Welcome to the first half of the first round of the 2nd Annual 2015 Effectively Wild Tournament Bracket Classic.
In yet another take on March Madness, Banished to the Pen has again compiled 32 of the Effectively Wild podcast’s classic topics, favorite players, and most enduring/endearing running jokes. Seeding was determined by some murky combination of favorability, and frequency of mentions in the past year on Effectively Wild and its Facebook discussion group. Their finish in the 2015 Wild Four and Best of 2015 polls is also factored in, and we invite you to peruse them for more info on this year’s entries. Also visit our Essential Works list for recommended episodes.
(* indicates first tournament appearance)
Ned Garver* (1) vs Baseball on Ice (8)
In Sept 2015, a Play Index segment led Sam to a game on October 2, 1949 in which nine St. Louis Browns players had pitched exactly one inning each. In an effort to uncover the reason behind this strange piece of baseball trivia, Sam found the phone number for Browns starter Ned Garver – who pitched the first inning that day – and persuaded Ben to cold-call him on the podcast. What followed was a remarkable discussion with the 89-year-old that covered not only that game, but much of Garver’s career and baseball strategy of the era. Garver instantly became the most popular guest in the history of EW, and fans even started writing to him and getting very generous responses.
Weird baseball hypotheticals have long been a staple of listener email episodes, and a classic early example was a question about the concept of “baseball on ice.” Baseball played in unusual circumstances are still put forth in the Facebook group, keeping the spirit of the original question alive. A recent news item took it back to its roots while also taking it to the extreme: baseball on snowmobiles.
Lindbergh Burrito Method (4) vs Fat Player Photos (5)
In March 2015, there was much buzz over Ben and Sam finally meeting each other in person for the first time since the inception of the podcast. (Sam had previously been flown to New York courtesy of ESPN the Magazine to watch the Angels play, despite living in Southern California at the time, and it was then that EW was proposed.) Fast forward to last year when Ben and Sam were given the opportunity to run the baseball operations dept for the Sonoma Stampers, an independent team. This also gave Sam the opportunity to watch Ben eat a burrito in person, an experience he gleefully related to Russell Carleton after discovering that Ben’s method involved starting in the middle, rather than the end. It’s at least as weird as it sounds. Even EW listeners found themselves trying it on their own.
The circulation of photos of major leaguers looking sort of fat in the offseason has been a source of much delight for EW. (Ben: “I enjoy all pictures of fat players that may or may not actually be fat. That is the key to the appeal.”) Several minutes of episode openings have been dedicated to earnest detective work being conducted on their veracity: do they truly depict a player gaining a spare tire, or is he just the victim of factors like billowing and shadows? A recent example came on Feb 17: Michael Pineda behind a shrub.
Drafts of Everything (2) vs Wobbly Chair (7)
In the three and a half years since the podcast started, Ben and Sam have drafted – amongst other things – starters who are 25 or under, players who would offer the worst value for money, pitchers who are the least likely to have Tommy John surgery, and (in a possible jump the shark moment) future Mike Trout/Bryce Harper seasons. Perhaps most memorable (albeit with the most forgettable names) is the minor league free agent draft, now in its third season, in which the duo try to identify those minor league FAs who will simply accumulate the most MLB playing time, as measured by plate appearances and batters faced. Kudos to John Choiniere, resident scorekeeper.
In May 2013, Ben and Sam pondered the etymology of “hot seat” during a discussion of managers in danger of losing their job. Sam decided on an alternative: “wobbly chair,” and a long-lasting EW icon was built. In 2015, there were plenty of wobbly chair citings in the Facebook group as several managers and executives found themselves in precarious positions. As one post pointed out, Matt Williams was let go by the Nationals before Lifehacker could show him how to “Level Wobbly Chair Legs in an Instant with a Table Saw.”
Bat Flips* (3) vs Squeaky Laugh (6)
In recent years, enthusiastic bat flips have symbolized the divide between the game’s staunch traditionalists and its more spirited, demonstrative personalities. The sharing of notable examples from around the world has become a popular pastime in the Facebook group, most memorably Jose Bautista’s fierce flip during the infamous Texas-Toronto 7th inning in the ALDS. While flips have never been quite as much a podcast staple as the higher seeds, Sam described Bautista’s as the “most psychologically violent thing” he’d ever seen.
Despite Sam’s early lack of enthusiasm for the show, the heights of his moments of delight easily surpass those of the more mellow Ben. On occasion this will result in a laugh with some level of squeak to it. Perhaps Sam was too exhausted from running a baseball team and writing a book about it, but the laugh seemed less frequent this past year. But he almost cracked under the pressure of their third annual minor league free agent draft (38:45 mark), as he announced his pick of “Jarrett Grube” and Ben wondered if it was his real name.
