Tools of Indifference in Modern Baseball

As soon as I arrived inside the client’s building, I headed to the office of the president of the company to have that dreaded conversation. No – it’s not what you think. We rarely talk business. It would get somewhat embarrassing if we did.

You see, I’m a detail guy and he, being the top guy in a decently sized company is a delegator. He just wants to know the overall picture. The only time I come into his office to do business is to load a software update on his computer. There have been a couple of exceptions where he actually asked me my opinion on a company procedure. And even when he agreed with my observation and asserted that he intended to change things by having a chat with selected personnel, it never happened because no one likes change, despite what the President of the US thinks.

Our conversations, instead, dealt with what two guys liked to argue, I mean, discuss- the fate of our local sports teams for the season that is taking place. The one exception is the chat about the Chicago Cubs. That can go on all year long.

In our last discussion, the company president brought up an interesting observation. It was made after the recent baseball all-star game which drew the lowest television ratings in years. A good reason had to do with the lack of worthy all-star caliber participants. Compare it to the NBA all-star game last winter where there were more than a half dozen basketball wizards on the court to observe in action.

About the only real baseball all-star who did not participate in the recent event was Derek Jeter, out due to injury. The company president said that practically none of the other players were what you would call “five tool” guys. He then asked me if I knew what the five tools were.

I hesitated a moment and replied, “yeah. There’s, let’s see- fielding, hitting, running, hitting with power and throwing.” He said he thought that I did not have it in the correct order, that hitting with power should be listed last. He explained that this was the reason the Cubs have not been invited to participate in the World Series since 1945. As he put it, the Cubs organization has mainly stressed hitting for power. “Get a home run and win a game.” They’ve never stressed fundamentals such as “hit and run” or when the first batter in the inning gets on base, the next one sacrifices him over to second base and scoring position. This, of course, is accomplished by either laying down a bunt or hitting a slow, weak grounder to the right side of the infield. But none of these highly paid athletes want to sacrifice their batting averages for the sake of the team.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when the Cubs put out a respectable team that won more than it lost six years in a row, they had Don Kessinger, the shortstop, leading off, followed by second baseman Glen Beckert. Kessinger wasn’t a speed demon nor much of a base stealing threat, but he managed to get to second more often than not due to Beckert’s willingness to sacrifice him over. Of course, part of this is what manager Leo Durocher expected. He did not tolerate players who did not try to accomplish
the fundamentals in baseball.

In today’s version of Cubs baseball, it appears that a player is not expected to be able to also field and throw as long as he can hit, even if not for power. Starlin Castro is a perfect example. He is simply awful in the field. Every time he feels rushed to get to a ball it is a fifty-fifty chance he will either not pick it up cleanly, or if he does, short hop the throw or pull the first baseman off the bag. And for this, he is rewarded with a trip to the All-Star game where he manages to- you guessed it- pick up a ground ball cleanly but then rush the throw which ends up bouncing before it gets to the first baseman. This starts a rally that gets snuffed out when the NL manager is forced to bring in another closer who pitches lights out to the next batter.

Anyone who follows the antics of the Chicago North Siders knows that they are stuck in the middle of an 8 year contract to a left fielder who refuses to catch anything not hit directly to him and even then if he hops incorrectly before the ball touches his glove- forget about it.

The better paid starting pitchers enjoy arguing publicly with the manager. One was asked in a post-game press conference with reporters if his manager approved of his antics. His reply was, “what manager?”

And now you know why the invitation has been postponed.

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