TOOTBLAN A baseball story

The year was 2008. The Chicago Cubs were good. Very good. It couldn't be known then, but they were on their way to a division title, the best record in the National League and a first-round loss in the playoffs that would kick off a seven-year postseason drought. Soriano. DLee. Aramis. Zambrano. Lilly. Dempster. Sweet Lou. It was an entertaining, veteran-dominated team.

But not all was well in Wrigleyville, at least among fans. There was stress. There was angst. There was bickering. The source? The Cubs shortstop. Ryan Theriot. Nobody could seem to agree on The Riot. Was he good? Was he not? Was he the Great White Hope of the North Side?

One blogger with too much time on his hands set out to find the answer - and the TOOTBLAN was born.

The Riot.

Tony Jewell, TOOTBLAN Inventor

"In May 2008, Theriot was coming off an unremarkable 2007 season, when he put up a .266/.326/.346 slash line. But a huge swath of Cubs fans loved him because he played hard and he wasn't one of the big stars. It only intensified when he got off to a hot start in 2008. On May 7, he was hitting .331/.406/.425 - and he was getting dirty. Very dirty. He dove for balls to his left. He dove for balls to his right. He sometimes even dove for balls that were already in the outfield. He liked to dive. He rarely seemed to get to them, but Cubs fans ate it up. Grit."

Brett Taylor, Founder, Bleacher Nation

"I think there have always been segments of the Cubs' fandom that like to see players like Theriot succeed - not just in terms of his physical qualities (scrappiness, whatever you want to call it), but also in terms of his unheralded background. You also have to remember that, at the time, mainstream folks were only just starting to come around to the idea that OBP was an incredibly important evaluative tool. So, what I remember is that many of the 'smarter' Cubs fans were actually relatively pro-Theriot, especially after that 2008 season (.387 OBP and a 3.0 WAR!), whereas many other fans were pro-Theriot for what were probably the wrong reasons."

Julie DiCaro, Update Anchor 670 The Score and Columnist for The Cauldron

"In 2008, I was running A League of Her Own, my own Cubs blog. I remember him being extremely popular with small, scrappy, white men. The fans that loved him thought he was a future Hall of Famer. Those of use who didn't were constantly on the lookout for a different shortstop. The most bewildering idea about the whole thing was that Theriot was somehow a good defensive shortstop. He was not."

Brett Taylor

"I remember thinking he looked miscast as a shortstop. I remember thinking he made a lot of mistakes on the basepaths. I remember chatting about all of these things on various message boards throughout that season."

Tony Jewell

"He was like a poor man's Mark DeRosa, but Mark DeRosa was already on the 2008 Cubs. It was kinda weird."

Cubs fans loved him.

Tony Jewell

"Theriot fans repeatedly pointed to his high on-base percentage in 2008 - and it was quite high. Detractors noted his limited range in the field and shoddy base running to make their case. I mean, what good is getting on base if you just get picked off or thrown out on a grounder to short with an open base? I was somewhere in between. The guy obviously had value, but he wasn't Ernie Banks out there. One night (May 7, 2008) after putting the kids to bed, I decided to try to settle the debate and figure out what impact Theriot's base running had on his overall performance. And we had to consider all of the base running mistakes and not just the CS that show up in the box score. That night, the Ryan Theriot Adjusted On Base Percentage - and, by extension - the TOOTBLAN was born."

The formula created to determine the RTAOBP was simple: RTAOBP = (Hits+Walks+HBP-CS-Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop)/Plate Appearances (AB+BB+HBP+SF). TOOTBLANs include extra base outs, outs on would-be sacrifice flies, pickoffs, double offs, fielder’s choice outs with an open base, batter’s interference, runner’s fielder choice, runner interference, caught stealing on a walk (really), hit by a batted ball and various other odd things that can happen during a baseball game. Stolen bases are counted separately.

Tony Jewell

"Taken together, the formula showed Theriot's RTAOBP was some 45 points lower than his actual on-base percentage at the time. It didn't really settle any debates, of course, and the adjusted OBP hasn't stood the test of time. It got lost in the whole thing, while Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop was quickly shortened to the more user-friendly "TOOTBLAN." It was an accident that the acronym was TOOTBLAN. I didn't really realize it until someone at Baseball Think Factory pointed it out."

Tim McGinnis, Founder of Aisle 424

"The interesting thing differentiating Theriot's rise to fan favorite from guys like David Eckstein was that the rise of blogs, and probably more importantly, Twitter, gave fans a voice that could provide a dissenting opinion on exactly how important Theriot actually was. In the days before, a narrative could get built by the media and it would almost become fact over time. Social media allowed savvier fans to push against the narrative flow being built by journalists who just wanted a good story. The invention of the TOOTBLAN ended up being a pretty important tool in that push back in the case of Theriot."

Tony Jewell

"In the early years, the term attracted a little bit of attention, primarily among Cubs fans who would Tweet 'TOOTBLAN' when the Cubs or their opponents would make an out on the base paths. I think it really started to spread as Theriot changed teams to the Dodgers, Cardinals and Giants. Reporters and bloggers would Google background on him and TOOTBLAN would be prominently mentioned. They started using it on their own, and it really became a thing on Twitter. I was as surprised as anybody when it took off. TOOTBLAN surely would have been forgotten long ago without the power of Twitter."

Julie DiCaro

"This was around the time I first jumped on Twitter, and I started seeing fans from other teams using the term, people outside the Cubs' small blogging community. That's when I knew we were dealing with something bigger than ourselves."

