Here’s the situation: you, the manager, have first base open, and really don’t want your pitcher facing their batter. Instead of being a man, wiggling your four fingers, and telling your catcher to get up from his crouch to call for the intentional walk, you ask your pitcher to throw four balls that are close enough to the plate that the batter may make a stupid mistake and make an out. Which leads to the following problem: when a pitcher isn’t focused on making a good pitch he often misses and puts one of these “balls” belt-high and over the plate.
If you watched the College World Series last night, this exact play came up. UCLA lost the national championship because in a tie ballgame in the bottom of the 11th inning, a runner on third and one out, the pitcher tried to unintentionally intentionally walk (UIBB) their batter, and left a 2-0 pitch over the plate. See you next year.
Most of you probably saw a different UIBB last night. Big Game James Shields (I love calling pitchers who have lost their last seven starts “Big Game”) was locked in a 0-0 game in the 5th and had two outs, with runners at 2nd and 3rd, and Papi, who is a career .393 hitter against Shields, at the plate. I think I’ll let Big Game describe what happened next:
I told [manager Joe Maddon] I wanted to face Ortiz, but I wasn���t going to throw anything over the dish. I was going to try intentionally unintentionally walk him. I was trying to throw a fastball about a foot off the plate, just kind of show him the fastball and I ended up yanking it right down the middle. I don�t even know how I did it.
One unintentional intentional “ball” later it’s 3-0 Sox. What happened next for Youk (who is a .107 hitter off Shields)? Called strike, foul, swinging strike.
So the next time you want to walk somebody, just wiggle those four little fingers and let your catcher do the rest. You’re not fooling anybody, certainly not the batters.