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Boswell: “Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player”


You probably saw that Bryce Harper was benched on Saturday after he didn’t run out a ground ball (it was hit back to the pitcher). Matt Williams called it a lack of “hustle” and made a point to call him out publicly after the game. We already covered this one for the most part, but for what it’s worth — and keeping in mind this is a nitpick — I think “hustle” isn’t exactly the issue here. At least not as we usually think of it.

Generally speaking, Harper is nothing if not hustle (the Nats’ program the very day of that game is evidence of that). Indeed, until Saturday the biggest talking point about Harper was whether he hustled too much and whether he should slow down some in an effort to not tax his body. The play on Saturday, I feel, was less about physical effort than it was about (a) quitting mentally; and (b) Williams sending a message to his team in general, even if Harper was the pretext for it. If Harper slowly jogged all the way to first I’m guessing Williams doesn’t bench him, even if that’s not exactly “hustle” as usually defined. It’s more about just giving up on the play. If the Nats had been playing better baseball lately, I’m guessing Williams doesn’t react the way he did.

That’s not a major point, but feel like “hustle” or the lack thereof has become a proxy for laziness and that so often the “hustle” conversation inspires false hustle and needless hustle in ways that are unnecessary. Williams was trying to make Harper and the Nats in general mentally sharper. To not quit or lose focus. He wasn’t — I hope anyway — trying to instill a culture where guys sprint after ball four and in from the bullpen like Pete Rose or something. For that reason he was fine to bench Harper, even if I take issue with him (a) calling him out publicly like he did, which seems unprofessional to me; and (b) couching it in terms of hustle which is such an amorphous and malleable word in sports these days. One which leads to a lot of dumb and unproductive inferences and incentives.

Anyway, with that aside, let’s look at something less nuanced and far, far dumber. It’s Tom Boswell of the Washington Post going off on Harper about this in his latest column. After several paragraphs of ripping Harper and lauding Matt Williams for sending Harper a message, Boswell uncorks this:

Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

This is what I’m talking about. You put a guy in the crosshairs like Williams did by calling him out in a postgame presser and you declare this a conversation about hustle, you give people license to take their knives out and go insanely over the top because, hey, not hustling is, like, the WORST THING YOU CAN DO and arglebarglebagleblah!

Boswell famously created a stat called Total Average one time. It has been widely debunked as a useful analytical tool and it’s actually pretty misleading. So, perhaps it is not so shocking to see him totally whiffing on a point of analysis here. But hey, if he can get anyone inside baseball to agree that Harper is some mediocre player because of a mental lapse or that they’d rather have Anthony Rendon than Bryce Harper now, five years from now or 20 years from now I suppose I’ll moderate my stance.

Red Sox sports medicine director says David Ortiz “was essentially playing on stumps”

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 1: David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox tips his helmet to the crowd as he exits the game after he singled during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on October 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
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David Ortiz had a whale of a final season with the Red Sox. It was so good that he was asked, many, many times, if he was thinking of reversing his retirement decision and coming back for 2017. Ortiz always said no, he was still retiring, occasionally making mention of his aching feet and the physical grind his 40-year-old body was undergoing.

We now know just how much of a grind it was. Indeed, it was extreme. We know this because Dan Dyrek, the Red Sox’ coordinator of sports medicine services, tells it to Rob Bradford of WEEI. Dyrek says that the injuries to Ortiz’s feet, which were often referred to as achilles tendon problems, were way, way more complicated than that, affecting every muscle, bone and tendon in his feet in chain reaction fashion. Dyrek:

“He was essentially playing on stumps. Instead of having this nice, flexible, foot, ankle, calf mechanism to act as a shock absorber, he was playing on stumps. And you can do that for only so long. He was in warrior mode trying to play through this. Once we diagnosed him and saw what was going on and started explaining things to him, there was actually a sense of relief because now he had an explanation of what he was in such excruciating pain.”

That Ortiz was able to even walk through what Dyrek describes is pretty amazing. That he was able to put up a near-MVP season with all of that pain is incredible.

Charlie Sheen would like to throw out the first pitch at a World Series game

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 21:  Actor Charlie Sheen attends Meghan Trainor's performance on NBC's "Today" at Rockefeller Plaza on June 21, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
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For all of the ups and downs of his personal and professional life, Charlie Sheen is and always has been a passionate baseball fan. Sheen once bought out an entire section of bleachers for an Angels game so he could catch a home run ball (he didn’t catch a home run ball). He starred in “Eight Men Out” and, more notably, “Major League.” That latter film earned him the love and admiration of Indians fans which lasts to this day.

Indeed, the love continues to be so great that, right after the Indians clinched the American League pennant, they began lobbying for Sheen to throw out the first pitch of a World Series game in Cleveland.  Yesterday afternoon Sheen took to Twitter, posted a pic of his baseball alter ego, and said that, if called upon, he would serve:

While it’s a big broad comedy, the scene in “Major League” in which Sheen comes out of the bullpen to “Wild Thing” blaring and the fans going nuts is legitimately chill-inducing. The fans at Progressive Field are already going to be amped up for the World Series as it is, but imagine how nuts the place would be if they recreated that scene.

Do it, Indians!

UPDATE: Wait, on reflection, don’t do it, Indians. Sheen is sort of a Trumpian figure in that his high profile craziness often causes us to momentarily forget his legitimate badness. We don’t need a guy like that tossing out the first pitch at the World Series.