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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

John Thorn: Who Were the Fastest Pitchers?

A FB/FB conversation turned into a blogpost.

I sort of fell into this subject on Facebook earlier today in response to a woodcut I posted of Amos Rusie’s drop ball. With his legendary fastball, I suggested, why would he ever need to throw a drop? Walter Johnson pitched almost his entire career throwing one pitch.

...Let’s try a math exercise: Rusie’s 95 mph–my approximation; his pitches were never clocked, but Connie Mack said he was as fast as Johnson or Bob Feller–speedball of 1892, thrown from 55’6″ (the back-foot distance) would have arrived at the plate in 0.400 seconds. A modern pitcher throwing 95 mph from 60’6″ would reach the plate at 0.434 seconds. A modern pitcher throwing at 100 mph would reach home plate at 0.413 seconds. If Rusie threw routinely at 95 mph (as opposed to a peak mark like Aroldis Chapman’s 105) he was, from a batter’s viewpoint, the fastest ever,  Q.E.D. (Yes, Chapman’s fastest-ever pitch arrived at the plate in 0.393 seconds, but that is a reliever’s apple to a starter’s orange.)

To such musing my friend Rod Nelson replied, “how long for the fastest fast-pitch softball to reach the plate?” This interested me because in men’s fast-pitch leagues the pitching distance is 46 feet, only one foot longer than baseball’s original pitching distance, first specified in 1857. Let’s say, I replied, that a pitcher could maintain a 95-mph pace, as above. (Eddie Feigner’s peak of 104 is an anomaly, like Chapman’s 105 above.) That 95 mph windmill pitch would arrive at the plate in 0.330 seconds (though the ball is bigger and theoretically easier to hit). Imagine Jim Creighton Of the Brooklyn Excelsiors of 1860 pitching, with a straight arm and no windup–let’s say for argument–an 80 mph fastball at the 45 foot distance (which was really a 50 foot distance from the back foot, and is thus calculated). His ball would have arrived at the plate in 0.426 seconds–faster to the plate than the modern pitcher at 95 mph.

Repoz Posted: February 18, 2014 at 07:40 PM | 42 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: February 18, 2014 at 07:58 PM (#4658771)
I thought this was going to be about Pedro Ramos.
   2. Al Kaline Trio Posted: February 18, 2014 at 08:12 PM (#4658779)
I thought it was going to be about Bartolo Colon, I also didn't read the title correctly.
   3. John DiFool2 Posted: February 18, 2014 at 08:24 PM (#4658782)
I wonder how underhand softball-style pitchers would do in baseball if that pitch delivery was legal...
   4. ST in VA Posted: February 18, 2014 at 08:59 PM (#4658791)
Only time I've seen the term "speedball" used in reference to baseball other than in a Bruce Springsteen song.
   5. DanG Posted: February 18, 2014 at 10:19 PM (#4658804)
Evan Pontley
   6. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: February 18, 2014 at 11:21 PM (#4658819)
I wonder how underhand softball-style pitchers would do in baseball if that pitch delivery was legal...


What part of the softball-style delivery is not legal? Obviously you wouldn't be able to make the same move from the stretch (well, you just couldn't hold any runners on), but I don't know what part of the softball motion is actually against the rules.


   7. Bhaakon Posted: February 18, 2014 at 11:50 PM (#4658828)
What part of the softball-style delivery is not legal? Obviously you wouldn't be able to make the same move from the stretch (well, you just couldn't hold any runners on), but I don't know what part of the softball motion is actually against the rules.


In baseball, the pitcher's foot is supposed to be in contact with the rubber when the ball is released. A lot of major league pitchers don't do this, but they're close enough that the umpires would need video evidence to call it definitively. Fastpitch softball pitchers essential leap at the batter, and aren't even close to touching the rubber when they release the ball. They'd get called on it every time.

