In baseball, as in all other areas, there is what the media report and then there is what really happened.
The media, especially the New York media, often protect the New York Yankees. although at times, they can be brutal.
After Kevin Mench hit a one-out single, Sandy Alomar followed with a fly ball to right field. The ball hit the middle of Gary Sheffield's glove, which was next to his left hip, and popped out.
Fortunately for the Yankees' self-declared team leader, the Rangers had Mench on first, enabling the quick-witted, never-give-in, "I don't strike out when I don't want to" Sheffield to fire the baseball to Robinson Cano, who in turn fired to Derek Jeter to force Mench at second.
Not one of New York's three major newspapers, including the New York Times, reported the play in their lead stories the following day. It seems that Sheffield's hot-dogging a fly ball and dropping it wasn't news that was fit to print.
Fans who didn't see the game read that Bernie Williams won the game with an 11th-inning home run after the Yankees blew a 5-1 eighth-inning lead, but there was no mention of Sheffield's mistake.
No, the mistake was not having the ball bounce out of his glove. The mistake was Sheffield attempting to make catches with his glove off to the side, below his waist.
His mistake was nonchalantly playing defense. It was the defensive equivalent of Barry Bonds watching a "home run" hit off the top of the wall and then getting thrown out at third base attempting to stretch a triple into a triple.
A major problem is the selective reporting that exists from the mainstream media. Thirty years ago, Sheffield's play would have been one of the headline stories, but in 2005 as well as today, mistakes and lack of hustle are so common that they don't warrant reporting.
No harm resulted in Sheffield's play, and no error was charged, so it doesn't matter—only it does matter.
What if there had not been a runner on first? What if the play happened in the playoffs? One cannot assume anything. There are proper, time-tested ways of catching simple fly balls. Sheffield knew what they were, but he played his own game.
Sheffield' manager, Joe Torre, was a master at handling the media as well as getting his point across to players.
In the seventh inning, Sheffield singled home Robinson Cano with the Yankees' fifth run. Torre sent in Bubba Crosby to run for Sheffield, who got the message.
One must wonder if those in the media knew why Torre replaced his No. 3 hitter, who was a speedy runner.
Was the incident not reported because the media were protecting the Yankees? That is unlikely, since the New York tabloids are often vicious when it come to the New York Yankees or the New York Mets.
The only other explanation is that the media were simply not alert enough to realize why Torre made the move.
Possibly some media-types knew about a similar situation involving another New York baseball star "nonchalanting it." The year was 1969, the team was the Mets and the manager was Gil Hodges.
The Mets had lost the first game of a doubleheader to the Houston Astros by the ridiculous score of 16-3 and were trailing in the second game when Johnny Edwards hit a double to left field to put the Astros ahead, 8-0.
Hodges firmly believed that outfielder Cleon Jones, who was leading the league in hitting, hadn't hustled after the hit. Hodges left the dugout. Jones thought that Hodges was going to remove the pitcher, but Hodges walked past the mound toward left field. He removed the team's leading hitter for not hustling, and he did it front of the Shea Stadium fans.
The media jumped on the incident. It was wildly reported because a great manager embarrassed a player who was having a great season. The media were correct in reporting the incident because it was important.
Ironically, few realized how important it really was, because Hodges' action pulled the team together. They overcame a nine-and-one-half game Chicago Cubs lead to win the Eastern Division title, beat the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs and later win the World Series.
Gil Hodges move was lauded in 1969. Joe Torre's not-so-subtle but not "in your face" move in 2005 made his point.
It is likely that Torre's putting in a runner for Sheffield would have been reported in 1969 and probably would have caused quite a stir.
Does anyone think that if the Jones incident occurred today, Hodges would have acted differently?
Durso, Joseph. (1969). "Astros crush mets, 16-3 and 11-5, with 11 and 10 run innings." The New York Times, July 31, 1969. p. 38.
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