Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Could Berkman and Holliday switch off?
Interesting notion from Fungoes:
Now that Lance Berkman is in the fold as the Cardinals’ putative third outfielder, among the several questions that the acquisition has prompted is this: “Will he play left field or right field?” As far as we see it, it’s the second false choice in as many weeks; Big Puma can and should play both.
Not at once, of course. Berkman, who by all accounts is an inferior fielder to Matt Holliday, should play in right or left conditionally. That is, if the conditions of the game dictate that more athleticism is required in right, Berkman should play left. If left requires more running, he should man right.
The precedent comes from not less than the best player in the game’s history, Babe Ruth. Ruth, the majority of whose career 172 Wins Above Replacement undoubtedly came without the help of his glove, played most of his career alternating between left and right fields on a per-series basis, based on the ballpark.
It's funny, just a week or so ago Craig Wright wrote about Ruth's odd sort of platooning. I've known for a while that Ruth played a great deal of both right and left fields, but figured he was switching fields depending on area; that is, he played left field in small left fields (Fenway Park, for example) and right field in small right fields (Yankee Stadium, for one).
But that wasn't it. As Craig reported in a recent edition of A Page from Baseball's Past, Ruth shifted between positions depending on which was the "sun field." In an era of day baseball (exclusively, during Ruth's career), the sun was a real problem. There were flip-down sunglasses, but the Babe didn't want to bother with them and he hated looking into the sun. So his managers -- first Miller Huggins, and later Bob Shawkey and Joe McCarthy -- simply kept him out of the sun field.
Did it work? Well, the Yankees sure won a lot of games.
It could probably work in St. Louis, too.
But I think it won't happen because (among other reasons) it's simply too unorthodox, even for Tony La Russa. When Miller Huggins did it, the move was not manager-driven, but player-driven ... and the player was the greatest player anyone had ever seen. Within barely defined limits, the Yankees would do whatever it took to keep Ruth happy.
There aren't any such concerns here. Holliday's presumably happy to play right field, Berkman's presumably happy to play left field, and probably the only way to really annoy them would be to ask them to switch spots every few games.
It's fun to think about, and they probably could do it, thus saving the Cardinals six or eight runs next season.
But they won't.