The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

 

Glove Story Redux

It's a glorious spring weekend in New York City, the first nice one of the year, sunny with temperatures skirting 80 degrees. With the Tompkins Square Park grass emitting a siren call for outdoor fun, my wife inspired me to buy a new mitt, since the Rawlings Greg Luzinski special (RBG80) I've been using since childhood can no longer answer the bell. After two trips to Paragon Sporting Goods in New York City, where I probably totaled an hour trying on various mitts, some consultation from a kindly old man determined not to let me overpay helped me get out with a Rawlings RBG17NC, a black 11.75 inch model that just felt right in my hand. Total damage was just shy of $50. If it lasts as long as my previous mitt did, I might using it to play catch with my grandkids just as my grandfather did with me.

After bringing the mitt home, Andra joined me for a late-afternoon game of catch, my first of the year. A former softball player, she's got an old mitt of her own (a Ron Cey Wilson model) and a heck of an arm to boot (no "throws like a girl" excuses for her). Our catch only lasted for about 20 minutes -- long enough to get my shoulder barking -- but it was a blast inaugurate the season and the arrival of spring weather nonetheless, to say nothing of how lucky I am that my wife enjoys the activity as much as I do.

With close friends in from out of town the past two nights, I've missed the first two Yankees-Red Sox matches, and it's probably just as well, particularly with Mariano Rivera's meltdown on Friday night. Can't win 'em all, can't watch 'em all, and if it's gonna be a gut-ripping defeat, you might as well put it in that particular overlap of the Venn diagram. Even prior to the two victories, the surging Sox were up to #2 in this week's Hit List, behind the Mets, with the Yanks third and the Dodgers fourth (bummed that I missed Russell Martin's walk-off grand slam last night, but oh well on that too).

Even with the Yanks' two losses, the buzz still surrounds Alex Rodriguez, who though he failed to homer yesterday is still up to an astounding 12 homers and 31 RBI in 16 games. That's an historic start, to say the least. Here's the list that ESPN ran the other day, showing the fastest to 10 home runs to start a year:
G   Player           Year
12 Mike Schmidt 1976
14 Alex Rodriguez 2007
14 Albert Pujols 2006
14 Luis Gonzalez 2001
15 Willie Stargell 1971
15 Willie Mays 1964
Schmidt actually reached 11 in 12 games thanks to a two-homer effort on April 26, 1976. Even that feat was topped by his hitting four home runs on April 17, an exploit I recall reading about in a March 1978 Boys' Life magazine article that it turns out was written by former major league hurler Jim Brosnan (Brosnan wrote the pre-Ball Four diary The Long Season as well as a bio of Ron Santo that I must have read three times during elementary school).

Anyway, Rodriguez matched Schmidt's 12-in-15-games feat, and as BP's John Perroto points out, he's the first to reach 30 RBI in 20 games since Roy Campanella in 1953. Skeptics like to point out that yes, it's only April, and until Rodriguez produces in October he'll struggle to shake off the perception that he's unclutch. But if and when the boo birds inevitably settle on A-Rod's shoulder, they should remind themselves that it's Rodriguez carrying the team through the stretch where three-fifths of the projected rotation plus Hideki Matsui are all on the shelf. A win is a win, and socking a few away in April while the cavalry's kept at bay never hurt anyone. Yes, the Yankees are only 8-8; they would be much worse without Rodriguez's efforts.

• • •

Love him or hate him, you've got to respect the fact that Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. As I pointed out in his player comment in Baseball Prospectus 2007, Ramirez ranks 10th all-time in Equivalent Average, BP's all-encompassing hitter rate stat: Babe Ruth (.366), Ted Williams (.364), Barry Bonds (.356), Lou Gehrig (.345), Albert Pujols (.343), Frank Thomas (.342), Mickey Mantle (.341), Rogers Hornsby (.335), Mark McGwire (.335), Ramirez (.334). As Tony Kornheiser would say, "That's it. That's the list."

As great a hitter as he is, Ramirez has his detractors because he remains such an enigma, mired on Planet Manny (population: 1). This week's New Yorker features a must-read profile of him from Ben McGrath which addresses that very situation:
Ramirez, now entering his seventh season with the Boston Red Sox, is the best baseball player to come out of the New York City public-school system since Sandy Koufax, and by many accounts the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation, though attempts to locate him in time and space, as we shall see, inevitably miss the mark. He is perhaps the closest thing in contemporary professional sports to a folk hero, an unpredictable public figure about whom relatively little is actually known but whose exploits, on and off the field, are recounted endlessly, with each addition punctuated by a shrug and the observation that it’s just “Manny being Manny.” When I asked his teammate David Ortiz, himself a borderline folk hero, how he would describe Ramirez, he replied, “As a crazy motherfucker.” Then he pointed at my notebook and said, “You can write it down just like that: ‘David Ortiz says Manny is a crazy motherfucker.’ That guy, he’s in his own world, on his own planet. Totally different human being than everyone else.” Ortiz is not alone in emphasizing that Ramirez’s originality resonates at the level of species. Another teammate, Julian Tavarez, recently told a reporter from the Boston Herald, “There’s a bunch of humans out here, but to Manny, he’s the only human.”
McGrath chases down the legend of Manny, the over-reported incidents which have dogged his Boston career -- taking a leak inside the Fenway scoreboard, drinks with Yankee Enrique Wilson while claiming to be sick, the difficulty of locating him at times, the annual attempts to get rid of him on the part of the Sox, the eBay grill auction, and so on. My favorite bit was this one:
[Boston GM Dan] Duquette had been following Ramirez’s career since high school, but he now concedes that he had no idea “exactly how unique” his new left fielder was. “When Manny first came to the Red Sox, he would stand in the batter’s box, and the umpire would call ball four, and he would get back in the batter’s box,” Duquette, who is now the president of the fledgling Israel Baseball League, told me. “He did this in his first series at Fenway Park and again on his first road trip.” After the third such incident, Duquette ventured down into the locker room. “I said, ‘Manny, let me ask you something. I was just wondering why you get back in the batter’s box after ball four.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the balls.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the strikes, either, until I got two.’ Then he said, ‘Duke, I’m up there looking for a pitch I can hit. If I don’t get it, I wait for the umpire to tell me to go to first. Isn’t that what you’re paying me to do?’
Absolutely classic. Don't miss it.

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