Babe Ruth and the Nippon Ham Fighters

NBC's baseball announcers make stuff up about both. And insult West Virginia for good measure.

Published August 20, 2008 7:50PM (EDT)

NBC's baseball announcers got shelled Wednesday. They just had one of those days. If they were pitchers, they'd have been sent to the showers. Boxers, counted out.

Eric Collins and Joe Magrane were doing the United States vs. Japan Wednesday night, a game that as of this posting was in the middle innings of a delayed broadcast on MSNBC. Pitcher Trevor Cahill of the U.S. had started and thrown three no-hit innings, walking a batter but picking him off and facing the minimum nine hitters.

That reminded Collins of a baseball story.

"There was a legendary no-hitter, years ago," he said, "it was the old Boston Red Sox against -- I'm sure we'll figure this one out, but it was Ernie Shore, was the starting pitcher, and he walked the first batter, and he got upset with the strike zone of the home-plate umpire, didn't think it should have been Ball 4. He gets ejected from the game. A guy by the name of Babe Ruth comes on. The runner at first is caught trying to steal second base, the out's recorded there. Babe Ruth retires 26 straight."

At this point, somebody must have slipped Collins some info, because he continued, "It was back in 1917, in a game against the Washington Senators. Twenty-seven up, 27 down. Babe Ruth. Phenomenal pitcher. Kind of gets lost sometimes."

It does. And he was. But whoever gave Collins the info that it was Red Sox-Senators in 1917 should have mentioned that it was Ruth who walked the leadoff batter and Shore who came in and retired 26 in a row after the leadoff hitter -- Ray Morgan, though I wouldn't have known that without checking -- was caught stealing. It's a familiar story to anyone who knows even a little bit about Ruth, and it's not part of the legend of Ruth the pitcher, but of Ruth the impulsive man-child.

A pretty major baseball-wonk error, but excusable as an on-air brain freeze. Trouble was, the broadcast actually went downhill from there.

A few moments later Magrane was discussing Cahill's successor in the game, right-hander Jeremy Cummings, a native of West Virginia who went to the University of West Virginia.

"We were led to believe that Cummings took the passing of Buddy Ebsen very hard," Magrane said. That was greeted by a long silence from Collins. Finally, Magrane said, "Buddy Ebsen, of course, from 'Beverly Hillbillies.'"

"I wondered where you were going with that one," Collins said. Because sure, that explained everything.

"I can say, Eric, being from Kentucky, we always thought we had one thing going for us: West Virginia."

One state down, 49 to go, I guess. But random insults to various states aside, while West Virginia is famous for hillbillies, the Beverly Hillbillies weren't supposed to be from West Virginia. They were from Tennessee. Ebsen grew up in Illinois and Florida, for what that's worth.

But wait. Collins and Magrane weren't done.

Collins introduced a Japanese batter as playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters. That put him back in professorial mode.

"In case you're wondering about the Nippon Ham Fighters," he said, and at this point, I decided to write this item, because I knew the next thing out of his mouth was going to be goofy, "kind of an interesting name. It's actually Nippon Ham. It's actually the brand."

Oh, well. That's right. OK.

"Nippon is another word for Tokyo."

Ah, there we go. Safe to write.

"They're based in Tokyo."

No, seriously. Stop. You've convinced me. You're making stuff up.

Nippon is a word for Japan, not Tokyo. Nippon Meat Packers Inc., maker of delicious Nippon Ham, is based in Osaka, not Tokyo, but I'm pretty sure Collins was talking about the Fighters -- full disclosure: my favorite Japanese baseball team, and that's because, reading the Sporting News as a kid, I thought they were the Ham Fighters, from Nippon -- who are based in ... not Tokyo.

Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido prefecture up north.

Which explains why the team is actually called the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. But they did play in Tokyo till a few years ago.

"They're just technically called the Fighters," Collins went on, helpfully. "They're not angry at ham or have any problems with ham at any level. It's just the Nippon-Ham, Fighters."

"And ham," Magrane offered, "when it's cooked properly, is actually very good."

At last. Solid ground.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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