The fine line between 'slow start' and bona fide slump
Posted: Wednesday April 5, 2006 1:08PM; Updated: Wednesday April 5, 2006 1:25PM
J.D. Drew stumbled out of the gate in 2005, but he already has a home run and four RBIs this season.
J.D. Drew/Getty Images
Back in 1991, savvy supermarket shoppers were checking the expiration date on 26-year-old Jose Gonzalez, who had spent parts of six seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Thanks to 10 extra-base hits among his 99 at-bats the season before, Gonzalez passed the offseason sniff test.
But then it got nasty. As Retrosheet.org helps us recall, it wasn't until late June that Gonzalez reached base once. Halfway through the season Gonzalez was 0 for 28 with two walks. He was batting .000 -- not that you'd know it if you were at the games, because the scoreboard at Dodger Stadium (out of pure coincidence, no doubt) became incapable of displaying batting averages at the exact moment Gonzalez stepped to the plate.
No, it couldn't have felt good for Gonzalez. And in fact, his career in Los Angeles was about to end.
Such is the worrisome tale for every slumping baseball player who tells himself that he just needs to ride out a slow start to the year. The opening of the baseball season brings talk of rebirth and optimism. But for a few players every year, it becomes a nightmare played out in three digits on the scoreboard.
.050 .048 .045
Can they take it? While we're asking, can you take it?
Every player goes through a slump at some point, and has been taught by everyone from here to Crash Davis to take things one game at a time. But just how easy is it -- for players, for managers, even for fans -- to live by the cliché when the low 0s are staring everyone in the face?
"That's hard to put in the back of your mind," Atlanta Braves outfielder Brian Jordan said before his team's season opener in Los Angeles on Monday. "You never want to get off to a slow start like that."
For the folks who put on the uniform, the ability to withstand a season-opening slump is directly related to their comfort zone. Last season, for example, outfielder J.D. Drew began his Dodgers career by going 0 for 25 -- not the best way to win over Los Angeles.
But all things considered, Drew had a lot going for him: five contract years' worth of job security, the experience of a fine 2004 performance, the fact that he was getting some walks and making loud outs.
Oh, and this: The slump didn't matter.
"We were 12-2," Drew recalled, including 4-1 during the slump itself. "It was hard for me to be down-and-out."
In contrast, for a veteran hanging on to the threads of his career or a rookie trying to get a refill on his cup of coffee, down-and-out can smack you like a fastball up and in.