For instance, take the scene in the empty clubhouse after the Phillies’ 3-2 victory over the Braves last night. Though the Phillies continued their maddening insistence on leaving the bases loaded with no outs while also leaving men standing on second and third bases with less than two outs, they were able to pull out the victory because they paid attention to the details.
Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley made nice plays in the field; Pedro Feliz – with a cue from Charlie Manuel – laid down a timely and effective bunt; Scott Eyre appeared in a game for the first time in two weeks and got three outs against two hitters; and, of course, Brad Lidge closed out the game with a perfect ninth.
The Phillies may not be scoring runs without the aid of homers and errors, but they are doing the other things well. Exhibit A in this was pointed out by Mike Sielski (shameless plug for Mike – Buy His Book!) in the clubhouse long after most of the media took off. According to Mike, Jimmy Rollins currently has the best fielding percentage by a shortstop in the history of the game.
Yes, it’s true. With just three errors in 483 and 123 games, Rollins’ fielding percentage is .994. In 1990, Cal Ripken had a .996 fielding percentage, but a few more chances (Ripken had 680 in 1990) Rollins could be right there.
Anyway, the cool part took place a few minutes earlier when Brad Lidge walked into the room. Still basking in the positive vibes after a 1-2-3 ninth for his 27th save, Lidge walked into the room and immediately heard a few cheers and good wishes from Pedro Martinez. Pedro was all smiles and cracking jokes, of course. That’s just the way he is. But the next thing you knew, Lidge and Pedro were standing in the middle of the room pantomiming pitching deliveries and talking shop.
Think about that for a second… the closer who put together one of the best seasons ever for a modern-day reliever and the pitcher who had a string of the greatest seasons… well, ever, were standing just a few feet away talking about fastball motions.
Speaking of great scientists, Joe Posnanski’s book on the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds comes out in the next two weeks. It’s called, rightfully, The Machine. Frankly, I can’t wait to read it because Posnanski is a great writer and because I love that era of baseball. That’s when I first learned about the game and those guys from the ‘70s – Reggie, Rose, Johnny Bench, Schmidt, Seaver, Carlton, etc. – were my first heroes…
And then when I got older I met them. Yikes.
Anyway, part of the book was excerpted in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated and a particular passage about Johnny Bench caught my eye.
Check it out:
Baseball stardom, however, was not enough. As his fame and numbers grew, Johnny sang in nightclubs. He went to Vietnam with Bob Hope. He hosted his own television show. He became friends with stars, like the singer Bobby Goldsboro, who hit it big in 1968, during Bench's rookie year, with a song called Honey. He dated models and a Playboy centerfold. He was 27 years old, and he had everything. And then, on this April afternoon in Cincinnati, everything changed. Fifth inning, scoreless game, San Francisco's Chris Speier singled to leftfield with runner Gary Matthews on second base. Johnny stood at home plate and waited for Rose, who was playing left, to get the ball and throw it home. Pete did not have a strong arm. The ball slowly made its way to the plate, and so did Matthews, who was 6' 3", weighed about 190 pounds and was called Sarge. Johnny could see that the baseball and Sarge were going to get to the plate at almost the same time. He wanted to catch the ball, get out of the way and tag Matthews as he rushed by -- nobody pulled that bullfighter maneuver better than Bench. But he did not have time. Instead, he stood in front of the plate, and he leaned forward to catch the ball, and he tried to protect himself. Sarge crashed into Johnny and sent him flying backward.
That's when Johnny Bench felt a sharp and biting pain deep inside his left shoulder. He groaned. Then he got up -- nobody, not even the people who hated Johnny Bench, ever questioned his toughness. He stayed in the game. He waited for the pain to go away. Only it did not go away. And what Johnny Bench did not know that day in Cincinnati is that the pain would subside a little, but it would not go away. He would play the rest of the 1975 season in agony.
I was a kid when Johnny Bench was the best catcher ever to play the game. Sure, back then we knew he was good, but we didn’t know how good. We were just kids and figured Johnny Bench was the norm. We didn’t know he was an innovator and trendsetter. We just thought he was the standard-issue All-Star catcher whose signature was on Rawlings catchers mitts (I still have one). He also hosted “The Baseball Bunch,” and he batted cleanup for the fearsome Reds when catchers never batted cleanup.
Basically, in the late 1970s Johnny Bench was the man.
But Sarge… who doesn’t love Sarge? He’s funny, engaging, loves to laugh and needle Wheels, and he knows the President – personally. The President calls him “Sarge,” too.
“Yeah, I remember it,” he said in a “hell yeah!” tone. “We had to have a few words after it.”
Chances are those words were pretty good, but when told that it sounded as if Bench wanted to pull a little olé! Move on him on that play nearly 35 years ago, Sarge told about how he rounded third base, saw Bench getting into position and knew, “there wasn’t going to be no olé-ing,” Sarge said with a smile before going on to explain how tough Bench was.
Come on… how bad can the days be when you get to hear story from Sarge about decking Johnny Bench? Not bad at all.
So yeah, hang around long enough and you get to see and hear some cool things. Actually, even the mundane is pretty cool.