Who will win the Rick Waits Award? This award, as with so many other things on Cardboard Gods, does not actually exist anywhere beyond the inside of my skull. Furthermore, I just thought of it a couple seconds ago. But just because you just thought of something does not mean it was not always there, waiting to be discovered, like a planet in the far reaches of the galaxy or a sculpture within a formless hunk of marble or a deep yet subtle flaw in your character that will one day lead to your undoing. Yes, like these things the Rick Waits Award has always been around, honoring in infinite obscurity the player who best embodies the particular bittersweet and fleeting intersection between meaning and meaninglessness that can only happen in certain situations on the very last day of the season in major league baseball.
It is named after Rick Waits, obviously, for the performance he turned in at Yankee Stadium on the final game of the season in 1978 as the starting pitcher for a 90-loss Cleveland Indians team on a seven-game losing streak. While the Yankees came into the game one win (or a Red Sox loss) from clinching a division title, the game was without significance for the Indians, who had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention a few moments after the singing of the anthem on opening day. Yet Waits, who to that point had been (and from that point would be) obscure, pitched as if his life depended on it, defeating future Hall-of-Famer and renowned “Big Game Pitcher” Catfish Hunter and the eventual World Champion Yankees, 9-2. At Fenway Park, where Luis Tiant was putting the finishing touches on a characteristically clutch 2-hit shutout, the crowd roared for the scoreboard message celebrating the feat of the heretofore unknown southpaw: “Thank You, Rick Waits!”
I’ve been thinking about Rick Waits all week, as I wondered if another division title was going to come down to the final day for the Red Sox and Yankees, and as I read about fans at Wrigley Field doing the Tomahawk Chop in tribute to the faraway Brewer-beating Atlanta Braves, and as I listened on the radio as fans at Shea Stadium cheered for a change in the score of the Nationals-Phillies game. Today is the last day of the regular season, and there are four teams vying for two remaining spots in the National League playoffs, so the chances for a Rick Waitsesque feat seem high. The tireless Bob Timmermann at The Griddle has figured out all the many playoff permutations for today, but since my brain shuts down instantly when I start trying to figure these things out, I am keeping my focus for today narrow, searching only for possible Rick Waits Award winners. One of the teams in the playoff hunt is the hard-charging Colorado Rockies, but they are playing the Arizona Diamondbacks today, and since the Diamondbacks are bound for the playoffs they do not possess the level of meaninglessness on their roster necessary for producing a winner of the Rick Waits Award. The gasping Mets play the eliminated Florida Marlins, but the Marlins send Dontrelle Willis to the mound, and Dontrelle Willis is a charismatic star with a World Championship ring. If the Rick Waits Award were one of these run of the mill awards that get handed out every year without fail, perhaps the jaunty Willis could win it with an altogether unsurprising Phillies-helping defeat of the Mets, but the Rick Waits Award is like the Nobel Peace Prize: if there is no one worthy of the award in a given year then the honor is bestowed to no one. It’s unclear whether the rigorous Rick Waits Award selection committee will similarly disqualify the pitcher opposing the contending San Diego Padres today, Jeff Suppan, who has harmed his otherwise viable candidacy by starting games in two of the last three World Series. This leaves only one pitcher with a clear route to the coveted award.
Jason Bergmann takes the mound today for the Washington Nationals against the seemingly unstoppable Philadelphia Phillies. I have never heard of Jason Bergmann. This bodes well, as does the fact that he plays for a team that used to be another team that is now extinct. Jason Bergmann went 2 and 0 in his first major league season and 0 and 2 in his second. So far in this season, his third, he is 6 and 5, which considering the symmetry of his first two seasons seems to suggest that he will lose his final decision to make things perfectly even and perhaps then disappear into the ether from whence he came. On the other hand, he is but one good day away from getting his name engraved for the ages on a meticulous bronze recreation of the slumping, fatigued, blank-faced man shown in the 1979 card above.