The Ceremonial First Pitch is among baseball’s most benign traditions. Sometimes somebody famous will throw the ball in the dirt, and last October the famous Chipper Jones had to deliver not to a former Atlanta Braves teammate but to mascot Homer the Brave. (This happened because Jones, not being a homer, picked the Dodgers to beat the Braves in the NLDS, which wound up happening but which miffed his touchy ex-mates.)
In sum, CFP doings tend to be funny. What happened to Don Baylor in Anaheim on Monday night was the polar opposite of funny. It was make-you-sick-at-your stomach awful, Kevin-Ware-in-Indianapolis awful. (I’d post a video here, but the image is so graphic that I’d rather you click this YouTube link if you decide to watch. I’m not sure I would, though.)
Newly installed as the Angels’ hitting coach, Baylor deployed himself behind home plate to receive the CFP from Vladimir Guerrero, who’d signed one of those Ceremonial One-Day Contracts so he could retire as an Angel. (Baylor, who was never a catcher, was paired with Guerrero because the two were the only Angels to be voted American League MVP. Though Mike Trout, who homered off the great Felix Hernandez in his first at-bat of 2014, will be soon.)
Guerrero’s serve came in slow and low. Positioned on his left knee, Baylor bent to his right and crumpled. (Caught the ball, though.) Guerrero walked toward the plate, laughing. (Hey, CFP’s are fun!) He helped Baylor to his feet, whereupon everyone stopped laughing. Baylor’s right leg bent at an unnatural angle and the big man collapsed again.
Two Angels aides helped Baylor to the dugout. A bit later came the diagnosis that Baylor had broken his femur — that’s the thighbone, the biggest bone in the human body — and would undergo surgery Tuesday. Good grief.
Baylor is 64 and a cancer survivor. As a player, he was considered the toughest man in the sport. He was the Braves’ hitting coach in 1999, the last year they reached the World Series, and left after the season to manage the Chicago Cubs. In the distinguished career of a baseball lifer, this was the most regrettable chapter.