Your Killin' Me Smalls!

“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 shower room scene.

The exasperated manager comes in, tossing 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 been seeing from major leaguers this season, it may be time to make the thing mandatory viewing material on every major league team’s chartered flight.

Sunday nights match-up between Philadelphia and New York was supposed to be a nail biter with first place in the division on the line, but the Phillies 4th inning eruption took care of that rather quickly.

One thing that DID catch my attention was a play involving Rod Barajas in the top of the 2nd inning.  Barajas is on 2nd base with one out when Gary Mathews Jr.  raps a grounder to the shortstop.  Inexplicably the less than fleet-footed catcher breaks for third, even though the play is in front of him and more than a little ill-advised.

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 2nd consecutive one to pull a ball to the left side of the infield with a runner standing on 2nd 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.

Saturday’s game between Cincinnati and San Diego featured a string of what we politely call “brain cramps” by Dusty Baker’s team.

Long story short, Player A forgot how many outs there were and wanders 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.  A mere 4 outs later Player C does the exact same thing and 2 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 managers 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 f@#$ up by one of the OPPOSING players makes it worth talking about.

With Ichiro on third base & Eric Byrnes in the batter’s box, in the bottom of the 11th of a scoreless game, Mariner’s 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 god forsaken 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, eventually being ejected from the game.

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, barely 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, talking about how “big bonus babies” are being rushed to the show or latin players coming of the notorious baseball factories of that region, possessing all of the requisite skills to play the game yet lacking 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 in these organizations 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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