As a general rule, we tend to think “hustle” is overrated as an athletic attribute, an easy radio-ready echo-chamber talking point that makes everybody feel smug and superior. Fans can rant about overpaid players, old-timers can grouse about how things used to be, and the “controversy” helps an easy transition between news cycles. Meanwhile, “hustle” seems to have very little to do with whether a team wins or loses; we’ll take a lollygagger who hits 40 homers over someone who sprints to first base after a walk, that’s for sure.
Today’s Sloth Target is Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, whose leisurely jog after his ugly error a couple of days ago has the baseball world up in arms again. There’s something primal about watching that video; it works up the bile in your throat to watch a multimillionaire absolutely not care. Ramirez didn’t help his case yesterday by hammering his manager Fredi Gonzalez for never having played the game after Gonzalez benched him for the incident.
But did Gonzalez make the right call? Did he turn a private matter into a public one? Is he making a small matter a larger one? In his new daily newsletter — which costs $20 a year, and is worth every penny; you should subscribe right now — Joe Sheehan, formerly (and kind of still) of Baseball Prospectus, argues we’re pointing fingers at the wrong people.
There is simply no way that the distraction created by pulling Ramirez from the game isn’t worse than whatever negative feelings his actions engendered. Maybe you pull this with a rookie, or a sophomore — Bobby Cox did it with Andruw Jones early in the latter’s career — but to take your best player, an MVP candidate in most years, a five-year veteran, and embarrass him, is a mistake. Handle it privately, repeatedly if you have to, but all Fredi Gonzalez did yesterday was create a storm that will now follow his team for some time.
The most basic mistake is [sic] sports coverage is thinking effort matters more than talent. It doesn’t. Being a great baseball player is both more rare and more valuable than being a hard-working baseball player. Sure, it’s nice if talent is paired with a great work ethic, but while we celebrate the perceived exceptions — and, it should be noted, ignore that the David Ecksteins and Dustin Pedroias are themselves blessed with great talent — the fact is that professional sports, MLB included, is a place for people who were touched by the hand of God. All the effort in the world, all the quotability, all the willingness to kick the guy who’s down, will never make Wes Helms more important to the Marlins than Hanley Ramirez is. Talent is what matters, and the best players get the rules bent for them, and we really shouldn’t have to go through this twice a year when someone elects to ignore a century of this being the case.
It’s a sharp take, and we agree with it about 73 percent. The other 27 percent knows it doesn’t really matter, but is still screaming at Hanley Ramirez to run, you idiot!