Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Laber Of Love

I've been thinking about this for years. But when Manny's hit streak ended the other day, well, that was the moment I figured out exactly how to put it into words. I'm talking about Manny's occasional lollygagging.

The situation: Manny is up, going for a 28-game hit streak, in what would most likely be his last at bat of the game. In other words, in order to keep the streak going, he'd need to do everything possible to get a hit. He squibbed a ball to the right of the mound. A weak little spinner that flew out of the pitcher's hand when he tried to grasp it. The guy goes and picks it up again and rushes a backhand toss so far from first base that Millar didn't even try to catch it. Manny jogs through first, reaching on an error.

He didn't sprint when he saw he might have a chance at a hit, considering the ball was in a sort of no-human's-land. He still didn't sprint when the pitcher missed the ball. Hell, he didn't even check to see how far the throw had gotten away to see if he could advance to second on the play.

This tells me, first of all, that Manny isn't selfish. He didn't care about getting a hit on that play any more than he does on any other routine grounder he hits (more on that later), even though it could've meant making history. But when you're working with others as a team, running out a grounder is actually unselfish, because it helps everybody. Maybe manny needs to consider that.

That brings me to my final, Jere-seal-of-approval-stamped "reason" why Manny doesn't hustle sometimes. When Manny hits a weak ground ball, or a ball that is fielded right away by an infielder, he doesn't feel he deserves a hit. At that moment, upon realizing he hasn't hit the ball the way he knows he can, or that a fielder already has the ball within a second of him hitting it, in his mind, he is out. If he gets on base after that, he will feel guilty. No, he will be racked with guilt. If he could live with himself reaching on an error or getting credit for a single that he doesn't deserve, he would hustle every time. But he can't. That's what his brain tells him.

On the other hand, Manny's brain also tells him when he "deserves" a home run. If he hits it, and knows he's done all he can do, well, that's a home run. If it ends up not being a home run, i.e. bouncing off the wall, well, he'll just have to settle for first base. I mean, what's a guy gotta do around here...

This is just my theory. I'm not a licensed psychologist.

Do I condone this behavior? No. But I'm trying real hard, Ringo, to understand this man. Do I, Jere, run as hard as I possibly can on every ball I hit, even if it's just me and someone else walking down the street, and he picks up a stone and I pick up a stick and we use fire hydrants as bases and play a quick one-inning game before our important business meeting we're on our way to? YES.

Do other MLB players dog it sometimes? Definitely. Do the announcers say john feces when Jeter loafs it down to first? No. And should players be praised for hustling every time when that's what they're supposed to do? (The Tupac "Be a father to your child" theory.) You answer that one.

There's a nobility in Manny not feeling he deserves a hit. Would I rather watch him realize he hasn't done his job and just admit it than watch Jeter reach on an error and pump his fist as if he DOES deserve to be on first base? Part of me would. Granted, there's a nobility in suicide but I wouldn't go around killing myself. I'd personally be the middle man on the Ramirez-Jeter spectrum. I'd always hustle, but I wouldn't pretend I did anything good when the only reason I was on base was because someone else effed up.

The good news about all this is that I know this problem can be overcome. In high school gym class, we used to play Wiffle ball inside when there was bad weather. Being one of the school's not-too-popular types, the last thing I ever wanted to do was be the center of attention, i.e. batting in Wiffle ball while the cool kids all looked at me. But the Catch-22 is I was really good at hitting, escpecially a Wiffle ball tossed underhand by Amy freakin' Laber. So, if I hit a home run (the likely scenario if I tried), I'd basically be siging up for a loser's victory lap of sorts.

You know what I did? I rocked Amy Laber. Again and again. I decided it was more fun to hit a home run, no matter what the situation, than worry about what the cool kids thought. So I took my solo lap, with each home run, even joking to Tom Blakely (playing third that day), that I'll "see him again soon" as I rounded third. Got a chuckle out of Blakely on that one. And it made me happy to see that none of the other kids, even the jock-types, could hit home runs as consistently as I could.

They were probably drunk, though.

Of course I wish Manny would run harder. And it's hard and annoying to watch him do otherwise. But I've had to accept that is the player he is, regardless of "why." And I'll take it any day of the week.

I mean, who would we rather have in left field? Manny Ramirez, future Hall of Famer and lineup protection for David Ortiz, or someone who "hustles?" Gabe Kapler busts his butt every time he's out there (and is one of two Jew-Sox!), but that doesn't mean I want him starting every day. Some people can't hit lefties (Trot), some don't know when the hell to yank a pitcher (Tito), and some don't hustle a few times a year, while hitting at least 30 homeruns and posting a career OPS over 1.000.

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Location: Rhode Island, United States