Fastpitch also doesn't use an elevated mound, but I don't think that's a problem beyond the pitchers getting use to throwing off one.
   8. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:11 AM (#4658844)
In baseball, the pitcher's foot is supposed to be in contact with the rubber when the ball is released. A lot of major league pitchers don't do this, but they're close enough that the umpires would need video evidence to call it definitively. Fastpitch softball pitchers essential leap at the batter, and aren't even close to touching the rubber when they release the ball. They'd get called on it every time.


OK, I'm familiar with that aspect of softball pitching. I'm not sure that the extra couple of inches gained by the leap are enough to make up for the extra 15 feet of space between the pitcher and home plate that you find in baseball v. softball.
   9. starving to death with a full STEAGLES Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:16 AM (#4658846)
does the article have stickers?
   10. Barnaby Jones Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:32 AM (#4658849)
A lot of major league pitchers don't do this, but they're close enough that the umpires would need video evidence to call it definitively.


I can think of a few pitchers who plainly violate this rule and it is quite visible in real time. I've always wondered what would happen if the opposing manager complained about it.
   11. bjhanke Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:57 AM (#4658853)
I had this same idea a few years ago, when contemplating the accounts that Charlie Sweeney or George Zettlein or whoever could throw as hard as Walter Johnson, these comments made by people who had seen all those pitchers throw. What I realized is exactly what John is getting at here: If you throw a ball 80 mph from 50 feet away, it will seem, from the batter's point of view, to take just as long to get to the plate as a 100 mph pitch from 60 feet, because 50 feet is about 80% of 60 feet six inches. One pitcher gets the rubber to push off of, the other gets the three-step charge and leap. That changes the question about the 1800s pitchers. You're not asking whether Zettlein or whoever could throw 100 underhand or sidearm; you're only asking if he could throw 80. I've known a few fast-pitch softball pitchers, and I'm pretty sure they can, based on occasional radar gun readings, so I would guess that the guys from the 1870s and 1880s could, too. And, from a batter's standpoint, or a spectator's, really, what you're judging is how long the pitch takes to get from the pitcher's hand to the plate. That's what the batter has as reaction time, and it's what the spectator will see.

I also had a thought, while pondering this stuff, about Johnson and his lack of multiple pitches. Accounts of Johnson's stuff invariably say that he did occasionally throw a curve ball, but it was a lousy curve. What I'm wondering is whether that "curve" essentially functioned as Johnson's change-up. It apparently didn't break much, but it would have to be slower than the real heat, because the grip used for the curve isn't maximized for velocity. It would make some sense that Johnson would continue to use this lousy curve for 20 years, if it was a working change-up.

I think the softball rule amounts to, "The last thing your feet can have touched, before you release the ball in mid-air, has to be the rubber." In baseball, in theory, your foot has to be still in contact with the rubber when you let go.

ST - This is sad to think about, but it's true in the world of hard drugs. A "speedball" is a mixture of cocaine and heroin (sometimes, amphetamines and heroin). It's godawful. And very addictive. Apparently, when Jerry Garcia had his first big medical crash, the most likely cause of that was that he was doing speedballs. I don't know if that's what eventually killed him. You'd think that Garcia, of all people, whose song Truckin' has a line about "Sweet Jane" who was living on "Reds (an amphetamine), vitamin C and cocaine" would have known better than to even try one speedball. I miss Jerry. - Brock Hanke (unreconstructed hippie)
   12. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 19, 2014 at 06:58 AM (#4658861)
I wonder how underhand softball-style pitchers would do in baseball if that pitch delivery was legal...

To rephrase Brock's point, I wonder what softball pitchers would look like to batters if they moved the softball mound back to 60.5'. When I was in high school, I developed my batting reflexes by having my hardest throwing friends pitch to me from a 44' playground mound, and in some cases I'm sure the ball got to the plate as quickly as a Major League fastball. It was a great exercise, but nobody was mistaking these guys for Steve Dalkowski.
   13. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 19, 2014 at 07:26 AM (#4658862)
A "speedball" is a mixture of cocaine and heroin (sometimes, amphetamines and heroin). It's godawful. And very addictive.

it's what killed Belushi
   14. Hack Wilson Posted: February 19, 2014 at 07:44 AM (#4658865)
I thought this was going to be about Pedro Ramos.


