With his back to the infield, Ripken can tell where to throw a relay from the outfield by the sound of the crowd. He knows the very few managers in the league who will hit-and-run when their team is behind. (Of course, he's not telling.) Though at 34 he has less range than when he was younger, he actually plays shallower than he used to because he is more certain where the ball will be hit—like a hockey goaltender coming out of the crease to cut down the shooting angle.
"It's the most fun in the game," Ripken says. "That time they experimented with me at third base [spring training 1989] I hated it. I couldn't see the signs and didn't have enough information."
Blue Jay centerfielder Devon White is smooth. How smooth? "He can run across a floor covered with potato chips and not break a one," says Toronto pitcher Duane Ward. White's ability to consistently get good breaks on the ball and, above all, chase down virtually anything in his airspace with his gliding gait, gave him a slight edge over Grissom and Bonds in this category.
"The best thing about having Devo," Ward says, "is that when a ball goes up in the air, as soon as I see him put his glove up—no matter how far he has to run—I start walking off the mound. There's nobody like him."
Says Angel pitcher Mark Langston, a former teammate of White's, "He makes everything look so easy. There are no gaps when he's out there, because of his speed, the way he positions himself and the jump he gets."
La Russa calls smart outfield play "kind of a lost art. A lot of guys now rely on talent and coaches from the bench to position them." White does not look to the bench for help. "My whole career I've kind of been my own scout," he says. "Even my first few years in the big leagues nobody told me where to play. I always had that tag of being a good defensive outfielder, so people left me alone.
"The keys are just speed and knowing your hitters. The first time I see a hitter I'll play him straight up. But after one or two at bats, I can judge what kind of bat speed he has and how he hits the ball, and I'll adjust if I have to."
Giant pitching coach Dick Pole likes to say that the Braves' Greg Maddux (page 110) throws "good strikes and worse strikes." The good ones are the pitches that catch a sliver of the inside or outside corner or the bottom of the strike zone. The worse ones go an inch or two more inside, outside or down. Those pitches are tantalizingly close enough for hitters to chase, thus expanding the strike zone and the batters' chances of failure. "Maddux is so good," says Expo scout Phil Favia, "we all should be wearing tuxedos when he pitches."