Pete Rose was known as Charlie Hustle, and baseball’s all-time hit king certainly earned his nickname, playing an all-out style everyday of his career. But not everyone is like Rose, and so we have had two unfortunate stories surface this week involving a lack of hustle.
In one incident, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was caught admiring his own hit on Tuesday against the Yankees. When the ball didn’t leave the yard, he ended up being thrown out at second base, drawing criticism for not hustling out of the batter’s box.
In a far different story, Florida Marlins star Hanley Ramirez booted a ball on Monday, and was slow to chase it down. Two runs scored on the play, and Ramirez was not only pulled from the game, but was benched the following day as well after he ripped his manager and teammates.
In both instances, players were accused of dogging it. But these are entirely different circumstances. Let’s examine the differences.
DON’T STOP AND WATCH
In Ortiz’s case, he was guilty of failing to hustle out of the box. This is not a good thing, but there is a fine line — and an important distinction — between failing to hustle and dogging it.
Ortiz simply made a mistake, misjudging his own fly ball. He thought the ball was gone and he took awhile to get going. He’s not the quickest guy on Earth anyway, and you can tell by the way he runs that he’s hurting. That stuff just happens. I know David Ortiz, and he’s not a dog in any way, shape or form.
Was it wrong? Yes. But I’ve seen it happen many times, even to great players. Barry Bonds did it all the time, and I even saw Harmon Killebrew do it once. So I think we can cut Papi some slack.
GIVING IT YOUR ALL
The Hanley Ramirez situation was different, as he failed to hurry after a ball he kicked into the outfield.
But there may be some wiggle room in his case as well. Ramirez had fouled a ball off his shin earlier in the game and may have been hurting.
Some might ask: “Well if he was hurt, why was he in the game?” But players want to be tough and play through their injuries, and most guys do. You’re always going to have aches and pains, especially the everyday players. What is 100 percent? It’s all relative. No one is really ever in perfect condition. In fact, I heard a saying that goes “if you’re 80 percent, you have to give 100 percent of your 80.”
Whether Ramirez was hurt or not is up for question. Was he hustling, but unable to go hard because of an injury, or was he completely dogging it? Only he truly knows the answer to that, but it seems as though the team thought he was dogging it, and so manager Fredi Gonzalez benched him.
It’s possible there was more going on behind the scenes than we know, but it seems unlikely to me that this happened over just one incident. It could be that Gonzalez noticed a pattern in his young star and thought he needed to put a stop to it.
It’s also possible that there was something bigger going on in the Marlins clubhouse. Perhaps other guys were dogging it, too, and Gonzalez decided to send a message. After all, if he’ll bench his star, he’ll bench anybody.
Ramirez seemed to hint at that himself when he said he didn’t see why he should apologize: “We got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls,” he said. “They don’t apologize.”
DON’T SNIPE IN THE MEDIA
The big mistake with this whole incident is that the argument came out from behind closed doors and into the press.
In fact, I think it is far worse that Ramirez ripped his manager and teammates in the media than the fact he dogged it. That is a poor way to respond to his benching. Ramirez said that Gonzalez didn’t understand how hard it is to play in the big leagues because he never played on that level, essentially questioning his credibility.
But I don’t care what Gonzalez’s background is, a manager always has the right to discipline a player if he thinks he doesn’t hustle. And Gonzalez played in the minor leagues and knows just how hard it is to have success in this game.
Gonzalez, however, also deserves his share of blame. He should have talked to Ramirez right after the incident and handled it before it turned into a “he said, he said” sort of situation in the newspaper. That sort of thing is not good for the Marlins and could only lead to tension and awkwardness in the clubhouse. They should have come together right away and got it out in the open.
As soon as the media gets involved you have all sorts of problems that can tear a team apart. A player says something, then all the reporters run to the manager’s office for a response. It creates a negative situation. The Marlins are having a pretty good year, entering Wednesday’s game at 21-19 and four games behind the Phillies, and don’t need any negatives, so it’s too bad something like that had to happen.
MARLINS CAN RECOVER
Everything I’ve heard about Hanley Ramirez is that he’s a great player and loves to play baseball. I believe he and his team can recover from this incident.
The Marlins are playing well, having won seven of their last 10 games. They can salvage this without a problem, and already took some positive steps on Wednesday as Gonzalez and Ramirez cleared the air.
If anything, I think this incident can unite the Marlins and help their chemistry in the long run. You’re not always going to get along with everybody in a clubhouse. A team is supposed to be a collection of brothers. But you know what? Brothers sometimes fight. You have your ups and downs, but you learn from them. And this is a learning experience for Gonzalez and his young Marlins.
A key thing is for Ramirez to be more of a leader from this point on. He needs to set an example and show the fans — who pay good money for tickets to the game — that he’s trying out there.
This is a big lesson for Ramirez and his teammates. Whatever you do in life, you don’t take anything for granted. You always hustle whether you are a star or not.
The thing every player, no matter how good he is, must remember is that the game will go on whether you’re there or not. The game will always be there long after you're gone. That’s why you have to play as hard as you can while you’re in the game, and play the game right.