Choking, in my view, is what happens when someone faces a pressure situation and responds in an unusual and suboptimal way. Sometimes it’s more physical than mental – I know I missed a couple of wide open nets playing soccer back in the day — and sometimes it’s all mental. My opinion is that Yadier Molina choked when he decided to drop down a sac bunt in the top of the ninth inning down a run against the Padres last night.
Make no mistake: Molina had never before bunted in such a situation. Of the 42 sac bunt attempts he had made in his career, three had come with his team down a run. All three of those — one in 2005, one in 2006 and one in 2007* — had come with his team at home, when playing for the tie makes a lot more sense. They also all came when Molina was a lesser hitter than he is now.
So, Molina made a decision he wouldn’t normally make. It took place in the ninth inning of a big game with the Cardinals on the verge of being swept. And it hurt the Cardinals’ chances of winning (by drastically reducing the chances of a multi-run inning). That’s pretty much my definition of choking.
*(In case you were curious, he was successful on all three of those bunt attempts and two of them helped the Cardinals win the game. The 2005 bunt came in the seventh inning and led to a game-tying run, though given that two hits followed, one guesses they would have at least tied it regardless. In the 2006 game, Molina gave up the out in the ninth and the Cardinals went on to score two runs to win anyway. In the 2007 loss to the Pirates, Albert Pujols ended up popping up with the bases loaded to end it.)
Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.
For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.
So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?
The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.
I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.
Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.
But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.
United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.
Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.