Gonny Jomes* (1) vs Position Players Pitching (8)
In Sept 2015 (38:30) (amazingly, just two episodes prior to the Garver episode), an emailer named Scott put forth the hypothetical in which a replacement-level player (“Gonny Jomes,” a nod to “clubhouse leader” Jonny Gomes), would magically cause his team to accomplish things such as reaching the playoffs every year or winning every single game. The only requirement was that he be on the active roster (and it should be pointed out that Gonny Jomes is not actually Jonny Gomes).
Ben and Sam proceeded to spend about 20 minutes discussing how long it would take fans, the media, the team, and Jomes to realize what was going on, and then believe the cause had to be supernatural. Financial ramifications were touched on, as well as philosophy and theology. “God is real — we’re signing Gonny Jomes.”
The sight of a position player taking the mound has long been a source of fascination for both the hosts and listeners of EW. Highlights of 2015 included the much-maligned Jeff Francoeur pitching not one but two innings (a significant moment, if you ask Jen Mac Ramos), and Ichiro fulfilling a long-held MLB wish in October (“You can say one of my dreams came true today. But I’ll never ask to do that again”).
Baseball Movies/Shows* (4) vs Triple from the Cycle Notifications* (5)
It started out so innocently: early in the new year (4:00), emailer Shaun had just seen one of MLB Network’s many airings of Brewster’s Millions, and wondered if it qualified as “a baseball movie.” Our hosts compared their personal criteria, and ultimately, Sam’s bar wasn’t as high as Ben’s. In between, Sam went into detail about the writers’ intent, with a tongue-in-cheek example of a pennant above a kid’s bed being enough to make it a baseball movie.
Facebook group members proceeded to post images from every single movie they could think of that included a baseball scene, a pennant on a wall, or even just a bat being used to strike things other than baseballs. An endless stream of “baseball show” examples was quickly phased in, and “baseball ___” continues to this day… to the great amusement of many, and the great agony of many others.
During the 2015 season, the team behind the trusty MLB At Bat app decided fans would appreciate being notified when a player was 3/4ths of the way to a cycle. Except this sort of thing happens almost every day. Facebook members were amused at first by the notifications of players needing an unlikely triple to seal the deal. Screenshot posts became a common occurrence. As our Eric Roseberry described when looking back on the nightmares of 2015: “The notifications never seemed to stop. They were unrelenting. At any moment someone could be a hit away from the cycle, and I’d get another notification. The end of the baseball season is the only thing that brought sweet relief.”
Fortunately for many EW fans, one of these two entries will not be advancing to the next round. Unfortunately, the other will.
Sam’s Morbid Moments (2) vs Ben & Sam Watch Videos (7)
Sam Miller has been known to get dark, but in a totally funny way. A classic moment occurred amidst the chaos of the upset-filled 2014 playoffs, when Sam helpfully explained that the point of the sport “is to entertain people, and make them forget that we are all dying right in front of each other.” During the 2015 playoffs after the infamous Texas-Toronto 7th inning (744, 30:00), Sam came up with a “dark analogy” to describe the despondence of the normally playful duo of Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. At first he substituted it with a less dark version: a couple’s marriage slowly and sadly breaking apart. After the slightest coax from Ben, Sam quickly relented and disclosed the slight variation that made the analogy truly dark.
Along the lines of fat player photo discussions, Ben and Sam will sometimes share and react to video highlights during their audio podcast. This continued during the 2015 season: in July, the duo examined video of the aforementioned Andrus throwing his glove at a ball in play. Immediately thereafter, the duo analyzed a unique 3-6-2 triple play. (In passing, Sam mentioned how the Stompers players had little interest in the content of their show.)
Smash Mouth (3) vs Non-revelatory Rumors (6)
In May 2014, Ben admitted his love for Bay Area alt-rockers Smash Mouth. And for a late ’90s band with a couple of hits, they somehow still find ways to be relevant. On the negative end, lead singer Steve Harwell had a meltdown as he admonished a food fest crowd for throwing bread at him (interrupting a performance of “All Star,” naturally). On the positive side, Smash Mouth hit the studio for a quick tribute to the late David Bowie. Ben happily passed on the news to Sam in an episode on the day of the song’s release (42:30). Sam read a Huffpost headline declaring that Smash Mouth gave a touching reminder that there will never be another David Bowie. Ben’s response: “There will never be another Smash Mouth either.” Depending on your point view, a high point in EW history came in late January when Ben found himself being followed by Smash Mouth’s Twitter account (despite not following them).
Over the 2014-15 offseason, trade rumors that did not contain any new information, dubbed “non-revelatory rumors,” were the subject of criticism by Ben. Key phrases included “willing to listen” and “may consider.” This led to numerous listeners emailing in further examples, as well as posting Facebook offerings of potential non-revelatory rumors, and indeed the non-revelatory qualities of tweets and articles on other topics. Sam has, on occasion, been known to spoil the fun by pointing out the difficulty of classing any statement about a team’s needs or interests as truly non-revelatory.
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