Second to none (cont.)
Posted: Monday April 16, 2007 1:26PM; Updated: Monday April 16, 2007 6:08PM
Second base is probably the ultimate hiding place for a below-average baseball player. Left field may be the classic place to stash old, broken-down fielders, but a strong arm is still essential to the position. At second base the longest throw you'll ever have to make is cut-off relay, but that rarely occurs; mostly you're making soft tosses to first. The ground balls are generally slow rollers from jammed hitters. You can play deep, all the way on the outfield grass, with no consequences. Double plays are called for from time to time, but turning it means mostly just redirecting a throw from the shortstop. Even fly balls are protected half the time by the mysterious infield fly rule. If you're a hitter, getting to second base means you've only done half of your job. (It means equally uncompleted goals in other, coarser metaphors.)
With defense not a premium at the position, you'd think second base would be a place where serious hitters would want to play to have time to hone their craft. But no, we second basemen generally hit toward the end of the lineup, a conduit between the power hitters and a trip back to the top of the order. Second basemen hit for average, not power. (When we even scratch out a hit, that is.)
Even though Giles played 141 games for Atlanta last season and finished the year hitting .262, the Braves ended up just letting him walk this winter, after teams around baseball refused to give them anything of value in trade talks. Why let such a productive player leave while getting nothing in return?
Because Giles was the second baseman, and anyone can play second base! As if to prove my point, instead of signing a free agent to fill the spot, the Braves took a left-fielder coming off Tommy John surgery and stuck him there. Kelly Johnson is hitting .151 this season, but he probably has the best eye on the team and he's been flawless in the field. K.J. probably won't become the next Rod Carew, but that's not the point. What matters in this case is that Kelly Johnson is a solid baseball player, and when you're playing second base, production is a positive, not a requirement.
As this Nor'easter continues to make it rain on Manhattan, I will continue to watch baseball games from around the U.S., in order to see games played in warmer climates or even in domed stadiums. And you can have your sluggers and flame-throwers. They might bring the power and glory to baseball, but I'll take second base, where it's about pluck and spark, about hustle and flow.
Game Of The Week
It's back! Haven't spent much time playing online games lately, but this one damn near ruined my weekend. Pretend you're Bo Jackson and grab your bow and arrow. Try and make it through the whole thing in under half an hour. I dare you.
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.