Elsa/Getty Images

Phillies prospect Nick Williams benched again for lack of hustle

23 Comments

Earlier this month, Phillies outfield prospect Nick Williams was benched by Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage because he didn’t run out a fly ball that was eventually dropped. It happened again.

On Monday night, Williams grounded out in the bottom of the eighth inning, making him 0-for-4 on the night. As Greg Joyce of LehighValleyLive.com recounts, Williams was slow to run out of the batter’s box and slow to return to the dugout, so Brundage pulled Williams in favor of Carlos Alonso.

Williams was “extremely” surprised that he was benched, and said that he wasn’t given an explanation by Brundage. “I didn’t say anything, I just took my seat. I don’t know. I have no explanation,” the outfielder said.

Williams, considered the Phillies’ third-best prospect, is hitting a productive .285/.329/.460 with seven home runs and 36 RBI in 287 plate appearances with Lehigh Valley. He is expected to make his major league debut at some point in the second half, though if he is perceived as failing to hustle, that could potentially delay his major league debut. Williams was part of the six-player return the Phillies received last year from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade.

For what it’s worth, Williams’ offense seems rather minor here. He was a few seconds late to the dugout compared to the average player. It was 75 degrees and the IronPigs haven’t had a day off since June 13. That includes a double-header on the 18th. They won’t get a day off until July 11. Williams was probably dragging a bit from a rough night, the humid weather, and the grind of the regular season schedule. Williams also tossed his helmet down the tunnel after returning to the dugout, likely frustrated from an 0-for-4 night when he felt like he was putting good swings on the ball.

Baseball traditionalists have for years jumped on stats people for not considering players as human beings, but rather as data points. Here, the traditionalists — who tend to be overwhelmingly in favor of teaching young players these kinds of lessons — never consider factors like players being worn down by the weather or the schedule. They expect them to be at 100 percent functionality day in, day out like robots. Players are allowed to be tired. They’re allowed to be frustrated.

If I’m Phillies GM Matt Klentak, I’m sending a message to Brundage that the life lessons he’s trying to teach Williams aren’t worth souring the kid’s motivation or his attitude, nor is it worth cutting into his playing time when he’s on the cusp of being a major leaguer.

Barry Zito rooted against his own team in the 2010 World Series

Getty Images
6 Comments

Retired big league pitcher Barry Zito has a memoir coming out. Much of it will likely track the usual course of an athlete’s memoir. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a few fun and/or sad and/or thoughtful anecdotes along the way. One bit of it, though, is not the stuff of the usual athlete memoir.

He writes that he ctually rooted against the San Francisco Giants — his own team —  in the 2010 World Series. He did so because he was left off the postseason roster, felt miserable about it and let his ego consume him. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

“It was really hard to admit . . . I rooted against the team because my ego was in full control and if we lost then I could get out of there . . . It would a) prove they couldn’t do it without me, and b) take me out of the situation because I was so miserable coming to the field every day. I was so deep in shame. I wanted out of that situation so bad.”

Zito at that point was midway through a seven-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Giants after the 2006 season. Almost as soon as he signed it he transformed from one of the better pitchers in the game — he had a 124 ERA+ in eight seasons with the Oakland Athletics and won the 2002 Cy Young Award — to being a liability for the Giants. Indeed, he only had one season in San Francisco where, again, by ERA+, he was a league-average starter or better. In 2010 he went 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA and was way worse than that down the stretch. It made perfect sense for the Giants to leave him off the 2010 postseason roster. And, of course, it worked out for them.

Things would improve. He’d still generally struggle as a Giant, but in 2012 he was a hero of the NLCS, pitching the Giants past the Cardinals in a must-win game. He then got the Game 1 start in the World Series and beat Justin Verlander as the Giants won that game and then swept the Tigers out of the series. As time went on he’d fine more personal happiness as well. When his contract ended following the 2013 season Zito took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle thanking Giants fans for their support. He’d leave the game in 2014 and pitch three more games for the Athletics in 2015 before retiring for good.

Not many baseball memoirs deliver hard truths like Zito’s appears willing to do. That’s pretty damn brave of him. And pretty damn admirable.