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On the Outs
Steve Rushin
August 24, 1998
From left to right, a reconsideration of baseball's killing fields
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August 24, 1998

On The Outs

From left to right, a reconsideration of baseball's killing fields

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You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, it's true. But you can't catch any flies at all with Todd Hundley. When will baseball managers realize this? Hundley is a catcher whom the New York Mets have exiled to leftfield, where even routine pop flies have tormented him like Wiffle balls in a windstorm. Which isn't Hundley's fault. You don't hire a plumber to fix your sink and then ask him to fix you dinner. Except in baseball, where any player at any position save pitcher is presumed to be able to play some outfield on the side. No other properly spot in sports is such a dumping ground for the dispossessed (see Hundley, displaced by Mike Piazza) or the defensively deficient offensive threat (see Bobby Bonilla of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who looks less comfortable donning a glove than anyone since O.J.).

Why is this? Who made outfield the athletic equivalent of Chopsticks, something any nincompoop can play? The Dallas Cowboys don't periodically move Nate Newton to wideout, but baseball is filled with fish out of water, especially this summer, when Shawon Dunston of the San Francisco Giants and Willie Greene of the Baltimore Orioles and John Wehner of the Florida Marlins are all playing outfield in the manner of men ducking baseball-sized hail.

The worst kid on any Little League team is planted in rightfield, though that has been the realm of such canonized, cannon-armed major leaguers as Roberto Clemente. To be relegated to leftfield in the bigs is even worse. The implication is that you're out of the loop, you're out to lunch, you're..."out in leftfield." That epithet more properly applies to managers, who evidently haven't noticed that playing the outfield is a difficult task. A primer: Ken Griffey Jr.'s mind-blowing catch against the Detroit Tigers this month? Good. Jose Canseco's having a ball bounce off his noggin and over the fence for a home run in '93? Not good. Any questions, Skip?

Of course, Griffey doesn't count because center has always been respectable, the glamour position of Willie, Mickey & the Duke. The position's ethos was summed up in another tired anthem, Centerfield, by John Fogerty, who sang, "Look at me/I could be/Centerfield." You won't hear a leftfielder saying, "Look at me." Did lumbering Greg Luzinski—who played leftfield for the Philadelphia Phillies with his back to home plate so as to get a jump on the ball—really need to call more attention to himself?

All we are saying is, outfielder is a noble calling. Rightfielders deserve respect, not derisive chants of "DAR-ryl." Leftfielders just need a little love. And, yes, I did play rightfield in Little League. Want to make something of it?