Me too. Except for Rick Reuschel-"pretty fast for a big guy"-I can't think of a pitcher noted for his speed since Pedro. Yeah, Kershaw has been used as a pinch runner but is he really fast? or is Mattingly stupid to risk it? (Not mutally exclusive.)
   15. just plain joe Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:40 AM (#4658881)
I miss Jerry


Officially Garcia died of a heart attack; of course, he was overweight, had diabetes, smoked cigarettes, and had abused various drugs for many years. It is somewhat remarkable that he lived as long as he did. At his memorial service one of his daughters was quoted to the effect that "while Garcia was not a good husband or a good father, he did the best he could and never meant to hurt anyone".
   16. depletion Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:09 AM (#4658892)
OT: Who appeared in front of more paying customers, lifetime, the Grateful Dead or Pete Rose?
   17. Moeball Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:10 AM (#4658893)
What I'm wondering is whether that "curve" essentially functioned as Johnson's change-up. It apparently didn't break much, but it would have to be slower than the real heat, because the grip used for the curve isn't maximized for velocity. It would make some sense that Johnson would continue to use this lousy curve for 20 years, if it was a working change-up.


Well, we all know that the other great Johnson (Randy) basically used his slider as a changeup. Batters are gearing up for a fastball that hits the 98-100 mph range and in comes a 90 mph slider and they have almost no chance to do anything with it, because his slider was essentially a fastball with extra movement.

One of the cool things at Padres games over the years was you could really tell how Trevor Hoffman was going to do just based on the stuff they show on the scoreboard. On the days where his fastball was hitting 88 and the change was coming in at about 72 or 73, that 15+ mph difference was enough to make batters look silly and Trevor would mow them down 1-2-3 with no trouble. On the other hand, the days the fastball was only about 84-85, and if the change was coming in at about 74-75, I guess that wasn't enough of a difference to fool the hitters and those were the games where Trevor would usually get tagged pretty hard.
   18. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:21 AM (#4658896)
I agree that "the pitchers who run the fastest" is a more novel topic.

Pitchers get used as pinch runners fairly often. LaRussa put Jason "Athletic" Marquis in as a PR in the World Series! And he started out on first, and scored a run!

Jimy Williams used Steve Avery as a PR four times in 1998. Though that might have been more of a "cannon fodder" strategy.
   19. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:24 AM (#4658899)
it's what killed Belushi

Jim Belushi's dead?
   20. Moeball Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:26 AM (#4658900)
Officially Garcia died of a heart attack; of course, he was overweight, had diabetes, smoked cigarettes, and had abused various drugs for many years.


I was playing trivial pursuit one time with some friends and a question came up about "who flew for almost 50 years without a sanctioned FAA pilots license?" The actual answer was supposed to be Orville Wright, who lived until 1948 and was thus allowed to continue flying without a license even after regulatory bodies came into existence (in the 1930s?), as he sort of got grandfathered in.

The answer the person gave, however, was "Jerry Garcia" and we all busted up laughing, as it was a fairly accurate answer albeit not the one on the card. Jerry was certainly flying quite high for much of his 53 year lifespan.
   21. just plain joe Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:58 AM (#4658920)
OT: Who appeared in front of more paying customers, lifetime, the Grateful Dead or Pete Rose?


Rose, and it isn't even close. A quick and dirty estimate gets Rose in front of 90 million paying customers, based on 25,000/game X 160 games/year X 22 years. The Grateful Dead had a touring career of roughly 30 years, from the mid-sixties until Garcia died in 1995. It is very unlikely that the Dead played in front of 3 million people per year. As a rule they would play something in the neighborhood of 85-100 shows per year; for every Giants Stadium where they played to 70,000, there would be 10 shows in hockey arenas or even theaters. Ten outdoor shows would be 700,000 people, if half of the remaining 90 shows were in hockey/basketball arenas that would be another 810,000 (45 X 18,000). That is only 1.5 million people; if the other 45 shows were in venues that averaged 6,000, it would make the grand total something less than 2 million.
   22. BDC Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:37 AM (#4658935)
Jerry Garcia lives on in a very classy line of neckties designed from his artwork. I buy them whenever I see them wash up in a thrift store.

