As the baseball season slipped past the midpoint of May, the Kansas City Royals found themselves in a rut. The handful of players keeping the team afloat found their numbers normalizing, and the struggling majority didn’t improve in kind. A terrible 1-7 run against the Rockies, Orioles, and White Sox left them with a 24-23 record and stuck in third place. The GM of most teams would just wait out the trouble and hope for a rebound. But Pat Burrell and Strike-O-Matic knew that they couldn’t let the Royals fall any further behind.
The theories of the 2010s pitch-framing analysts are lost to history, purged after a reactionary movement seized sports media in 2031 and instituted the Heyman Doctrine, a brutal set of reforms that made the use of any advanced statistic less predictive than ERA punishable by death. But we do know that these statistics informed the 2014 Kansas City Royals’ decision to acquire Jose Molina from the Tampa Bay Rays. Molina, a month away from turning 39 at the time of the trade, could otherwise hardly be seen as a trade target for a team that hoped to save the future of baseball in 2014. He had a career OPS hovering around the low .600s and had never received more than 350 PAs in a season. If not for the pitch framing craze of the 2010s, why else would anyone trade for Jose Molina?
T.S. Eliot once wrote that April is the cruelest month. But what the hell did he know? He wrote a book that inspired the musical Cats. His hands are stained with blood. In baseball, April brings hope and uncertainty. The passage of the month brings the first significant statistical endpoint to evaluate players or the team as a whole. However, almost all of these stats–even win/loss record–come with sample size caveats. You can’t project how well anyone will do based solely on their April. But that doesn’t keep people from trying.
Late into the month of April, it became clear that the Royal’s catcher, Salvador Perez, was suffering from overuse. He was hitting worse than anyone else on the team, which caught Player/GM Pat Burrell by surprise. Perez was supposed to be one of the few sincerely good players on the Royals. Burrell decided that the team needed a quality backup catcher and veteran presence. Someone to fill the role that Todd Pratt had during Burrell’s early years in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Todd Pratt was now 47 years old, so getting him out of retirement would be more than a chore. Burrell would have to trade for a backup, and do so without giving up anything of significant value.
With that in mind, he went to the team’s advance statistics department for advice. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Royals advanced statistics department had been gutted during the Dayton Moore years, and now consisted of nothing but shortstop Alcides Escobar sitting in a small office after every game and browsing Fangraphs.
The first two weeks of the season for the Kansas City Royals passed with neither a bang nor a whimper. The team was thoroughly mediocre, and after a 5-3 start, they dropped two games in a row to settle at 5-5 in their first two turns through the rotation. None of this could be blamed on the starting pitching, however. All five of the Royals’ starters–Strike-O-Matic, James Shields, Bruce Chen, Jason Vargas, and Kyle Zimmer–had been fantastic. However, the lineup was struggling to produce runs. Sal Perez, Colby Rasmus, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas all had averages below .200 and their futility prevented the relative success of Nori Aoki, Eric Hosmer, Pat Burrell, and Omar Infante from bearing much fruit.
However, this was no time for the offense to be slumping. Game 11 pitted the Kansas City Royals against their interdivisional opponent, the Minnesota Twins. And perhaps more importantly, it pitted Strike-O-Matic against the first of the six robot masters, the deceptive hurler Stubby Candyman.
In the year 2099, the robot Stubby Candyman was the ace pitcher for the St. Paul Conjoined Twins, aptly renamed after the great Minneapolis Nuclear Disaster of 2051. Unlike most robot hurlers, Candyman did not rely upon pure power to overwhelm his opponents. Instead, his arm cannon was equipped with a variety of darting and dancing breaking breaking pitches. His knuckleball was considered the best in all of MLB, as he could eject the baseball without any spin but still control its general trajectory towards the plate. His slider, which was the hardest pitch he threw, could start at the knees of a left handed batter and end up on the far side of the strike zone. And his vulcan change? Well, he was the only one who even knew what a vulcan change actually was.
The first day of the regular season brought the first major challenge for the new-look Kansas City Royals. Their first opponents were the Detroit Tigers and the first pitcher they would face was Justin Verlander. For years, Verlander had been one of the most formidable pitchers in the American League. In 2011-2012, he was absolutely unhittable. 2013 saw the first signs of decline for the hard-throwing right-hander, but all but the most pessimistic fans thought he would bounce back to contend for a Cy Young.
In the original version of the timeline, before Strike-O-Matic and the robot masters changed everything, 2014 was a disappointment for Verlander. His first-half ERA was almost a run and a half above his career numbers. Even by the standards established in Detroit in the early 21st century, this was a disaster. However, time travel changes everything. While the robot masters had no particular interest in Verlander other than his eventual subjugation at their cold steel hand, their presence would disrupt the timeline across the board. This would give him another shot at a successful 2014. And Verlander wasn’t someone to bet on disappointing twice.
It is said that nothing worth doing is ever easy, and this is doubly true of time travel. The fabric of the past resists change, not unlike a stubborn mule or the American South. To move a human-sized pitching machine from the war-torn hell of the year 2099 to the slightly less war-torn hell of 2014 is a process with many steps, and there are numerous things that could go wrong. It is thought that the power-crazed Artificial Intelligence K.I.R.K.G.I.B.S.O.N. actually sent back an army of robot masters to destroy baseball, and only the six most hardy even survived the trip.
When the aged Mike Trout programmed the Strike-O-Matic to go back to 2014 to stop the robot masters, he gave it a simple enough mission. The Strike-O-Matic was instructed to find Mike Trout in the past and join the Angels to defeat the nefarious plans of K.I.R.K.G.I.B.S.O.N. Unfortunately, Strike-O-Matic’s memory was stored on a Chinese knockoff “Zandisk” solid state hard drive, which Trout had purchased on eBay. This flash memory was poorly insulated from the terrible magnetic effects of time travel, and by the time Strike-O-Matic arrived in the year 2014, everything it had been programmed to do was corrupted.
The Strike-O-Matic only had a vague idea that he had to join forces with the best player in baseball and outplay some other robots, but everything else was lost to the corruption. Ever resourceful, Strike-O-Matic turned to the resource that it assumed was the most reliable–networked crowdsourcing. Strike-O-Matic didn’t understand that in 2014, the internet was only quasi-regulated and that people still thought “trolling” was fun. Also, its irony meter had been destroyed by the massive influx of irony created during time travel, so it took the first response it received as the gospel truth.
As we venture into the new century, several generations have known nothing but the Base Wars. Robot versus robot. Robot versus man. Man versus man. It is not news. It is not history. It is merely life. For the young people of the year 2099, it is nothing to go to the ballpark and see a robot with tank treads for a leg attempt to decapitate a floating robot with a laser sword. The cyber-checkpoints are routine, and the e-police are just another fixture on the street corner, twirling their e-batons and compiling their e-donuts.
There was a time before this neon mecha-hellscape. Once, you could walk down the street without seeing the roving gangs of hobodroids, shaking down the robourgeoisie for their laser-rubles. It was a simpler time, before the airs was filled with the scream of holodrones and we lived under the constant threat of quantum terrorism. How did we get here? And how will this end? The answer to both of those questions is one and the same. Because of time travel.
This is the history of the First and Last Base War.