Baseball writers love the batting order, because every tweak to it is a built-in story to carry them through spring-training or pregame assignments. That's why managers have learned to notify players of any significant changes in the order before the media is allowed in the clubhouse 3 1/2 hours before the game. It's also why former Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, who notoriously changed lineups then simply posted them without explanation, fell out of favor in the Boston clubhouse.
In truth, though, there is little order to the batting order. Changes are the rule, not the exception. Managers typically use more than a hundred different lineups over the course of the season. Batting orders are so fungible that few players last long in one spot. For instance, excluding the 16 number 9 spots among National League teams, which are normally filled by starting pitchers, there are 254 lineup spots among the 30 clubs. Last year only 39 of them, or 15%, were filled by players with enough plate appearances in that spot to qualify for the batting title (3.1 plate appearances per game played by the team). The other 85%--including every spot below cleanup--are wholly unstable, which is why most players need to check the lineup card every day.
Actually, teams typically deploy six copies of the lineup per game: one posted in the clubhouse, one posted in the dugout, one given to the opposing team, one given to the home plate umpire, one held by the bullpen coach and one kept by the manager. Only the one in the dugout is created on a standard-issue form supplied by Major League Baseball--the better for possible resale value, of course. Several of those have even made their way to the Hall of Fame in recent years, such as ones for the 2000 opening of Detroit's Comerica Park and the game that same year in Miami in which six Florida Marlins sat out in protest of the Elian Gonzalez immigration case.
For clubhouse postings, the New York Mets use a board with player nameplates that a coach slides into the respective batting order spots. The nameplates, though, did not include the players' position on the field, which was why former manager Art Howe violated one of the sacred codes of filling out a lineup: Never let a player, especially a veteran, find out from the media about a change in his status. Howe had listed catchers Mike Piazza and Jason Phillips in his lineup, which was then posted on the board. It was news to Howe, however, that the board did not show positions. His oversight and failure to tell Piazza that he was playing first base that night meant that Piazza found out from reporters. (Shortly thereafter the Mets started writing the positions on tape applied to the nameplates.)
The manager, or more often one of his coaches, fills out the four cards for the opposing team, umpires, his bullpen and personal use. Until about five years ago it had been common practice for teams to use cards that made carbon copies. Now many teams use laptop computers to print these pocket-sized cards of their own design. The Angels, for instance, print the ground rules of the stadium in which they are playing on the back of the card. The Rangers use white cards for home games and blue for road.
When Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen publicly berated Showalter last season for what he considered to be his overbearing ways, one of his examples was Showalter's lineup card. It is neatly printed by bench coach Don Wakamatsu and, unlike most teams', also lists reserves with uniform numbers, separating position players and pitchers and listing each group in alphabetical order. Guillen's handwritten card lists only his nine-man order and starting pitcher. ( Showalter took offense last July when, before a game against the Rangers, Guillen presented umpires with a lineup card that included player photos and apocryphal e-mail addresses.)
During games players will check the larger, standard-issue card in the dugout to know when it is their turn to hit. A coach typically fills out this card. "Before a game we triple-check to make sure the card in the dugout matches the one we hand in [to the umpire]," Showalter says. "A manager's worst fear is batting out of order."
Alas, the batting order can still be troublesome even after the game has begun, as Baker discovered last year when he became the most recent manager to suffer the indignity of having players bat out of turn. Baker says that in the top of the seventh inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds he signaled for a double switch, but home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor didn't see him. After Ramon Martinez doubled in the bottom of the seventh, the Reds protested. Bucknor ruled Martinez had batted out of order, removed him from the bases and called the proper hitter, pitcher Kent Mercker, out.
Baker stormed from the dugout and earned his ejection with a major rant at Bucknor, during which he threw the offending lineup card to the ground. The next day, like every other day, he would try again--a fresh hunk of wet clay in his hands.