Batboy thrown into unique situation
With dugout phone out of order, 36-year-old thrust into action
BOSTON -- The Major League manager, that unique prisoner of his environment, can be a creature of habit. And when that environment is threatened, as it was for Rays manager Joe Maddon on Wednesday, there is no telling how he may choose to react.
In the top of the eighth inning of the Red Sox's Fourth of July game, the Devil Rays were down, 7-5, and had a runner on first with two outs. Maddon wanted to tell bullpen coach Bobby Ramos to warm up a left-hander and a right-hander. He picked up the phone.
It was dead.
"I think it had a glitch," said left-hander Jon Switzer, who was sitting in the bullpen at the time. "We didn't know what was happening. Because, obviously, our phone wasn't working."
Maddon lost it.
"I looked around and said, 'Pay your ... phone bill!'" Maddon said.
When Johnny Pesky broke into the Majors as a 22-year-old Red Sox shortstop in 1942, Fenway had no phones.
"No, you had signs," Pesky said. "A lot of times, you could holler to an outfielder, say, 'Get so-and-so ready.' Some clubs did that. But you had signs with your pitching coach.
"When the phones went out," Pesky added, "[Maddon] could've hollered to the second baseman, the second baseman could've hollered to the right fielder, they could've had the sign in the dugout."
Evidently, Maddon was unaware of such simple methods. The Devil Rays manager, whose trademark black-rim glasses and oft-used laptop have made him something of a new-wave icon among baseball people, did the next-best thing: he got in the umpire's face.
"Either [phone] or, you know, walkie-talkie," quipped Maddon. "But here in Boston, the people in the seats will intercept it, so you can't rely on that."
"I think the manager kind of panicked a little bit," Pesky said. "But he did the smart thing and went to the ump."
What then? Fascinated, Switzer watched as play was suspended and the boos showered down on Maddon, on the umpire, on anyone and everyone involved.
"I mean, [Maddon] had to stop the game and say, 'Our phone's not working, their's needs to be off,'" Switzer said. "Or something like that."
If Maddon wanted equal treatment, he might've considered taking a bat to the Red Sox's phone, or ensuring all checks made to the local utility were voided. First-base umpire Gerry Davis was having none of it. Keeping his wits about him, Maddon arrived at another solution.
Joe Maddon, meet Chris Cundiff, Red Sox batboy.
Or bat-man, rather: Cundiff, a 36-year-old agent at OneBeacon Insurance Company, has been working nights at Fenway Park since 1992. The red-haired husband and father of two became fodder for the NESN cameras as soon as Maddon, still engaging with Davis, turned and pointed. Directly at him.
"That's never happened before," wondered Cundiff.
The batboy was summoned. Maddon spoke to him.
"The pitchers are Switzer and [Jay] Witasick," Maddon said.
"Witasick and Switzer."
Recalled Cundiff: "He said it once, and I didn't know what he said. Because they didn't specifically say, 'The phone's broken; we need you to do this.'"
Cundiff was flummoxed.
"I don't know what you're saying but I'll pretend I understood you," Cundiff was thinking.
Cundiff eventually got the message. Then he proceeded to make the long, slow jog towards the Tampa Bay bullpen as 36,629 people in the crowd -- and many, many more tuning into NESN -- looked on.
It was a crowning moment. As he carried his urgent message on the Fourth of July, the weight of so many thousands bearing down upon him, Cundiff brought to mind another famous Boston patriot.
"Who was the guy that rode the horse and passed the message around Boston?" said Witasick. "That's kind of like the way it was."
Cundiff didn't feel so much like Paul Revere. "I'm like, OK, this is embarrassing," Cundiff said.
Upon arriving at the Tampa bullpen, Cundiff delivered his message: Start warming up Witasick, the right-hander, and Switzer, the left-hander.
"That's pretty much all the phone call would've been, too," Switzer said.
Five minutes later, the phone started working again.
A day later, all parties were still struggling with what had occurred. The moment served as a brutal reminder of what happens when modern amenities are suddenly taken away.
"Last night was a pretty basic thing," Switzer said. "If they'd have known there was no phone, they could've communicated with signs. But there were no signs prepared."
Such a simple directive, such a difficult evening. The moment also served as an exercise in adaptation. What happens when the manager, that notorious creature of habit, is jolted by a change of scenery?
On Wednesday, Joe Maddon gave a lesson in how to cope.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.