In the 1992 film Mr. Baseball, Tom Selleck plays aging first baseman Jack Elliot. He is a smug veteran firmly entrenched in baseball dogma. He'll light your shoes on fire. He'll disagree with the manager. He has naked pictures of your wife and wants to show them to you.
The film opens with Elliot and his Yankees teammates starting spring training. They are watching a young rookie, played by Frank Thomas, crank line drive after line drive over the fence.
"Anybody can pull the ball, batting practice," Elliot sighs to the other established veterans.
I'm pretty sure this exact same scenario happened last year with the Giants. Aubrey Huff leaning over the railing cackling with Pat Burrell while watching Brandon Belt drill balls into the Arizona afternoon.
But here is the difference. In Mr. Baseball Elliot is sent off to Japan to relearn his craft, stop swinging at shuutos and get into shape. In real life, the Giants jerked Belt around and let an out-of-shape Huff swing and miss at the shuuto all season long.
So why was this allowed to happen? Politics.
Each major league clubhouse has a certain amount of internal politicking that goes on, normally revolving around playing time. Bruce Bochy has always been one of the most consistent managers in the game when it comes to that issue. He will always side with the veteran. Right or wrong, Bochy is going to stick with the guy that has the most experience.
Many times Bochy has been right—Pat Burrell and Edgar Renteria were prime examples of Bochy playing the veteran at the right time. Playing Bengie Molina was a pretty good sign of it not working.
Who plays more games at 1st in 2012?
This spring training finds the Giants at a crossroads. And nowhere is that more apparent than at first base. Specifically, the playing time battle between Huff and Belt. The Giants have reached a stage where they are flush with young talent—young talent that is ready to play.
Huff is so clearly the Giants' Jack Elliot, a veteran who needs to re-approach the way he plays. But even if Huff devotes hours to running the stairs, doing Pilates and growing a Selleck 'stache, there is no guarantee the slugger we saw in 2010 will ever return.
So will that mean limited playing time for Huff?
Would Bochy pull the trigger and bench him?
Or rather would the politics of the clubhouse and the serious potential of a malcontent Huff come into play?
Would the Giants be so considered about upsetting the delicate and mysterious clubhouse chemistry that they would continue to trot Huff out to first everyday—in lieu of having him rampaging around the locker room drinking and eating fried chicken like some sort of heathen American Leaguer?
Rest assured, whatever is decided the politicking for playing time will start early in spring training. If the Giants are truly committed to winning, it might be time to commit to the person that gives them the best shot to win. Put the clubhouse politics aside and focus on the onfield product.