“This… is a simple game… you throw the ball… you hit the ball… you catch the ball!”
Anyone that has ever seen the cinematic masterpiece that is Bull Durham came to understand the beautiful simplicity of the game of baseball during that hilarious locker room scene. The exasperated manager comes in and tosses a rack full of baseball bats at the feet of his unsuspecting players in an effort to light a proverbial fire under their collective asses.
It was a message that I, for one, took to heart. From what I have seen from major leaguers this season, it may be time to make Bull Durham mandatory viewing on every team’s chartered flight.
Sunday night's matchup between Philadelphia and New York was supposed to be a nail biter with first place in the division on the line, but the Phillies' fourth inning eruption took care of that rather quickly.
One thing that DID catch my attention was a play involving Rod Barajas at the top of the second inning. Barajas was on second base with one out when Gary Mathews Jr. rapped a grounder to short. Inexplicably, the less than fleet-footed catcher broke for third, even though the play was in front of him.
Needless to say he was out by about, oh, 20 feet.
Now, my 10-year-old nephew can explain the many ways this play was an utter failure. The hitter was the second consecutive one to pull a ball to the left side of the infield with a runner standing on second base. That was painful enough to watch, but this absolutely dimwitted base-running gaffe was just unbearable.
And make no mistake, this is not an isolated event.
Last Saturday’s game between Cincinnati and San Diego featured a string of what we'll politely call “brain cramps” by Dusty Baker’s team.
Long story short, Player A forgot how many outs there were and wandered off base only to be tagged out. The following inning, Player B isn’t paying attention and strays off base only to be picked off, and four outs later Player C does the exact same thing. Two outs after that, Player D forgets how many outs there are and tosses the ball into the stands prematurely.
Four innings of baseball generating four aneurysm inducing mental breakdowns.
Watch any game and you are bound to see major league players performing actions that would make a little league manager's blood boil.
Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was recently ejected from a game on the most bizarre of plays. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, I guess. The fact that it was a screw up by one of the OPPOSING players makes it worth talking about.
With Ichiro on third base and Eric Byrnes in the batter’s box in the bottom of the 11th of a scoreless game, Mariners skipper Don Wakamatsu puts the ol’ suicide squeeze play on. Good, intelligent, aggressive baseball. The pitcher winds up, delivers the pitch, and Ichiro breaks for home accordingly. Byrnes, for some Godforsaken reason, pulls his bat back after presenting it to bunt, hanging Suzuki out to dry.
Now the pitch would have also been strike three on Byrnes, but home plate umpire Jim Wolf ruled that Byrnes hadn’t offered at the pitch. Washington was vehement in arguing otherwise and was ejected.
When asked about it afterwards his only response was that there was no way he didn’t see it right, because "neither he nor anyone connected with professional baseball had ever seen a hitter pull back his bat with a squeeze play on.”
After Byrnes took strike three looking on the next pitch, Jim Caple described the incident on ESPN.com, somewhat facetiously, as “what may have been the worst at-bat in major league history.”
I could offer a variety of theories that are being kicked around on this very issue: "bonus babies” are rushed to the show, or Latin players that come from notorious baseball factories possess all of the requisite skills to play the game, yet lack the knowledge and instincts that can only be nurtured on the diamond.
But at the end of the day it’s all just an excuse.
These are professional players that are part of big league clubs. From the lowest levels of rookie ball right on up to the show, every single person that comes into contact with these young players needs to take corrective action.
There just isn’t any excuse that is acceptable.
None. Zip. Zilch.
We have all seen how the love of the highlight reel has created a basketball culture where there is no shame in putting up the “million dollar move followed by the five cent finish."
Please, please, please don’t let that happen to this most hallowed of games.
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