Monday, July 28, 2008

Nobody’s Perfect

Nobody can be everything to everyone. Albert Einstein wasn’t a great husband. Michael Jordan wouldn’t get involved politically. Manny Ramirez doesn’t play hard. It’s just the way it is. So, when I need someone to do something for me, I have to decide if the qualities they do have are the ones I need for the task I need done. If I need a scientist, I’d probably prefer his home life wasn’t great. That gives him more time to work on my research. If I need a basketball player, I want him practicing, not making speeches. And, if I need a clean-up hitter, I need home runs and RBI. I could care less if he runs hard to first on a ground out.

What exactly is the fascination with hustle anyway? Why is effort rewarded so much more than results? If a guy produces, do I really care how he does it? Do I really want my star player risking injury or wearing himself out just to hustle? Wasn’t that the big question with Kevin Garnett? People questioned whether he was wearing himself out by playing 82 super intense regular season games. He was spent by the time playoffs came along. Manny always seems to have plenty in the tank come the postseason. Maybe that’s why he has more playoff home runs than anybody else?

Does Manny fall into the same category as the Ortiz shift? People don’t want Papi changing his swing to go the other way against the shift because that’s not what he’s paid for. Nobody wants him to rack up singles. But, wouldn’t slapping the ball the other way be putting the most effort into getting on base? I submit that Manny isn’t paid to hustle. He’s paid to hit 300 and drive in 100 guys. As long as he does that, he’s fulfilled his obligation. Just like Ortiz does his job if he hits 35 homeruns no matter how many infield singles he doesn’t get.

One thing I think Manny does that hurts his image is make quick assumptions about the amount of effort required. I’ve seen him hustle. I’ve seen him motor around third, or beat out a double play. When he thinks it can help, he’ll turn on the jets with the best of them. It’s the other times he decides not to bother. Say Manny hits a ground ball to the second baseman. Somebody like Jacoby Ellsbury better bust it out of the box and run his butt off to first. A step here or there, or a slight bobble, and Jacoby could beat it out. Manny on the other hand sees the ground ball and knows that no matter how hard he runs, unless the fielder drops it, boots it, and throws wide to the first baseman, Manny’s going to be out. And, no matter how slow Manny loafs it, he’s still going to be out. So, loafing saves wear and tear. Can you imagine if Manny ripped a hamstring busting it trying in vain to beat out a grounder to second? So, he saves himself. Same thing in the field. Manny sees a flyball and decides if he can make a play. He may instantly decide it’s over his head off the wall. He knows that no matter how hard he runs after it, it’s a double. And, no matter how slow he runs, the guy can’t get all the way to third. So, he takes it easy. Now, every once in a while the fielder does drop it, boot it, and throw it wide. And, every once in a while the guy gets a double he shouldn’t have. In those cases, Manny looks bad and everyone gets on his case about a lack of hustle. But, really, how often does this happen? Does it really happen enough to hurt the Sox? Does it hurt them enough to discount Manny’s production late in the season? Absolutely not. Run the numbers sometime. Say Manny gets caught not hustling to first once a week. Obviously, it doesn’t happen nearly that much. But, just for a number… that gives us about 30 times a season Manny should be on first, but isn’t. Now, last season Manny had 143 hits, walked 71 times, and scored 84 runs. So, roughly, he was on base 214 times, and scored 84 times or about 40%. If you take out the home runs from each side, Manny was driven in by another teammate about 33% of the time he was on base. So, those 30 times Manny didn’t hustle would cost him 30 times on base, which would cost the Red Sox 10 runs. So, in this ridiculously exaggerated example, Manny’s lack of effort would cost the Red Sox ten runs over a season. What’s that, about .08 runs for every game Manny played last year? I’d bet Manny produces at least that much. It’s an easy trade to make.

Which brings us to the latest distractions. Last week, Manny asked out of a couple games due to a sore knee. Now, I’ve said before I don’t question the degree of a player’s injuries. I don’t know their pain threshold. But, let’s pretend he wasn’t really all that hurt. Would he be the first player to ask out of a game against Felix Hernandez or Joba Chamberlain? Wasn’t it the running joke that injuries used to pop up on the other team all the time when Pedro was scheduled to pitch? The Pedro Flu I think I saw it referred to. The Red Sox won the game against King Felix. So, hard to say that Manny hurt the team there. Against Joba, the Sox lost 1-0. So, maybe Manny could have helped. But, how much really? Was he going to hit three home runs? Was anyone going to drive him in if he got three singles? What did the Sox get, 2 hits? I bet Manny would have been stranded anyway. So, skipping a couple games really didn’t affect the Sox. How about a clubhouse distraction? Well, the Sox sit 1 game out of first after missing Ortiz for a month or so. I’d say the team looks pretty undistracted to me. So Manny said that if the Sox made a trade that helped him and helped the team, he’d approve it. Big deal. I’d like to think anyone would approve a trade if it helped both him and the team. Didn’t Schilling approve a trade that helped him and the D-Backs a few years ago?

It’s such a non-issue, I can’t believe it’s such an issue.

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