Hats, not errors or untimely hitting, cause Oilers' demise

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2001

I'm blaming it on the hats. Through Wednesday, the Peninsula Oilers baseball team had played in 17 one-run ballgames, but managed to come away with a win in just three of those games.

The Oilers are 2-6 in extra-inning games, with both of those wins coming early in the season. Take away the one-run games, and the Oilers have an impressive 13-6 record in games decided by two runs or more. In other words, when the Oilers end up on the short end of the stick, it's generally a very short stick.

But parity has been the buzzword of the Alaska Baseball League this summer, and the Oilers have been competitive in every game this season, a fact that makes their 16-21 overall record and their 9-17 mark in ABL action that much harder to comprehend.

There's a myriad of reasons the Oilers haven't been winning more of those one-run games. Blame it on not getting the timely hits -- through Wednesday's game, a one-run loss to the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, the Oilers had stranded 314 runners in 37 games, an average of 8.5 runners left on base per game.

Blame it on some costly errors. The Oilers offense has struck for 198 runs while the pitching staff has allowed 158 runs, but only 108 of those runs have been earned.

The Oilers staff earned run average was 2.96 through Wednesday's one-run loss to the Glacier Pilots, good for second in the ABL.

The Oilers have outscored their opponents, but giving up 50 unearned runs in 37 games makes every game a lot closer.

There are plenty of other things to explain the way this season has gone -- leadoff walks, failure to turn a double play here and there, or a throw down to second that ends up in the outfield.

Sometimes, it just comes down to dumb luck, and that's where the hats come into play.

The hats in question were added to the Oilers uniform during the 2000 season as an alternate cap. It's a nice-looking piece of haberdashery, a black cap with a red bill and an Alaska logo on the front.

They certainly complement any of the Oilers uniforms, and there isn't anything physically wrong with the hats.

But when the team started wearing them last season, more than one player commented that the hats just didn't fit quite right.

It's a subtle difference, not one that should affect an athlete's performance, but something about those hats just didn't feel right.

As much as skill is required to play baseball at high level, it's also a game of hunches and gut feelings. After losing a couple of games while wearing the hats last season, the players staged a small mutiny, donning the caps only under protest.

The Oilers lost the first game they played in those hats this season, but there's just a couple of players on the roster from last year's team that would remember the bad karma.

Luke Simmons said he wasn't superstitious and that it didn't bother him to be wearing the hat after that first loss. In fact, the team wore the hats the very next day and posted a pair of wins to take the title in the Oilers Hardball Tournament.

But those hats have been making regular appearances in the Oilers lineup this season, and while there's no way to prove a correlation between wearing the hats and winning or losing ballgames -- attire doesn't show up as a category in the box score -- can it be just a coincidence that the Oilers have been stuck with so many "tough-luck" losses this season?

Perhaps it's just some sort of cosmic payback for the comebacks the Oilers have been able to stage over the past few seasons, like plating the go-ahead run in the ninth inning on the strength of four consecutive hit batsmen.

Of course, the Oilers were wearing their other hats in that game, the red ones with the "P" on the front and the black bill.

Maybe those are just lucky hats. Maybe it's just coincidence.

Will Morrow covers sports for the Peninsula Clarion. Send comments via e-mail to clarion@alaska.net

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