We remember the context, and the context is about as exciting as baseball gets—a pitch that's going to send one of two teams, long-time rivals, into the World Series. But across the network our lovely sponsors have us writing about animated GIFs, and this one has been around for so long—since well before the vogue of animated GIFs, back when they were still best known for making e-mail buttons and Under Construction signs bounce around on GeoCities—that I didn't want to just talk about it. While we hope that the Cardinals make a few more of these contextually perfect GIFs this month, I wanted to determine everything I loved about this one. In no particular order:
The old FOX chrome. 2006 doesn't have a lot to offer us, six years later, in the way of fashion change. No polyester uniforms, no weird haircuts. Less dance-pop, I guess. It could be a while before it looks as dated as the astroturfed Busch Stadium of 1982 and 1985 and 1987, and all the people in it.
But media fashion has already moved on, and I love how dated this GIF looks already. It's not 16:9, it appears to have been recorded from a VCR, the FOX TRAX box is covered in more brushed metal than early versions of iTunes. Six years have passed and it looks like 1982 looked in 2002.
The perfect framing. It's a little hypnotic. Adam Wainwright, at the center of the image, falls toward Carlos Beltran just as Beltran's weight lands half-heartedly on his front foot, at which point his bat falls back toward the perfectly framed pitch and the umpire's instant reaction. Over and over.
The umpire and FOX TRAX immediately tell us it's a perfect pitch. This isn't a delayed-reaction strike three call, and if we doubt our own eyes or the ump's the FOX TRAX box chimes in to tell us it wasn't just a great pitch, it was also incontrovertibly a strike—not even on the line.
The path of the ball is traced for us. I like this not just because it emphasizes how big a curveball it was but because it makes me think of people diagramming historical footage—drawing paths and circles in early 20th century crowd shots, placing arrows at sufficiently conspiratorial moments in the Zapruder film.
It's almost an apologetic gesture—I'm sorry you'll never see this in 4k or 3D, but here's the important part.
It was Carlos Beltran. All three members of the MV3 are gone, and now two of them are retired, but I'm glad Carlos Beltran is a Cardinal now because he was there—he was their designated arch-nemesis. And in their last season as a going concern, he was beaten not because he swung through something or popped out but because Adam Wainwright threw a pitch that was so good he couldn't do anything about it.
It was Adam Wainwright. And now, six years later, Adam Wainwright is the veteran who was briefly not a going concern. The injury and the competition—Chris Carpenter in the rotation, Albert Pujols and now Yadier Molina on the team—have meant that Wainwright's never quite become the face of the franchise.
But he connects those great 2004 and 2005 teams and that 2006 team to Game 5 tonight. And when he retires, and years pass, and his clothes finally look as throwback as FOX's broadcast, we'll watch this tiny GIF on our enormous, super-high-resolution displays. And before we Z past it we'll remember that this GIF and that pitch didn't just represent that season—they represented the promise of more like it.
This post is sponsored by Jack in the Box.