In 2015 the Boston Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $95m deal. If you missed out on what happened, well he was terrible. In his first season, he batted .245/.292/.366 with 10 HR (wRC+ 76). Not only was he below average offensively, he was bad defensively. He made a total of 15 errors — in a team that made 97 errors in total — he was responsible for 15% of all defensive mishaps in 76% of the total Red Sox games.
In 2016 it was a very different story. Due to an injury early on in the season, Pablo only managed three games. In those three games and seven plate appearances he hit (or didn’t) .000/.143/.000 with a wRC+ of -56. He also managed to make an error during his three games. The error came in the bottom of the 2nd against the Blue Jays, the Red Sox went on to win 8-4, so it didn’t really matter.
But what if it was different? What if Pablo Sandoval didn’t play in that game and instead John Farrell went with a traffic cone?
Reporter: John, it says on the lineup card “T. Cone” in at third base. Who is that?
Farrell: We’ve decided to go with a traffic cone at third base tonight. We feel gives up better matchups against this Blue Jays lineup.
The reporters all filtered out and probably believed this was a big joke, a bit of a muck-around from Farrell. Surely when they go out to watch batting practice, Sandoval will be there and all this will be laughed off.
Instead the reporters are shocked, sure enough there was a traffic cone in the cage and the batting practice pitcher was tossing balls at it. Players are nodding at the cone, admiring its ability to leave the balls it’s seeing. Few are shocked at the absolute meatballs the cone leaves, but then they realise it’s practicing at working the count and ensuring it gets the ball it wants. After 10 minutes, the cone is done, it’s taken out of the cage and returns to the dugout.
As the game begins, the Red Sox begin hitting at the top of the first inning. Betts grounds out, Pedroia is the only player to get a hit, a single to RF, Bogaerts and Shaw both strike out. Inning over. Surely, this whole traffic cone thing will end now?
It doesn’t, Xander Bogaerts is last out of the dugout brandishing a traffic cone that is sporting a Red Sox cap. Fans are confused, the Blue Jays bench stare at other in disbelief and then rustle through their scouting books to try and find out who this traffic cone is. When they find nothing, they are whispering to each other about how to play this trickery from the Red Sox. Panic starts to spread in the Toronto clubhouse.
Top of the Second
The inning goes without incident for the traffic cone however, the Red Sox find themselves down 2-0 thanks to a Donaldson 2-run homer. Top of the 2nd, the traffic cone is on deck. When Hanley pops out to second base, the traffic cone is placed in the batters box by the bat boy, R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole stare at each other in disbelief. Thole crouches down and instead of giving a sign, he just shrugs his shoulders. Dickey tries to tempt the traffic cone into swinging at his knuckleball early on, sending one roughly down the middle as much as a knuckleball can be sent down the middle.
It drops low, ball one. Dickey, Thole, no-one can believe it. The traffic cone held off perfectly.
Thole throws the ball back, raises his mask and then runs to Dickey. They have a mound visit, Thole is believed to have said:
“I think it’s an actual traffic cone, I don’t think it’s a trick.”
Dickey isn’t sure:
“I’m not sure. Let’s try a knuckleball again.”
Thole nods, runs back to the catchers box, crouches down and awaits the pitch.
A strike this time. Next pitch is a strike, swiftly followed by another strike. The traffic cone didn’t even flinch during those final two pitches. The bat boy steps in, removes the cone and places it back in the dugout. As he’s placing it down, it’s Red Sox hat falls off and knocks over a cup containing sunflower seeds. Jerry Remy says:
“The traffic cone can’t be losing his head this early in the game, it’s only the first inning. I’m not sure Farrell will be impressed with that.”
At the same time, Farrell turns away from the incident, gently shaking his head.
Brock Holt lines out to RF and we go to the bottom of the second.
Bottom of the Second
Goins has a groundout as Darwin Barney strides into the batters box. Little does the crowd know, but the traffic cone (Slightly off the bag thanks to Bogaerts placement) is about to enter the fielding game.
Barney is on a 1-1 count, as the pitch comes in from Porcello, Barney makes contact, it’s heading down the third baseline. The crowd has a large intake of breath, Barney can’t believe he’s hit it right at the traffic cone, the Red Sox players stop in disbelief, it bounces once, twice and…
Hits the cone and rolls onto the floor in front of it. Barney reaches first on an error, Bogaerts scoops up the ball and throws it to Pedroia at second to stop Barney going any further.
Then, the rumblings in the crowd alert the broadcast booth that something is happening in the dugout, it’s Pablo Sandoval. Farrell has seen enough and is taking the traffic cone out of the game and replacing it with Pablo Sandoval. The crowd rise to their feet as Pablo trots out (Not for Pablo), only for Pablo to pickup the traffic cone and return it to the dugout. The players aren’t letting the traffic cone in, they demand it takes a curtain call. Travis Shaw takes the traffic cone from Sandoval, removes its hat and then turns around holding the hat up high. The crowd roar, Remy gets choked up, even grumpy Pedroia wipes a tear from his eye.
The era of the traffic cone in a Red Sox uniform is over.
And you know what, so is this post. It turns out, the traffic cone would have been as effective offensively and defensively as Pablo Sandoval in the 2016 season. It’s a strange world isn’t it?