When Ken Caminiti threw out a runner from his butt
On April 22, 1996, Ken made the most improbable play of his career.
This text appears in my upcoming book Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever.
The ball screamed down the line like a tired toddler: waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!
When playing third base, Ken Caminiti would normally dive with his arm fully extended like Superman in flight. But on April 22, 1996, his shoulder was injured, so when the ball was hit his way, he had to improvise.
He dove to his right with his glove curved toward the ground. Even mid-dive with his bad shoulder, he somehow had the glove in just the right spot to snare the ball, then tucked his arm toward his body in an upside-down U. But now what?
Given his clunky dive, Ken collapsed over himself as his momentum carried him toward foul territory, his legs coming up above his chest. He had to get the throw off. But standing up would take too long, so he rolled into a sitting position with his butt smack-dab in the center of the foul line. He lunged and, with his body drifting into foul territory, fired a strike across the diamond some 130-plus feet away, beating the Marlins runner, Greg Colbrunn, by three steps.
It was the best play of a career filled with them. And maybe the most improbable. This was a few weeks after he damaged his shoulder, and two days after he reinjured it. Two days!
He made the play without even knowing how his shoulder would hold up. With the injury so fresh, he was still adjusting to playing with it and finding angles at which he could safely dive.
The physicality . . . the knowledge of one’s own body . . . the ability to adjust due to an injury . . . the improvisation . . . This play was infield artistry.
After making his career-defining play, Caminiti—unable to properly lift his left arm—grasped his hat with his right paw and slipped it back on his head, put his head down, and jogged off the field. Inning over. “Ooh, that was pretty good,” he said after seeing video of his play following the game.
“I knew I did something good but I didn’t know how good,” he said later. It was good, all right.
Pretty soon, the Padres had children doing their best Ken Caminiti impressions by sitting at third base and making their hardest throw from their butt as Ken stood watch, giving them high fives.