Brett Taylor

"It's hard to say for sure (when I noticed it take off), since I've lived so thoroughly in the super-Internetty-Cubs-fan world for so long, and TOOTBLAN has been a thing to us almost immediately after it was birthed. What's funny is that, initially, I wasn't a huge fan. I liked the idea of tracking what TOOTBLANs tracked, but I thought the name was so silly that it undercut the relative seriousness of tracking baserunning mistakes (something few outside the sabermetric community were doing back then)."

Rob Neyer, FOX Sports Senior Baseball Editor

"I think it became a thing for the same thing everything else becomes a thing: because nature abhors a vacuum. It caught on because baseball players, even the best baseball players on the planet, so often do things that would get a Little Leaguer a lecture from his head coach. And it happens so often that for a long time we've needed a catchy name for it. What's amazing is that it took someone so long to come up with one."

Tim McGinnis

"I first noticed it get used more and more by fans of other teams on Twitter. Then it would pop up in a news story somewhere. Then all of a sudden, there were Twitter accounts popping up trying to claim credit for inventing it. That was surreal."

Tony Jewell

"Over the last few years, TOOTBLAN has shown up on,, the Washington Post, NBC, FOX Sports, radio broadcasts and countless other newspaper sites across the country - which is really quite cool when you think about it. It even got its own chapter in a book."

Tagged out.

Jimmy Greenfield, Author of "100 Things Cubs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die"

"I wanted to do a chapter in the book about starting a Cubs blog and came to the conclusion there's no better example of the power of blogs than the invention and proliferation of TOOTBLAN, as it all began in a single blog post."

John Baker, Former Cubs Catcher and Relief Pitcher (via Twitter)

"(I) learned the term at some point during Saber Seminar in Boston this summer (2015). I like that is has a silly word at the end. ... Nincompoop is perfect. It's so rare and silly. It's not offensive. Perfect for getting doubled off on a line out."

Brett Taylor

"It was a great gift to the online baseball world - something simultaneously smart and silly that folks who really pay attention and love this game could enjoy together."

Tony Jewell

"Since it got more popular, there are frequent discussions about what constitutes a TOOTBLAN - with some insisting that it has to be a genuinely dumb base running play to qualify. But the original intent was always to quantify any on-base, non-force out to help get to the adjusted OBP. The "Like A Nincompoop" was added in a fit of whimsy and has added a lot of confusion over the years. I never really meant to call Theriot or anyone else a nincompoop. It just made me laugh for a brief second. But it undoubtedly helped popularize the concept because everyone loves to say nincompoop."

Tim McGinnis

"I really think the -LAN was a key to it catching on. Even though the most important part is the TOOTB part, the LAN gave it an edge that fans delighted in using. It was kind of cathartic to point out a TOOTBLAN after the tying run got picked off or thrown out trying to score on a sac fly or however it went down. I know that was why I liked to use it."

Julie DiCaro

"I give all credit to the word 'nincompoop.' It's hugely under-utilized in the English language."

Rob Neyer

"I don't recall when (I learned of it), but I know why: TOOTBLAN isn't just necessary; it's so delightfully onomatopoetic."

Jimmy Greenfield

"It's an amazing acronym that is an onomatopoeia in that it sounds like what it means. A TOOTBLAN just sounds like a dumb mistake. And spelled out 'Thrown Out On The Basebaths Like A Nincompoop' is just amazingly descriptive and accurate. It grew because it was a real baseball stat that has value. And because it's fun to say TOOTBLAN. Still cracks me up."

Brett Taylor

"That was exactly why it caught on, I think. After a couple years, I realized I was wrong about the label - TOOTBLAN was perfect for so many reasons. It was so over-the-top that it actually highlighted how stupid those baserunning mistakes often are. I think on that meta level, various influencers and baseball thinkers really gravitated to the term (people like to show off when they've heard a new thing and can use it in context). Plus, being that it's an acronym, it says everything you want to say in those moments: dude strays too far from first base, inexplicably, after taking a walk? You just say TOOTBLAN and shake your head."

Tony Jewell

"That's called a 'Cedeno." There have been a lot of memorable TOOTBLAN during the TOOTBLAN era - including Jean Segura trying to steal first, the Pirates double TOOTBLAN on a walk and Robinson Cano losing his mind last season. But the high-water mark has to be Kolten Wong unleashing a pinch-run, walkoff TOOTBLAN in the World Series in 2013. Not sure that can be topped. Of course, it could have if they had sent Alex Gordon at the end of Game 7 in the 2014 World Series, but they didn't."

Kolten Wong, 2013 World Series.

Tim McGinnis

"My favorite last year was when David Ross ended the game against the Nationals by picking off the tying run at first base. The all-time most memorable TOOTBLAN for me was when Ronny Cedeno got thrown out stealing second base on ball four because he overslid the bag."

Tony Jewell

"I have always felt kinda bad that 'Theriot' and 'nincompoop' became so closely intertwined. It always felt borderline mean, and I didn't mean it that way at all. I kinda cringe when I see people Tweet 'TOOTBLAN' at Theriot. But it seems he did just fine after 2008."

Ryan Theriot shows off his bling.

Julie DiCaro

"I think it should be noted that Ryan Theriot has been positively lovely about TOOTBLANs when taunted on Twitter. I know because I have tried to taunt him with it, and he made a very witty, self-deprecating reply. It completely pissed me off."

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Tony Jewell
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