Baseball Is Weird, Part I: Lineup Calligraphy

Baseball is a great sport, but let’s be honest: so many of its traditions, unwritten rules, and idiosyncrasies are bizarre. In this series, which will run for somewhere between one and 3,000 parts, we will take quick looks at some of the sport’s most intriguing quirks.

Look at the lineup card above. What happened there? Did someone have some time to kill during a rain delay? Is Kansas City’s leader in handwritten wedding invitations also a huge Royals fan? Did Mrs. Moustakas get bored during Take Your Mom to the Dugout Day?

No, none of those things; Mrs. Moustakas was attentive throughout the day’s programming and had a wonderful time.

As was first detailed in The Globe and Mail in 2012, that lineup card is the handiwork of then-Blue Jays coach Don Wakamatsu, who is now the bench coach for the Royals. Wakamatsu learned the craft of calligraphy from mentor Jerry Narron, who’s now with the Brewers, and still does some fancy work of his own:

As for whose lineup card looks better, it’s a bang-bang play. Narron gets bonus points for rendering Nori Aoki’s name in Japanese characters, which, after Aoki moved from Milwaukee to Kansas City, Wakamatsu didn’t do. But Wakamatsu’s writing is a little more pleasing to my eye, and he even takes the time to color-code his lineups (blue for righties, red for lefties, and black for switch hitters).

As far as I can tell, Narron and Wakamatsu are the only two MLB coaches who dabble in the calligraphic arts, but with all the attention their writing has received online, surely someone aspiring coach out there has started practicing his penmanship. Wakamatsu and Narron aren’t just dilettantes; their efforts have purpose. Their lineup cards are far more legible than, say, my uneven scrawl (complete with the smear marks that haunt any Sharpie-wielding lefty). The Royals even sell Wakamatsu’s cards as souvenirs. But it’s a little hard to believe that an MLB coach could find the time to take such care with each letter. I picture exchanges like this one:

OMAR INFANTE: Hey, coach, I’m having some trouble with this hitch in my swing. Can you take a look?

DON WAKAMATSU: Sure, I’m filling out the lineup, but just give me half an hour.

It’s also odd to see anything remotely artistic in baseball, a sport where players smear tar and dirt all over themselves, and send rivers of tobacco and spit flowing everywhere. But maybe Wakamatsu and Narron are agents of change. Maybe they’ll inspire some other coach to prepare Japanese flower arrangements in his dugout. Maybe bullpens of the future will be characterized by aromatherapy candles and the soothing tones of Enya. Maybe teams will adopt sappy theme songs written and performed by ’70s soft-rock icons… nah, that’s pure fantasy.