The heat is on for new Red Sox outfielder Hanley Ramirez. Indifference on the base paths, questionable decision making in the field and the negativity that was preached by many in Red Sox Nation. A disaster in the making. But the potential bat!
Ramirez switched positions and did so willingly. The move to left field has not been as seamless as expected. An examination of the metrics shows a preponderance of negatives and the eyeball test brings back memories of Manny Ramirez and “Manny being Manny” as a way to dismiss the flounders in the outfield. This is nothing new.
Kevin Youkilis was moved into outfield for an attempt to get his OBP into the lineup, of the 22 outfield games, 20 were in left field. This was a professional embarrassment. An infielder, who like Hanley, had “adjustment” issues. The experiment was quickly and mercifully abandoned.
In Pittsburgh, Jason Bay had to patrol a rather expansive outfield and it was reflected in negative fielding metrics. In Boston the results showed an improvement, but hold off those Gold Glove votes. Compared to Manny, Bay was Alex Gordon. However, Bay, Youk and Rice it was defensive inabilities and that’s where it ended.
“When Williams came up, he didn’t seem to know what the rules were. He would speak to veterans as if they were underlings or inferior to him. He would practice his swing in the outfield between pitches. These were things you weren’t supposed to do. … The culture sort of beats those things out of you, which is kind of a shame for fans.” – Rob Neyer
So if one wants some real indifference let’s go back to one Ted Williams – the greatest of the greats, folks, but that was with the bat. The glove was just for decorative purposes.
Williams was notorious for having a petulant personality and that was on display in his very first day of camp. Veterans were appalled by the bravado in an age when the perfect rookie was a quite rookie. For Williams the fielding part of the game was a requirement that one must fulfill to get the next at bat.
In his rookie season, Williams played right field or was it right field that played Williams? This was pre bullpen so the area was even more spacious than now and the result was in 1940 Williams was shuttled to left field after 19 errors in right.
Williams, like Ramirez, liked to hit. Loved to hit. Lived for it. Everything else was secondary. In left field, in the early part of his career, Williams would often take practice swings while the game was in progress. On the base paths you would have the questionable decisions, the occasional not sliding and the not taking an extra base or attempting to take it when not available. As Williams matured the on the field mental miscues diminished, but the fielding never really became a trademark for Williams.
I grew up listening to “Well, he knows how to play the wall.” That became the justification for what was either indifference, lack of ability or hustle, but I will add my personal caveat. Williams did know the intricacies of the wall with the unique bounces. Still, getting to the ball quickly and preventing a long single from becoming a double never really became a defensive plus. An examination of the metrics employed since 1953 do show a significant negative Total Zone, so the glove certainly did not match that bat.
Then came the hitting and this was a master at work. Michelangelo with a bat. The perfect swing. To me Williams was close to a .700 hitter since a good one-third of his outs were balls that were crushed. Maybe it is the view of age on my part, but that seemed unique to Williams compared to other players – both contemporaries and up to the present. Williams just seemed to have an inordinate number of outs that were hit exceptionally hard.
Williams was as egotistical and stubborn as a player could get. Just his rejection of adjusting to the “Williams Shift” is a prime example. With his honed hitting skills Teddy Ballgame would have eaten that shift up. In left it was an adventure. But that glove? I would watch him wait for the ball and not charge for the ball grounded into left.
Williams had a lifeline in his defensive career – really two lifelines. One was Dom DiMaggio and the other Jim Piersall. Both were as good as it gets in center-field and that was a savior on more than one gap hit erased by both superior glove men who could track down a line drive or a hit in the gap with the best of them.
Red Sox fans are enraptured by hitting. You put up the numbers every other transgression from tossing a bat and hitting Joe Cronin’s housekeeper to the endless antics of “Manny being Manny.” That is where Hanley sits. He was hired to rake. Hanley Ramirez finishes top five in RBI and home runs, then it’ll be “Hanley being Hanley.”
As a notation to this article in it is written to simply reflect on a very public criticism that Williams faced his entire career. There are ample stories in numerous books that point that out. When you read of the wonders of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper be aware that at age twenty-two Williams hit .406. At age twenty-three it was a Triple Crown. At age twenty-four it was U.S. military service.
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