And this is odd because I can't believe he ever wore a tie.
   23. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: February 19, 2014 at 12:24 PM (#4659003)
Rose, and it isn't even close. A quick and dirty estimate gets Rose in front of 90 million paying customers, based on 25,000/game X 160 games/year X 22 years.

25000 per game seems vastly optimistic though. Just flipping through, his peak years seem to be around 28k per game. But for the 7 seasons he played in the 60's, the Reds mostly struggled to break 10k a game. That's over 1000 games, almost a third of his career. Then there are a bunch of other seasons in the 10-20k range. I would put the final number a lot closer to 60m than 90.

Don't really know about the dead, before my time. Did they ever play festivals though? Those can rack up a few hundred k in a hurry.
   24. PreservedFish Posted: February 19, 2014 at 12:33 PM (#4659015)
I went to a festival a couple years ago where one of the bands playing was whatever they're calling the latest incarnation of the Grateful Dead. The guitarist they had looked and sounded just like a young Jerry Garcia, which leads me to believe that they found him in a cover band, just like that movie with Marky Mark.
   25. AROM Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:30 PM (#4659057)
I once saw an Ozzy/Black Sabbath cover band and the singer looked and sang exactly like Ozzy. But between sets he talked, and you could actually understand him. That pretty much blew the illusion.
   26. PreservedFish Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:40 PM (#4659066)
Yeah, but this was original members of the group, Weir and Lesh I think, playing with a Jerry Garcia impressionist. So bizarre.
   27. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: February 19, 2014 at 02:05 PM (#4659099)
Weir, Lesh and Mickey Hart played as "The Other Ones" for a few years after Garcia's death, then changed to just "The Dead", and in 2009 they became "Furthur", with the addition of frontman John Kadlecik from the top Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra.

Kadlecik was born a week after the original Grateful Dead released Aoxomoxoa, making him 44 years old.
   28. tfbg9 Posted: February 19, 2014 at 02:11 PM (#4659115)
Clay Bucholz is the fastest pitcher. I have read that he would routinely beat Ellsbury in ST sprint races. And Ells is remarkably fast.
   29. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: February 19, 2014 at 02:43 PM (#4659144)
I recently ate at a BBQ joint advertising an upcoming show by "The Stone Temple Co-Pilots." The bar for having earned a cover band has reached sub-limbo levels.
   30. vortex of dissipation Posted: February 19, 2014 at 03:46 PM (#4659213)
Yeah, but this was original members of the group, Weir and Lesh I think, playing with a Jerry Garcia impressionist. So bizarre.


Happens all the time. Benoit David became lead singer for Yes for four years after Yes bassist Chris Squire saw videos of him performing in a Yes cover band on YouTube. Current Journey singer Arnel Pineda was recruited by the band after Neal Schon saw him covering Journey songs on YouTube.
   31. oscarmadisox Posted: February 19, 2014 at 05:04 PM (#4659269)
I would guess Blue Moon Odom as one of the fastest pitchers ever. At least that's my memory. The A's used him quite a bit as a runner in the 70s, although that was likely a function of Finley's irrational use of pinch runners in that era.
   32. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 19, 2014 at 06:03 PM (#4659313)
Pedro Ramos used to challenge Mickey Mantle to foot races, but the Mick (sensibly, for more than one reason) never took him up on it.
   33. dr. scott Posted: February 19, 2014 at 06:44 PM (#4659339)
Current Journey singer Arnel Pineda was recruited by the band after Neal Schon saw him covering Journey songs on YouTube.


