Gloves Popping, Bats Cracking, Dislodged Donuts Clinking
The sounds of the game, unnecessarily ranked.
This is a ranking of the percussion—specifically, percussion—that you hear in baseball broadcasts. It was inspired by my discomfort at not being able to hear the ball being dribbled on NBA broadcasts. How is that possible!?, I constantly demand of all the basketball fans in my life. Basketballs bouncing on hard surfaces are loud! Why do we hear every sneaker squeak but not the (presumed) jackhammer pounding of all that dribbling?
In baseball, when matter collides with matter, it reliably makes a noise we can hear. I’m not trying to be the “my sport is better than the other sports” guy, but this is, in fact, a very tiny thing that I have come to enjoy about baseball, enough to spend a few weeks noticing and taking notes about it, in between some very exciting NBA playoff games.
11. Foul tips, the sounds that are legally binding.
The time it takes for a foul tip to get to the catcher’s glove is ~ 1/100th of a second, which makes foul tip/ball to glove probably the briefest interval between two percussive sounds in a baseball game. Yet the human ear can identify those two separate noises, almost always clearly enough to tell when a two-strike swing produced glancing contact invisible to the eye but real enough to keep many at-bats alive. Indeed, we depend on the human ear to sometimes hear three distinct percussions in that 1/100th of a second—the ball barely ticking the bat, the ball barely hitting the ground, and the ball finally hitting the catcher’s glove, with that faintest tickmark of noise in the middle protecting the batter’s right to keep hitting.
10. A chopper hitting the plate, the sound of a fluke hit.
The most gimmicky part of a baseball field is that there are four tiny squares that, if you manage to hit them, your stupid groundball takes on superpowers. If a routine grounder hits first base, second base or third base, it usually becomes nearly unplayable. And if it hits home plate, it often takes a big high chop, like Super Mario hitting a trampoline, and soars so high in the air that it will likely be a hit by the time it comes back down. In the old days, chopping grounders high in the air was a named strategy—the Baltimore chop—but whether this type of fluke works or not is largely dependent on whether it hits the plate exactly (and makes that nice clicking sound) or hits the ground in front of the plate (and makes a dull, barely audible sound).
9. Post-HR fireworks, the sound of bragging.
Sometimes I’ll happen past a stadium at night when a game is going on, with the big lights creating a bright halo over it, and I’ll stare over as though I might somehow get a glimpse of what’s going on in the game. But you obviously can’t see anything from outside the stadium. The game is a secret for customers only. The one exception is the post-HR fireworks. In just this one instance, the home team’s excitement is so great that they shoot up a big message into the sky to tell the rest of the region that things are going mightily in here!
8. The runner’s footsteps after passing first base, the sound of unspent energy fizzling out.
Hear an example—headphones will need to be up.
A baseball play is just a big production of energy, energy starting in the pitcher’s haunches and then being transferred into a baseball, which might then be redirected several times by the hitter’s energy and then the fielder’s energies until, finally, on for example a 6-4-3 double play, the first baseman’s glove absorbs the very last of the ball’s energy and the play is over and there’s nothing left to do. Well, there’s one thing left to do: The defeated runner who had been sprinting to first has to use a little bit more energy to pull himself to a stop. If the first base microphone picks it up, as it frequently does, you can hear this last trickle of the play’s energy as the runner’s final four or five footsteps wind down, softer and softer.
7. A donut being knocked off a bat, the sound of somebody saying My Turn!
There’s an off-screen sound at the 20-second mark of that video I linked to that you’ve probably heard hundreds of times. It took me a while to (probably) figure out that it’s the sound of the guy in the on-deck circle knocking the weighted donut off his bat. It often shows up in home run trots right around the time the trotter is rounding third base. In fact, it often shows up right after another off-screen sound—that of the pitcher catching the new ball from the umpire, as you can hear at the 17-second mark in this video, followed by the donut dislodgement at the 19-second mark. It’s the sound of the next batter saying, “Yeah, yeah, you homered, we’ve all done it, watch me, I’m about to do it.”
6. Baseballs hitting the field’s physical boundaries, the sound of eras built atop one another.
The boundaries of a baseball field all make sounds when they’re hit by a baseball. And because various features of these stadiums were built (or became commonplace) at different times, or for different economic reasons, or what have you, they are made of different materials and make different sounds that reflect different eras. The tin of the Green Monster (1934) makes a big smashing sound when it’s hit by a baseball, while the mesh netting along the baselines (late 2010s) produces a faint puff that’s barely audible on some field microphones. At some point decades ago stadiums replaced the wood backstops with padded ones, but then over the past 20 years those padded ones were largely replaced by rotating advertisements that I’m guessing are made out of polymer, aluminum, and Nomex. (I actually have no idea; I just copied “polymer, aluminum, and Nomex” from an article about what pickleball paddles are made of.) That’s the sound of a wild pitch in 2023: a slightly plasticky, slightly aluminumy dullish thump. All of these various noises are the sounds of stadiums catching runaway baseballs and saying “not so fast, buddy.”
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