Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Don't block the plate? Billy Beane is right
By David Schoenfield
Many years ago, I posted a poll question on ESPN.com asking something like: Which is the worst baseball sin? (A) Betting on baseball; (B) Taking PEDs; (C) Not hustling.
Not hustling won in a landslide.
Look, it's easy to understand why fans would vote for "not hustling." Certainly, they think, if I was in the major leagues making all that money, I'd run out every groundball ... or crash into a wall attempting to make a catch ... or block home plate even though a runner is barreling in at me and ready to knock out my intestines.
Which brings us to A's general manager Billy Beane. He told his catcher, Kurt Suzuki, to try to avoid collisions. "I said to him, 'I don't want you planting yourself in front of the plate waiting to get creamed," Beane told ESPN.
And he's right. One run in a regular-season game isn't worth the injury risk. For the same reasons, outfielders shouldn't run into walls and batters shouldn't slide headfirst into first base. Even busting down the line 100 percent on every routine groundball isn't really necessary. Is a pulled hammy worth getting thrown out by 3 feet instead of 5? Baseball is a long grind. You have to be there for 162 games. It's about the long season, not one play.
It's hard for fans to digest this, because seeing a guy not hustle can be infuriating. (To me, blocking the plate is a form of a "hustle" play.) But there's a difference between dogging it and being smart.
Back in 1995, Ken Griffey Jr. made a fantastic leaping grab, flying through the air, making the catch at the apex of his jump ... but then he crashed into the wall. He broke his wrist and missed two months. Now, the Mariners made the playoffs that year -- winning a division tiebreaker game against the Angels. But what if they had fallen one game short? Was Griffey's catch worth it? Of course not.
So I applaud Beane for his actions. It was smart to go public with his directions to Suzuki, because there is so much pressure in the game and from fans to be tough, to show that you care, to show that you want to win. But you know what? Billy Beane and Kurt Suzuki want to win. But you have to be smart about that and the best chance for the A's to win is for Suzuki to remain healthy.