Apparently it was Schon's girlfriend at the time who found the guy... somewhat deliberately actually. They were still putting out ads for a new singer in magazines.. she told them about the internet... and eventually just did the work herself. She also did the cover art for two of their albums... She and Schon then broke up and she got custody of the French bulldog they had just bought, as Schon no longer had time to take care of it... despite the fact she did not want a dog in the first place...

the things you learn when your wife stops EVERY owner of french bulldogs to pet the dog... I heard this woman tell the whole story, and only at the end did she mention the band she was talking about that she did this for.. was Journey.
   34. Nasty Nate Posted: February 19, 2014 at 06:59 PM (#4659347)
We don't have to do much estimating for the number of Rose games or Dead shows. The audience totals would be tougher.
   35. Nasty Nate Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:04 PM (#4659380)
Pete Rose played in 3600 games, plus all-star and spring training games. The Dead played around 2300 shows before Jerry Garcia died. I don't think any audience size difference makes up for it, so we'll give it to Rose. I bet Phil Lesh or Bob Weir has played for more people than Rose, though, as they have been touring for the past 20 years.

Trivia: In what year did the Dead and Rose combine for the most shows+games played (including post-season but not pre-season)?
   36. bjhanke Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:00 PM (#4659399)
The Dead did, indeed, play lots of festivals, including as far back as Monterey 1967, and some of those drew large crowds, particularly outdoors. However, when they toured in the 1960s, they did not normally sell out venues; neither did any of the other acid rock bands. Selling out stadiums didn't happen to anyone other than The Beatles until the 1970s, really. The one I tell my younger friends, to emphasize the point, is this: I went down on a Saturday to the Kiel Convention Center (now the Scottrade Center, a hockey venue) in 1968. I got there about 15 minutes before the show started, went up to the ticket seller, who had no line in front of him, and bought a ticket for the sixth row (meaning that I was willing to spring for the EXPENSIVE seat - a whole $6), went in and saw the show. The bill? Joe Cocker, Led Zeppelin after their first album, and The Who doing their Magic Bus tour. Really. They drew about 6,000 people. Five years later, The Who alone had to organize a lottery to determine who would get tickets to see them play in a 30,000-seat venue. The only STL Who concert that I ever missed. Five years later, they sold out Busch Stadium, including all the folding chairs that got set up on the baseball field. I saw the Grateful Dead three times. In 1968, they played at the National Guard Armory, and drew maybe 3,000. A couple of years later, it was the Fox theater, an old art deco movie palace, seated about 5,000 and sold out. The third time, a few years later again, they were in Kansas City, at a large outdoor venue, packed with maybe 35,000. Rose certainly played to more fans than The Dead. However, if you want to talk about how many DIFFERENT people saw the them, The Dead might win. You get a lot of repeat audience at ballgames, and you play in many fewer venues. On the other hand, The Dead had a dedicated corps of Deadheads who would literally follow them around on tour, seeing every show. I don't know how many of those fans there were, but they were, essentially, season ticket holders.

Someone seems to know a lot about Journey, so I have a question. Was Journey originally formed by the original keyboard player for Santana, who left that band when it became clear that Santana was Carlos' band, and not the keyboard player's? That's the urban legend I heard. - Brock
   37. PreservedFish Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:35 PM (#4659413)
The bill? Joe Cocker, Led Zeppelin after their first album, and The Who doing their Magic Bus tour. Really.


How was it?
   38. DanG Posted: February 20, 2014 at 01:46 AM (#4659482)
Jack Morris was a very fast runner. He and Kirk Gibson would lead the pack during spring training workouts. He was used as a PR more than a dozen times in the first half of his career, esp 1980 and 1983.
   39. Rob_Wood Posted: February 20, 2014 at 02:02 AM (#4659483)
yes, gregg rollie and neal schon left Santana and became founding members of Journey. I saw them play several times in the mid-1970's and loved them. Once they became popular (with Steve Perry), I no longer liked them. Stories abound regarding squabbles between rollie, schon and carlos.
   40. vortex of dissipation Posted: February 20, 2014 at 02:06 AM (#4659484)
Someone seems to know a lot about Journey, so I have a question. Was Journey originally formed by the original keyboard player for Santana, who left that band when it became clear that Santana was Carlos' band, and not the keyboard player's? That's the urban legend I heard. - Brock


