Monday, May 29
Despite special feat, Velarde breaks even
By Ray Ratto
Special to

 In every life there is a moment where the owner of that life is torn between two paths and has but a split second to make what could be a life-changing decision. Books have been written about this, as have songs, sitcoms and one puppet show we know of.

And then there's Randy Velarde.

Velarde, the Oakland Athletics' second baseman, had that moment during Monday's 4-1 Athletics loss to the New York Yankees. We hope he is happy with his choice.

Randy Velarde
While Jorge Posada, right, one-third of Randy Velarde's unassisted triple play slinks off, Velarde looks to toss the ball toward the mound.

Velarde, you see, became the first player in major league history to turn an unassisted triple play immediately after allowing a run-scoring error. Of course, there had been only 10 unassisted triple plays in baseball history to that point, so anything you add to the tail end of that sentence is likely to be unprecedented.

But we digress.

Velarde mangled a ground ball by Jorge Posada in the seventh inning, allowing Bernie Williams to score from third and put the Yankees out of Oakland's reach. Thus, Velarde, hot-blooded Mediterranean type that he is, was in exceedingly foul humor when Shane Spencer hit a rocket right at him immediately thereafter.

Velarde caught the ball, tagged Posada and then tagged second base to double off Tino Martinez as though nothing had happened. He flipped the ball nonchalantly to umpire Rick Reed and headed toward the Oakland dugout, and it took someone to pry the ball from Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte's hand to ship it to Cooperstown.

Or to the auction house at Sotheby's, depending on who takes custody of the ball.

Velarde, though, had another choice he could have made. As someone who just made baseball history, he could have done what so many athletes would have done, even in the course of a game hopelessly lost.

He could have dropped his pants, broken into a spirited gazotsky and proclaimed himself the greatest living second baseman.

He could have thrown his arms in the air and yelled, "Hey, how's that hit, ya smarty pants?"

Or he could have run into the dugout as though there were an insurance adjuster waiting for him with an inadequate settlement offer.

He chose option (c), which tells us as much about him as it does about us.

By focusing not on the unique moment but on the grinding defeat awaiting him, Velarde could have come across as a brooding, inner-directed grump, flogging himself for an error that turned a 2-0 game into a 3-0 game.

He could also have come across as a strict professional, ignoring the fun of the moment for the greater issue of the contest at hand.

In short, he was faced with the decision every defensive lineman on a bad team must make when he sacks the other team's backup quarterback in a 37-10 loss:

To dance, or not to dance.

The right answer, of course, is, "What do you think?"

Velarde is plainly one of those guys who doesn't want to see gyrating linebackers. He is a guy who doesn't want to give the younger A's the wrong impression -- or, in this case, any impression.

That doesn't make him a bad guy. Just a modest one.

Then again, there are the circumstances to consider. What if the A's were ahead? What if he had hit the home run he managed late in the game early on, and what if there had been men on base, and what if Pettitte had been lit up like a highway flare instead of smothering the Oaklands with a single run?

In all likelihood, Velarde would not have changed a thing. He has never shown much inclination to break into song, dance or even mime, no matter what the provocation. He's just not the demonstrative type.

But that's just Velarde. What if it had been, say, Pokey Reese, or Warren Morris, or Mark McLemore, or Carlos Febles? That ball might have gone right into their pockets for a quick trip to the den, or thrown into the stands in a moment of impetuosity.

We'll never know, because all we have is Velarde's reaction -- the act of a man who is very hard to faze.

After all, it is very hard to say, as Velarde can, that he turned an unassisted triple play and broke even on the inning.

Ray Ratto, a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, is a regular contributor to


Oakland's Velarde turns unassisted triple play