' How does that happen?"
Gardenhire credited his coaching staff for the fact that he couldn't recall a time that one of those gaffes has affected him in a game. Because when a player is scratched, for instance, and the entire lineup has to be rewritten and posted in all the different locations players see it, it's quite a bit of work getting everyone on the same page.
Sometimes that happens on a daily basis, particularly for managers who often shuffle their lineups. Consider Maddon's Rays, who used 151 different lineups in 162 games a year ago. That might be a dramatic example, but every club shuffles in players due to injuries, to utilize platoon advantages or at least to provide rest for the regulars.
So it's not as simple as copying the previous day's lineup onto a new card, tucking it into the manager's back pocket and letting the players run out onto the field the way they did the day before. If that's all it took, filling out those 4,860 lineup cards would be a lot easier, too.
"Believe me, we worry about that. A lot. More than you can imagine," Gardenhire said. "It happens. It's inevitable when you do that this many times."