Yes, absolutely. Journey was formed by Greg Rolie, the keyboard player/singer on Santana's first four albums, and guitarist Neal Schon, who joined Santana for their third album. During the recording of "Caravanserai", the fourth Santana album, Rolie and Schon fell out with Santana. For one thing, seven of the ten songs on the album were instrumentals, which didn't exactly endear the songs to singer Rolie. Rolie actually left the band, quit music, and opened a restaurant, but in 1973 formed Journey with Schon, after the latter had also left Santana. The first couple of Journey albums don't sound anything like their later pop work - they're pretty much prog rock/jazz fusion records, if not very good ones. It was only on their fourth album, "Infinity", in 1978, that the band introduced singer Steve Perry and producer Roy Thomas Baker, and started making shorter, radio-friendly songs. Rolie left the band in 1980 after "Departure" - his contributions had withered to the point where he only wrote and sang one song on that album, and he'd grown tired of touring. Schon remains the band's guitarist to this day. But yes, Journey was formed by two refugees from Santana.
   41. just plain joe Posted: February 20, 2014 at 09:41 AM (#4659540)
You get a lot of repeat audience at ballgames, and you play in many fewer venues. On the other hand, The Dead had a dedicated corps of Deadheads who would literally follow them around on tour, seeing every show. I don't know how many of those fans there were, but they were, essentially, season ticket holders.


I used to go see the Dead play quite often when I lived in the Bay area. Especially if they were playing a smaller venue, such as Winterland or the Orpheum Theater, you would see many of the same people. What was sort of unique about the Grateful Dead was that they didn't just go out and play the same set night after night. I once saw them play four shows in a row (over five nights I think), and there was only about 35-40% overlap on the set lists. To contrast this I remember seeing the Doobie Brothers twice in less than a year and both shows were the same, even the encores didn't vary.
   42. bjhanke Posted: February 21, 2014 at 04:24 AM (#4660106)
Rob and vortex - Thanks! Huh. For once, the urban legend was correct. I even had Rolie's name right, and remembered that he was the original vocalist as well as the keyboard guy. When I heard the legend, it sounded to me like the last death throes of the concept of a rock band being headed by its singer. The Yardbirds, for example, had, in sequence, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page on guitar, and the walls of London were covered in "Clapton is God" graffiti. But the band thought that their star and leader was singer Keith Relf, who was not an astonishing singer by any means. The legend always made sense to me, because of the high ratio of guitar solos to lyrics in Santana songs. Their very first radio hit, Jingo, is essentially a long instrumental showoff for Carlos and the rhythm section, although it does have SOME lyrics.

Rob - Just to ask, are you the same Rob Wood who was the co-creator with me of the 1989 Baseball Abstract? If so, I just want you to know that, in spite of the fact that we couldn't continue as a duo (we both had VERY strong ideas about what kind of book to do, and they were not the same ideas), I have absolutely NO negative memories of you at all. What I remember was that 1) your sabermetrics was VERY good (Did you publish anything on your own when I went off with Don Malcolm? If so, I'd love to see it), 2) your writing was VERY VERY good (I have proofread for a living from time to time, and never had to edit for length or proofread any of Rob's work), and 3) you were ALWAYS on or ahead of deadline, a feat that I must shamefacedly admit that I could not match. I've seen your name here several times over the last few years, and your comments here have always been good, but until you actually answered a comment I made, I was a little hesitant to ask if you were the same Rob Wood. If so, thanks so much for working as hard and as well as you did on that book. Credit is due to you; the faults were mine.

As for the Dead, they were legendary for improvisation and working off of the feel the audience gave them as feedback. They could play anything they'd ever done, and play it well, and they'd just play whatever the vibe of that place and time seemed to call for. I've known a couple of dedicated Deadheads, and they have every Dead commercial album, and about 3 times that many bootlegs. The unique feature of The Dead - they ENCOURAGED bootleg recording. Each concert was, after all, unique. In fact, when confronted with someone who has only heard about the Dead, I describe them as a mix of an improvisational jazz combo, a blues band, and a folk-rock band. The improvisation was really important to how well they played. - Brock

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