Every so often at Let’s Go Tribe, we take a step away from reality and enjoy some tales from the digital world. Namely, tales from my current copy of Out of the Park Baseball.
Don’t panic if you’re not caught up on the saga. There is no plot to follow, and certainly no meaning or karmic redemption that cannot be appreciated without knowledge of the past.
There are no melodies of sorrow or joy, only reality’s strings shrieking from abuse.
The year is 2052 ...
Somehow, Cleveland is managing to maintain a near-dynasty after winning the World Series in 2046 despite trading guys like Mike Pink, a plus-defender in center field who won the MVP at 26 by hitting .370 with 8+ WAR. They also gave up a top pitching prospect in the deal but did score the WAR leader on the mound in 2051. That’s worth something, right?
Maybe. It didn’t seem to help. For the fourth consecutive year, Cleveland made the playoffs and was bounced in either the ALDS or the Wild Card round. They keep winning 90 games or more and falling short. What an odd and unrelatable circumstance.
They’re missing a key piece to the puzzle on their path to a dynasty. They don’t know it, but that piece is Bryan Shaw.
I take the necessary actions to unretire Shaw at the age of 64 and force him back onto the Cleveland roster. I make it so that he must be used as a middle reliever, cannot be released, etc.
I am trying to imagine this scenario in real life. Shaw sits somewhere, presumably a beach or a big resort pool under an umbrella. He’s minding his own business, reading Dan Simmons or something while the grandkids are building a sandcastle. Then, out of nowhere, a shadow covers the page of Shaw’s book. A deep grumble informs him that he must come immediately. He must not ask questions. His services are required and it is a great honor that he has been selected. His grandchildren will be cared for. He must not ask questions. His services are required and it is a great honor to —
Yes, The Warden can find you anywhere, Bryan. You cannot hide.
Bryan Shaw’s Scouting Report: Age 64
Bryan shows up to Goodyear, Arizona on Feb. 26, 2052. It’s been decades since he last threw a pitch in a major-league game, but it turns out he’s been playing catch with his family the whole time. To help one of his grandchildren develop better as a catcher he started throwing knuckleballs to work on blocking and reaction.
(This is absolutely ludicrous justification for what I’m doing but if you aren’t willing to suspend disbelief how on Earth did you make it this far into the article?)
It turns out he has a pretty good knuckler all things considered.
As I finished up the league’s initialization, I couldn’t help but doubt that Shaw would make any progress at all. When thrown into prior simulations by Cleveland's GM and manager “Warden Norton”, Shaw emerges battered, bruised, and nearly dead. Only when given artificial and absurd boosts to his attributes has he succeeded.
And now, at age 64, and with the most plausible scenario I could imagine given a little bit of wiggle room, I still didn’t think this was going to end well for Bryan.
I’m not sure if I’m wrong about that, but it certainly hasn’t gone the way that I expected.
Bryan Shaw in action
In an early game against the Athletics, I decided to take Shaw out for a test drive. It was a tie game in the seventh — precisely the kind of situation that Francona would use Shaw in during his prime. Grey hair burst from under his cap. He walked gingerly to the mound, then took a moment to poke at the clay with his cleats. Just making sure. Way older now. Has to be careful, can’t let a small injury derail the mission.
The plan. The Redemption.
He wound up and fired the first pitch for a ball, but battled back and earned a groundout to shortstop. He kept dealing from there.
It appears that a 64-year-old Bryan Shaw, equipped with a 75-mph cutter and knuckleball, is already a more effective reliever than Adam Cimber.
Bryan Shaw at the All-Star Break
Never, ever, underestimate the power of a good knuckleballer.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say that you should never underestimate one in OOTP. The man is 64 years old and throwing absolute garbage to the best athletes on the planet. He is replacement level at the All-Star break. Even better: He is still Mild-Mannered On and Off The Field according to my scout.
“Can’t let success get to your head, kids,” he says while undressing for a massage. Trainers unpack an entire pallet of Blue Emu and proceed to dip Bryan into it like Achilles before leading him into the back room. There are screams. Someone is crying. The other players in the locker room grow quiet and focus intently on their lockers.
Bryan exits, completely covered in sweat and shaking. He wipes tears away. “Feels good as new,” he says as he windmills his arm around in an unnaturally fluid motion. He immediately vomits, then pitches 1.1 innings of scoreless relief three hours later.
The Cleveland Rally
Things didn’t look very good for the team at the All-Star break.
It’s not great when you’re behind the recently-added Orange Kings. And consider this in the context of their recent in-game history: A winning season every year since 2040 and six division titles. Nine consecutive playoff appearances and no World Series.
It looked like the contention window was closing on a remarkable period of Cleveland baseball history. And with it, all of Bryan Shaw’s plans. Everything he’d worked for in secret during the long decades of his “retirement”.
It just couldn’t be allowed to happen. Could he start throwing the ball harder? No, but by god he could bring every player under his ancient and atrophied wings, willing the young ballclub to the playoffs with such remarkable intangibles that even Derek Jeter and President Ocasio-Cortez think of him as a sort of mentor.
It was the only way, and it would be about as predictable as a knuckleball, wouldn’t it?
The players rallied around his spirit. Where prospects once struggled to connect with their true potential, they now leaned into The Shaw’s wisdom. Players began to flourish, taking dramatic strides forward in development that, to some, might look like divine intervention. But no — the team simply responded to the welcoming and understanding advice of Bryan Shaw after half a century of literal torture at the hands of Warden Norton.
But it was too late.
Conclusion, Part One
Bryan Shaw completed the 2052 season with a -0.3 WAR. He tossed 58 innings and allowed an ERA of 5.74.
At age 64. With a 75 mph knuckleball and nothing else.
Cleveland could never stay healthy long enough to build on their dramatic improvements, finishing fifth in the AL Central with 77 wins.
Ownership wasn’t happy about this outcome. They sat Warden Norton down and for the first time in decades asked him to make some serious changes or face the consequences.
And the Warden knew just who to blame. He called Bryan Shaw into his office and explained that there just wasn’t room on the roster for a man with Medicare. Maybe it was time to consider options beyond retirement.
“If you destroy me,” Bryan said, “I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Warden Norton slid the paperwork across the desk, anyway. Shaw looked out the window, nodded. He stuffed a tuft of nose hair back up. He sighed, signed his name, and instantly vanished. Nothing but an empty jersey and a signed baseball remained.
The players instantly staged a coup when they heard that Bryan Shaw was mysteriously dead-or-missing after being cut from the team. Cleveland fires him immediately. Police investigations are ongoing. What happened to Bryan Shaw?
He is boundless. He is energy. He is everywhere and nowhere; he feels everything and nothing. The distance between the stars and the subatomic is simultaneously infinite and infinitesimal.
Bryan Shaw disintegrates. Bryan Shaw persists. Bryan Shaw plans. Bryan Shaw waits.
And when the opportunity arises, Bryan Shaw becomes the new player-manager of the Cleveland baseball club.