Over the past few days-okay, almost a week now- I have been (stupidly) riveted to the tale of “TwitchPlaysPokemon”. It is a social-experiment/massive-game in which tens of thousands and sometimes over a hundred of thousands all trying to control the main character of Pokemon Red. In theory, you would think this would mean good things: thousands of players, most of them having beaten the game at least once, joining forces to send commands to Red, the game’s player character.
In practice, however, it’s a mess. You see, usually it isn’t a democracy, it’s an anarchic mess of random button pushes, with the game more-or-less randomly selecting what ones it’s listening too. So while having the majority of people saying that the character should go right makes it more likely that he’ll go right, sometimes all it takes is one jerk or confused person pressing down to make Red jump off a ledge and forcing you to walk all the way back and start again. Even the “democracy” mode than occasionally kicks in is screwed up, since lag between you and the server means you are at times voting not for what to do but rather what to do next.
As a result, what an average player might be able to finish rather quickly has taken, at last count, at least 12 days…. playing every single second.
So what does this have to do with baseball? Well, as amazing as it sounds, stuff like this has been tried in baseball. With… mixed results.
The first, and most famous, example of the fans doing the manager’s job was “Grandstand Manager’s Day”, held on August 24, 1951 by Bill Veeck and his hapless St. Louis Browns. The Browns won, defeating the Philadelphia Athletics 5-3. At various points in the game, a question was flashed to the fans, who could then determine (through the use of signs) what they should do: should the infield play in double-play depth, should a runner go, etc.
The rest of the American League was less than happy with the stunt, which probably explains why we’ve never seen it again on the major league level.
So, fast-forward to August of 2004. The Brockton Rox, then of the indy Canadian-American League and with Mike Veeck (Bill’s son, perhaps best known for his role in Disco-Demolition Night) as a consultant, recreated the stunt. It was less successful, as the Rox lost 8-2.
But two years later, a team went even farther. You see, in the second half of 2006, the independent Schaumburg Flyers let the internet dictate parts of their team for a web-based reality show. While the show, “Fan Club: Reality Baseball”, has long disappeared from the web, a Los Angeles Times article from that glorious era and a USA TODAY article from the same time gives us a view of the madness that ensued:
- The team, which had won their division the first half of the split-season, was in last for the second half.
- One lineup dictated to the manager had the usual 9-hole hitter leading off, a slow catcher batting second, and the clean-up man hitting sixth.
- Another lineup- the second one ever handed in- had the team’s best hitter riding the bench, the center-fielder at first, and the backup catcher at third base.
- The longest losing streak in the team’s history happened.
Of course, there are several key differences between a video game and baseball. And there is the biggest one: You can’t control real people. You can’t tell a baserunner to slide a certain way, for example. And even if you can…. they might not listen.
Still, it’s an interesting thought, and, especially considering the rise of Twitter, it is likely only a matter of time until somebody, presumably in the Indy leagues, tries it again. After all, you can’t keep a crazy idea down.