Hey folks, Harry Doyle, here…
Y’know, over these last few years, we’ve seen some interesting developments in the Ballcap Bet’s short history: a riveting first-year head-to-head between hometown rivals; Cale Drange’s perfect 35 re-pick points in last year’s contest; a pair of last-second Pitman comebacks to dodge coronation that I would argue might rival even my Tribe’s amazing '89 and '94 performances.
This year, we’ve got newcomers Joe Klueh and William Riley, and the two have seen their share of Bet success: Klueh took an early lead only to see his chances fade when his bracket evaporated seemingly overnight. Meanwhile, Riley has staked himself to a respectable 91 points, enough for first place, and a thirteen-point lead over last year’s champion Heydinger.
It’s a bet where trash-talk has become the de facto currency; where one’s ecstatic high is another’s complete unravelling; mothers are made fun of, and manhoods called into question.
It’s a bet of astonishing highs and devastating lows—and an entire off-season of woe and regret, manifest in ballcap form.
And with the World Series looming on the horizon, well—you’ll forgive this old stick-and-ball-guy’s sentimentality. The long season is almost over and, soon enough, the winter winds will fly. Yes, a bittersweet off-season awaits one man; a new Ballcap Bet loser will soon be crowned.
And if that loser happens to be Todd Pitman—well—we will all know exactly who to blame.
The story I’m about to tell is one rife with lucky breaks, missed opportunities, and good, old-fashioned, American hubris.
It begins nearly two years ago—back in 2010. A Monday evening; the first of November. Edgar Rentería in the box. Two out. Two on. Two balls, no strikes. I’m sure many of you remember it well—perhaps none, though, as well as John Heydinger.
Pitman was down, and had been for all but a few brief moments of that year’s head-to-head Bet with Heydinger (then a crosstown rival in Saint Paul). With Cliff Lee on the mound in the seventh and his Rangers on the ropes three games to one, catcher Bengie Molina called for a fastball down and away. But Lee hung that pitch—his 94th of the night—to Rentería, who promptly sent it flying, just over the fence in Arlington.
The Rangers’ final nine outs yielded only a Nelson Cruz solo shot.
They, and Heydinger, had been dispatched.
In an ironic display, Pitman—who was watching in Minneapolis—pulled his lucky Twins cap from off his head and flung it clear across the room. His phone rang, not a moment later. It was Heydinger.
"I hate you," he intoned. "I hate you, and I just hate your ASS FACE!”
The First Annual Big League Ballcap Bet had been sealed. A Giants cap adorned Heydinger’s head all off-season. He wore it with equal parts pride and shame.
One year later, with two new contestants, again the Rangers found themselves in the World Series. Heydinger had all but clinched victory, but last place still remained to be decided. An eleventh Red Birds World Championship spelled a loss for newcomer Dave Benanav; a first-time Rangers ring meant defeat for Pitman.
Of course Game Six became the stuff of legend, and I have no need to recount it for you here. David Freese’s heroics—and Chris Carpenter’s gritty performance the following day (on short rest)—meant that Pitman escaped losing the Second Annual Big League Ballcap Bet by the skin of his teeth. Was it sheer, dumb luck? Or something else?
Now, here, at the penultimate series of a third such silly wager, Pitman finds himself looking up from the cellar yet again. But this year—much like his Bracket Pick the New York Yankees—his last chances seem all used up. Four points out of not-last place, and just this World Series to help him, his chances will again be put to the test.
That is, of course, only if he hasn’t already completely and utterly jinxed himself right out of this thing.
That’s right, the loser of this Bet may likely have already been ordained. Not, perhaps, by fate itself (or Hell, maybe that’s exactly what it is), but by a momentary lapse in judgment by the one and only Todd Pitman.
* * *
On Saturday, October 13, Pitman invited over his good friend Charlie Smith. The two had some beers and, a few innings into the ballgame, had begun to talk about a pizza.
Six innings in, the home team was down by two, and the pizza discussion had grown fierce.
"When this game’s over," said Pitman.
The visitors scored two more runs in the eighth, and the home team went scoreless again.
"They’re not going to come back," said Smith, putting on his shoes.
“Psh, just watch,” said Pitman.
Just two weeks earlier, Pitman penned an article for this very publication—titled The Bronx Mirage—detailing the Yankees’ “uncommon knack for injecting that insidious, patently horrifying—and poetically brilliant—twinge of bittersweet remorse in the losses they dole out. They dangle victory in front of their opponent for seven innings, eight (sometimes allowing the affair to rattle around in extra innings—y’know, for added effect); then, at the last moment…”
To let your guard down, even for a moment, leaves an opening.
"I told you,” bragged Pitman.
The game shrugged too.
By now, the two had been discussing pizza nearly four hours without getting pizza; that is an eternity of pizzalessness.
With the game still underway, an expedition was hastily assembled.
Minutes later, Smith pulled up outside a Midway pizza chain. Pitman ran inside with the money and placed his order. Despite all claims to the contrary, pies were neither Hot, nor Ready.
In the kitchen of the Midway Little Caesars, an employee languidly arranged pre-sliced pepperonis atop a frozen pizza disc before throwing it into the oven.
In the car outside, Smith sat, twiddling his thumbs and listening to the AM broadcast.
In The Bronx, aging shortstop Derek Jeter ranged to his left on a bounding ball off the bat of Jhonny Peralta.
In Saint Paul, Todd Pitman—nervously awaiting his pie, aloof to the ballgame in New York—handed six crumpled one dollar bills to a pimple-faced cashier.
In that moment—unbeknownst to an oblivious Pitman—the tides were turned.
He gathered his pie, said thank you, and returned to the car outside where Smith was waiting.
"Dude, you missed a lot of action.”
"What?! Wait… What happened?!”
* * *
Michael “Mike” Ilitch, Sr. was born in Detroit, Michigan on July 20, 1929 to Macedonian immigrants Sotir and Sultana Ilitch. He graduated from Cooley High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served for four years. Upon his return home, the Detroit Tigers offered him $3000 to play second base, and after rattling around in the minors, left the game with a knee injury. He founded a small pizza shop with his wife and, over the next thirty-three years, amassed a sizable fortune.
In 1992, Mike Ilitch purchased the Detroit Tigers.
Twenty years on, they would sweep the Yankees straight out of the postseason—fueled almost certainly by the purchase of a single Hot & Ready in Saint Paul’s Midway.
* * *
Todd Pitman was aware that Mike Ilitch owned both the Tigers and Little Caesars, but that fateful night, he let his guard down—for just one moment—and suffered a truly unfortunate lapse in judgment. He Bronx Miraged himself.
He could have ordered a delivery, he could have gone to any other pizza shop; this twist of fate was entirely his own doing.
The tide turned, then and there. Jeter’s ankle was broken, and so were the Yankees—lain suddenly bare as a vulnerable ball of nerves. The moment Pitman bought that pizza was the moment his odds all but vanished in this Third Annual Big League Ballcap Bet.
So if, when all is said and done, the crown rests atop Todd Pitman’s size 7½ head, he’ll have no one to blame but himself.
And if he escapes Ballcap Bet humiliation for a third straight year, then perhaps, once and for all, we might claim to know for certain what the fates ordain.
Special to The Ballcap Bet