Birdstrike an Inevitable Part of Baseball Pitcher Randy Johnson
Famed Major League Baseball pitcher Randy Johnson announced his retirement this week. The 46-year-old, 6-foot-10 player—aptly nicknamed The Big Unit—racked up several notable accomplishments in his 22-year major league career: Throwing two no-hitters, including a perfect game, ranking second on the career strikeout list, coming out of the bullpen to beat the Yankees in game seven of the 2001 World Series and give the Diamondbacks the title. And then there was the time his fastball hit a dove in midair, killing it instantly in an explosion of feathers.
While the incident might not make Johnson’s list of most memorable moments, it does rank as one of the few times a bird has been struck by a ball during a major league game. The most recent came in June, when a gull (which flew off after the collision) helped the Cleveland Indians’ win over the Kansas City Royals. Though bird-ball clashes are rare, some ballparks have taken steps to deter birds from lingering in stadiums, where they can potential interfere with the game, and bother the fans.
Pigeons, seagulls, starlings and other birds are drawn to baseball fields because they provide shelter in the rafters and plenty of food, from snack scraps to insects on the field. Some ballparks, like Wrigley Field, have installed special nets to keep birds from roosting in the rafters. One manufacturer, Bird-B-Gone, offers other deterrents including bird spikes, an electric shock system (which it says doesn’t harm the creatures), and aerosol mists that spray methyl anthranilate,“a grape extract that naturally occurs in concord grapes, and is used for flavoring grape soda and candies.” The chemical “irritates the trigeminal nerve and mucous membranes of birds when it enters their eyes, nose or mouth.” (Bird researchers use the stuff, too. Multiple groups have conducted trials in which chicks learn that a bead of a particular shape and/or color has a bitter taste—because it has been coated in 100% methyl anthranilate—and subsequently avoids on further tests.)
While such solutions can help cut down on the number of birds on the field, as of yet there’s no sure-fire way to keep birds out entirely. Given that the animals do occasionally have an impact on a game, it’s not surprising that there’s something about them in the rulebook, as an umpire explained on MLB.com:
“MLB Regulations do cover a batted or thrown ball (but not a pitched ball) touching an animal: "If a batted or thrown ball strikes a bird or other animal on the playing field, consider the ball alive and in play, the same as if it had not touched the bird or animal.”
As for Johnson’s pitch: “That bizarre play is not covered in the Official Rules. When a situation is not covered, Rule 9.01(c) comes into play. That rule gives the umpire authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in the Rules. In such instances the umpire is instructed to use ‘common sense and fair play.’ In this game, the umpires called it no pitch, as this was the fairest thing to do.”