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Gerald F. Dionne
April 18, 1988
Odd things happen when both baseball teams try to lose
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April 18, 1988

Playing The Losing Game

Odd things happen when both baseball teams try to lose

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It seemed to me the cat was out of the bag and that both teams were trying to lose the game. Furthermore, neither team wanted anyone else to know what was going on, especially the umpires. The farce was on.

One of baseball's many curious facets is that a team cannot score on itself. We had a 2-0 lead, but Plateau was winning. To adapt a Yogi Berra quote, "If they wouldn't score, we couldn't stop them." In a curious way, this anti-game had become a contest of a different sort—a new, perhaps perverted, challenge to which we had to respond. Coach Bain told us to play as though we were unaware of Plateau's plan.

After four quick innings, Bain told me to start loosening up to pitch. Because I was supposed to be resting for the "real" playoffs, I questioned this move, but he had a new plan: We would use up our subs and then stage an injury to force a default. To be convincing, he wanted something dramatic. At that point, I jokingly suggested that Hughes volunteer to stick his head in front of a pitch.

"You're close," Bain said. "You will throw a pitch, and Johnny [Umbach, our catcher] will fake an injury."

When our team came off the field at the top of the sixth inning, Bain, Umbach and I quickly discussed our tactics. It was decided that a fist would be the signal for a wild pitch in the dirt, and Umbach would do the rest.

I took the mound in the bottom of the inning and retired the first batter on a ground ball. Then, with a l-and-2 count on the second batter, I saw Umbach's fist. I had selected a spot about three feet in front of the plate; if I could come close to it, I calculated that the height of the bounce would be about right. The important thing was to keep the pitch down the middle. For this one, I came right over the top and gunned it. The ball hit slightly in front of my target, but the carom was perfect—right into the lower part of Umbach's chest protector, and he made it appear convincingly close to his most sensitive area.

Umbach's scream must have been heard two blocks away. He keeled over and assumed a fetal position on the ground, waiting for help to arrive while attempting to hide his giggling behind his moans and sobs. Coach Bain told the home plate umpire that Umbach had forgotten his protective cup, and the official sympathetically pointed out that there was a hospital nearby. Four players, one on each limb, carried our "casualty" to a car. When they were safely out of sight and their laughter out of earshot, the umpire was informed that we had no more eligible substitutes.

By this time, I had retreated from the scene at home plate to a point on the first base line, not far from the Plateau bench. As the umpire ruled that Plateau had won by forfeit, I sensed someone standing behind my left shoulder and heard a semiwhisper in broken English: "Maudit ["Goddam"] Dionne, dat was a nice pitch, you——!" There is something almost pyrotechnic about the way a French Canadian enunciates an obscenity, especially a three-syllable English one. It was the Plateau coach, and he was neither fooled nor amused by the performance. With the passage of time, I have tried to persuade myself that his curse was in part congratulatory.

The theater of the absurd had ended, and we had won by losing, but now the serious games were about to begin. With remarkable ease, we defeated first-place Laval in two straight. Our jubilation was quickly dampened, however, when we learned that Plateau had also advanced to the semifinals by dispatching second-place Ville-Marie in similar fashion. Town was going to have to face Plateau again! And we knew that that sudden-death game would not go unavenged.

Our first game against Plateau was on a sunny Saturday afternoon at our home field, and it was my turn to pitch. For five innings everything went our way, and we quickly opened up a 2-0 lead. Plateau showed little offense up to that point, and I felt in command. But by the third time through the batting order, the strike zones were looking even smaller and my fastball was getting bigger. A walk and a single preceded a Samson triple, and the score was tied. Plateau waited until the last innings to score its winning runs.

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