They are indelible snapshots of an All-Star, midsummer memories of a sport steeped in tradition: boyish boy Ted Williams clapping with delight after leaving a homer in Detroit; A victorious Tony Gwen slides in for the win in Pittsburgh. Stately Cal Ripken Jr. blows a home run in Seattle’s All-Star farewell.
Hall of Famers—like Stan Musial, Derek Jeter, and many other greats—had one thing in common: With the exception of the All-Star Game, they never changed teams. This unique identity gives their stars an extra glamor, but largely removes them from a new game sweeping the baseball scene.
name is pure networkAnd with apologies to the rookie Atlanta Braves — who had eight draft picks to the National League team in Tuesday’s All-Star game in Seattle — it’s the biggest thing to happen in the sport.
The net — named after the immaculate inning, where the pitcher hits the side on nine pitches — is a daily tic-tac-toe board quiz designed by Brian Minter, a software developer in suburban Atlanta. He said the game averages about 200,000 players every day of the week.
“I thought it was going to be one of those niche games with a small following,” Minter said in a phone interview. “But not like this.”
Players are only allowed nine guesses to fill in the nine squares with answers that correspond to the categories listed at the top and bottom left-hand side. Most of these categories are teams, so the correct answers are anyone who has played for the franchises listed at the top and beside each box.
With the proliferation of mind-bending games online, it’s a perfect match for the baseball reference, who purchased the site on Tuesday for an undisclosed sum. It’s also a victory for the two former big leaguers who travel well all around.
“I love it,” said Mike Cameron, the former football player who coached the Futures Game in Seattle on Saturday and played for eight teams across 17 seasons. “I think about all the guys I’ve played against and my mind starts to shift. I’ve played in every division against every team, and I’ve had a lot of teammates from the start. My first two years, all I did was sit on the bench and watch, so I know a lot of these guys.” “.
Todd Greene, a former six-team catcher from 1996 through 2006, plays every day, comparing nets with his two sons and son-in-law. He used himself twice, and said he playfully berated his family members for not doing so.
“I’ve been trying to fill it with spare catches since I’ve been playing,” said Green. “We all bounced around a bit. At first I was just trying to get all 9 answers, but now I’m taking more time.”
“It’s like: I played, but let’s not get too excited,” said former eight-team reliever CJ Nitkowski, who turned his empty head into his Twitter profile picture. “But it’s our time for people who know.”
After selling to Baseball Reference, nearly every player now has an actual headshot that matches the one at the top of their stats page on the website when selected in the grid. The new host also provides a full list of all possible answers for each square, but other than that, the game has the clean, simple setup that Minter has been using since it launched it this spring.
“The main goal is not to screw it up,” said Sean Foreman, president of Sports Reference, the parent company of Baseball Reference and a custodian of statistical data for many sports. “It’s very rare to have a product that works well with our audience so quickly. We want to build it on our other sites — basketball and football are a no-brainer — and try to launch it as soon as possible.”
Furman noticed Minter earlier this season, when Baseball Reference’s “Multi-Franchise” tool exploded in traffic.
“There was almost no traffic a couple of months ago,” Forman said, “and now it’s one of the top five visited pages per day.”
It may mean that some users cheat, but most players are stuck somewhere; The average score on Tuesday — in the one-off afternoon bonus grid — was 6.9 out of 9. Minter said he realized last month that adding a rarer score (the lower the better) would entice players to look for the most ambiguous possible answers rather than just completing the grid .
The site instantly calculates the popularity of each answer that day. By late Tuesday afternoon, for example, 50 percent of users had selected Gerrit Cole, the American League’s starting Tuesday starter, for the Astros/Yankees field, but only 0.01 percent of users had chosen Nitkowski, who played one season for Houston and two. months for the Yankees.
The sum of the nine answers—with 100 penalty points for a missed square—creates the scarcity score.
“The flip side of the rare score is, instead of trying to get the worst guy everywhere, can you get the most popular guy?” Nitkowski said. “I think it’s fun both ways.”
If the All-Star Game is a showcase for baseball’s best, Immaculate Grid’s rarest plaques represent the opposite: places to honor random names among the 23,000 or so players to play in the majors.
“It gives you a chance to remember players you haven’t given much thought to,” said Minter. “For the Astros/Yankees, I immediately thought of Gerrit Cole. But it’s fun to think of those older players. It gives you a sense of nostalgia and a reason to flip through those mental baseball cards.”