Yet even the good leftfielders don't get much respect. Though Barry Bonds is a perennial Gold Glove winner in the National League, the last leftfielder to win the award in the American League was Dave Winfield in 1983. "Most leftfielders play passively," says Van Slyke. "They don't attack the ball; they just try to keep it in front of them."
Of all the players to patrol leftfield for Philadelphia, the worst may have been Jeff Stone, who played with the Phillies from 1983 to '87. "Stone redefined the circus catch," says former Phillies pitcher Larry Andersen. "Even when he was making routine plays, you could always count on somebody to yell, 'Put a tent over that circus!' "
Would the yelling come from the stands or the field? "Both," says Andersen.
What followed the Stone Age in Philadelphia was sometimes no less brutal. In December 1986, Mike Easier was acquired from the Yankees to be the starting leftfielder even though he had not played the position regularly for four years. Alas, he showed up at spring training with an excuse: "They call me the Hit Man. They don't call me the Catch Man." Easier, who was put on the disabled list with a bruised right knee on May 6, was traded back to the Yankees a month later. That prompted Easier to say, "I don't know why Philadelphia traded for me in the first place. I'm basically a DH."
After making a catch in 1990 in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Phillies leftfielder John Kruk forgot how many outs there were. While he studied National League president Bill White's signature on the ball and slowly headed toward the dugout, Bobby Bonilla scored from second. That play prompted Phillies coach Larry Bowa to say, "Tomorrow night, I'm gonna send him out there with three sticks of gum each inning. He can pop one into his mouth after each out, and when he's out of gum, he'll know it's time to run in."
Four years later another Phillies leftfielder, Pete Incaviglia, seemed intent on knocking down Veterans Stadium by running into the outfield wall while trying to catch fly balls. With the Houston Astros in 1992, Incaviglia had actually left a dent in the wall in Cincinnati. That had prompted Astros teammate Casey Candaele to explain the warning track to him. "Hey, you know that dirt thing out there after the grass ends?" Candaele said. "That means the wall's getting close."
The Daulton Era in leftfield officially began Feb. 28 during a routine intrasquad game in Clearwater, Fla. One hundred sixteen spectators eagerly awaited Daulton's initiation. Finally, in the fourth inning, Howard Battle hit a fly ball that sailed into the Florida sky. The ball landed in Daulton's glove with a muffled thud, whereupon he assured its preservation for future generations by stuffing it into his back pocket.
Daulton promises he'll save the first one he catches in a regular-season game, too. "But to be honest with you," he says, "I really wouldn't mind if it didn't happen until the All-Star break."