The Bullpen is a neighborhood bar from before the days of DirecTV or the internet. The walls are festooned with felt pennants, wool jerseys, and neon beer signs. There are three televisions—all behind the bar, above the taps. From April through September, they glow with moving images of our National Pastime.
After an offseason that felt longer than the one before, Will arrived at the bar to watch baseball and drink beer. Ted and James had the same plan. The three men bellied up to the bar and ordered their drinks. None of their draws were a third gone when the television showed the grounds crew pulling out the tarp. It was raining "pretty good" according Lefty, the color analyst, and the game had been delayed. Mack, the play-by-play guy, assured the audience that they would keep the audience at home updated on the weather and when the game might begin.
Without the ballgame to fill the time, Ted, James, and Mack used conversation. How the team looked. Why Williams, the starting pitcher that day, was a bum. Would the manager’s stupidity cost the club this year.
Will took the first drink of his second beer and steered the baseball talk into the philosophical. "I’ve got a question for you guys," he said.
"Shoot," instructed Ted.
"If your life depended on the outcome of a game, which pitcher would you want to throw in it?"
"Life depended on it?" asked James.
"Yeah," said Will. "Life or death."
"So, what, like terrorists have kidnapped you or something?" James inquired.
"Sure. Terrorists, intergalactic warlords, whatever," said Will. "The point is that you will live or die based on whether a team wins or loses and you get to pick the pitcher."
"Like Space Jam?"
"Space Jam, Escape From New York, Gladiator, whatever."
"Throughout all time?"
"Yes, any pitcher who ever pitched in the majors," explained Will.
"Then I choose Bob Gibson," declared James. "His 1968 season was the greatest I’ve ever seen. Ain’t no one pitched like that since."
"Well, now wait a minute there," protested Ted. "He had the higher mound."
"What?" asked James.
"After 1968, Major League Baseball lowered the mound to help hitters," said Ted. "They lowered from fifteen to ten inches. That’s a one-third drop!"
"Are you trying to say that Gibby couldn’t throw off a ten-inch mound?"
"No, not at all. It’s just that clearly some sort of time travel is involved here," said Ted. "The terrorists or intergalactic warlords have the power to bring any pitcher from any year to the game and have him start. What about the field? Especially the mound?"
"Um, well," stammered Will. "I don’t know. I guess it would be contemporary field measurements."
"Does that change your answer?" Ted asked James.
"No," said James. "You never saw Gibby pitch. You’re too young. He was a tough sonofabitch. Gibson pitched like it was a life-or-death contest each game. I’d put my trust in 1968 Bob Gibson any day."
"Even with the mound-height change?" asked Will.
"Gibby won the 1971 Cy Young on a ten-inch mound!" exclaimed James. "Yes!"
"I’ll take Pedro," said Ted.
"Martinez?" asked Will.
"Is there another pitcher recognizable by the first name Pedro?" Ted retorted.
"What year?" asked Will.
"2000," said Ted. "His starts were appointment television in the late-90s, sure, but 2000 was his masterpiece. It’s the greatest year a pitcher’s ever had."
"Except for 1968 Bob Gibson," chimed James.
"Pedro had a 1.74 ERA in the middle of the Steroid Era," said Ted. "I’m going to battle with that guy."
"He only threw, like, 200 innings!" exclaimed James. "In ’68, Gibby had over 300! The Boston bullpen will be your executioner."
"I hadn’t thought about that," said Ted. "Do we get to choose relievers to fill the bullpen, too?"
"Um, no," said Will. "The pitcher’s staff from the season you choose is transported with him to the life-or-death game. Something about their time-travel capability requires this."
"That seems unfair," said Tim.
"They are evil beings who want to murder you," said Will. "It’s only for their own entertainment that they’re even allowing you the live-or-die baseball game."
"Fair’s got nothin’ to do with it," interjected James.
"What about the ballpark?" asked Tim.
"Good point," said James.
"There’s a big difference between, say, Coors Field and Petco," said Tim. "Do we get to choose the park?"
"No," said Will. "They’ve build a completely neutral ballpark. It doesn’t favor pitchers or hitters."
"You’re gonna trust Jimmy Williams to make the pitching changes!?" exclaimed James as he burst out in laughter. "I’ll take Red Schoendienst any day of the week and twice on Sunday."
"No way!" said Tim. "It’s my life, I get to manage."
"Um, okay," said Will. "You get to manage the life-or-death game."
"Can I still choose Red to manage the game?" asked James.
"I don’t see why not," said Will.
"Then I choose Red to manage the game. He knows the players better than me and there’s a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame. Red’s a winner. He’ll manage a win and save my life."
"What about you?" Tim asked Will.
"Yeah," said James. "Which pitcher would you pick?"
Mack came on the television screen and the three men snapped to attention. The grounds crew was on the field, rolling up the tarp. The ballgame would start in fifteen minutes.