As a baseball fan, I’m sick of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonite” Web Gems. 

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Web Gem segment of  “Baseball Tonite,” and  has been virtually institutionalized as a “must see” part of the show.   Web Gems was conceived by producer, Judd Burch, to highlight great defensive plays each day.  It has been a popular mainstay of the show, beloved almost as much by the players as the fans.  All the players take particular pride in making the top 5 or so best plays of the day.  And, the competition is stiff.  The extraordinary defensive skill and athleticism of today’s Major League  baseball players is, um . . . amazing.

Even pitchers love to make a sparkling play to get a Web Gem appearance.    Mark Buehrle, a very good pitcher for the Chicago White Sox made such a play on opening day this season.  A ball was hit back to Buehrle by Lou Marson of the Cleveland Indians.  Hit back too hard to cleanly field, the ball bounded off Buehrle’s foot and caromed into foul territory, where he chased it down, scooped it with his glove, and then flipped it back through his legs to the first baseman, Paul Konerko, who bare handed it just in time to beat Marson for the out.   I’m not sure that I’ll ever see another play like that in my lifetime.  The video of the play should be in the Hall of Fame – that is, if it already isn’t.

So, why have I really had it with these Web Gems?  Easy answer.  It’s not the pitcher’s or the infielder’s plays.  It’s those outfielders.

To make a Web Gem play as an outfielder, you have to end up on the ground, preferably rolling.   If you don’t leave your feet by either diving, lunging, flopping, falling, or sliding, then you just don’t have a TV hit.   There’s no subtlety here – like a diver entering the water with almost no splash.  No, here in the Major Leagues, it’s all about the splash, and nothing but the splash (or splat!).  How this has developed, I really don’t know.  Wait a minute! I think I do know – it’s the show itself that is making quasi-acrobats out of baseball players.  I don’t think baseball managers are in on this folly, but maybe they are.  Whatever, it’s nuts.

I never saw the great Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, play baseball.  He retired when I was 1-year-old.  From what I understand it would have been a treat.  Yogi Berra said that he never made a fielding mistake, and that he never dove for the ball.  Now that almost sounds like Yogi-ism hyperbole, but another of DiMaggio’s teammates, Phil Rizzuto, echoed the same thing.  He said that what Yogi meant was that, “he’d get the jump on the ball.  He’d be there to catch it, never having to dive, never having to fall down, reach down, or anything.  He was unbelievable.  Yogi meant that no matter where the ball was hit, if it was catchable at all, Joe would be there in plenty of time to catch it right at shoulder height.” 

Alfonso Soriano is a veteran left-fielder with the Chicago Cubs.  He hasn’t always been a Cub, nor has he always been an outfielder.  He started out as a second-baseman for the New York Yankees and was a very good player for them.  The Yankees traded him to the Texas Rangers, where he was informed that they needed his services, but not at second base.  He was told that he was to be an outfielder.  He pouted, threw a fit, and refused to play for a short period.  Upon realizing that he had developed a particular lifestyle to which he was now accustomed, he reluctantly attempted to make the switch to the outfield.  The results were not very good.  Soriano has never really “taken” to the outfield.  The two of them just don’t seem to get along.  The Rangers finally tired of the Soriano act and traded him to the lowly Washington Nationals.  After a stint with them, the Cubs landed him in 2007 where he continues to play everyday.  His salary is $ 19,000,000 this year – not bad for a guy who can hit the ball, but has a heck of time catching it.  He still doesn’t like playing in the outfield.    Lately, this multimillion-dollar-fizzle, has been benched in the late innings of games for a defensive replacement.  Here he is in stop action:

There’s another thing about Soriano-in-the-outfield that is quite intriguing.  He has developed what could best be described as a nervous fielding “tic.”  This odd mannerism reveals itself as a habit of doing a little hop just before attempting to catch a flyball.  He knows that he looks like a fool doing it, but he cannot stop himself.    This odd-timed baby-jump has caused a number of embarrassing bobbles of the ball, but shame and ridicule isn’t strong enough medicine.  He seems to be mentally stuck – reminiscent of Charles Barkley’s golf swing interruptus.  Neverthless, you suspect that Soriano wants to make a Web Gem play someday.  It may be awhile – long-long while.

One more thing here.  Joe DiMaggio did not suffer from a lack of range.  The players don’t remember balls falling just out of his reach because he didn’t quite get there.  He always got there; he always made the catch; and, he always stayed on his feet.  His grace on the baseball field is something that we don’t see much of anymore.  I think we could – if  it were not for that damn Web Gem segment.

Hey guys, let’s stop the ridiculous showboating in the outfield.  I know that baseball is entertainment, but the pratfalls are an act gone stale.

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23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Kaline and Mays never did the current showboating either.

    • You’re right about Kaline, but Mays? C’mon. He didn’t fall down, but it was always the basket catch if he could.

  2. Baseball TONIGHT. Not, Baseball Tonite.

    • Well, excuuuse me.

      Thank you, nonetheless.

  3. So how many balls could of Dimaggio got if he did dive? Probably one or so every other game or so. Maybe if he did leave his feet instead of letting the ball drop in he would of gotten another 50 outs in a season probably.

    • Not according to the players who saw him play every day. The whole point of it all is that BALLS DID NOT DROP NEAR HIM. He caught them. I know it’s hard to believe.

      Next time you watch WEB GEMS, just imagine to yourself if the guy could have caught the ball without diving. You’ll be amazed. They virtually never need to dive. It’s phoney.

  4. Sometimes they do need to dive….but it’s only because they didn’t get a proper jump on the ball off the bat in the first place!

    • Exactly. Joe D. had the best instinct for getting the right jump on the ball than probably any other player – ever.

  5. DiMaggio is a GREAT player but the “balls never dropped near him” is CRAP! The human brain/memory can easily block out the bad things if you focus on the good things. Dimaggio’s teammates obviously liked and respected him and know he was a great player but they tend to exagerate and focus on only the good plays.

    Second, diving for a ball is not meant to showboat. Simple truth of the matter it is faster and easier to dive than to bend down and catch (and hold onto the ball) at your shoetops. Also you extend your range by at least 4 or 5 feet. Think of how many one hoppers turn into outs with an extra two steps. I have played OF for many years and diving catches are necessary for any GOOD outfielder.

    I guess Michael Phelps is a showboater to because he can swim faster, too. Dimaggio didn’t dive because he wasn’t good at it. All the web gem plays are singles that Dimaggio would let fall in front of him. Sorry Joe D but the truth hurts.

    • I ask you to carefully watch the diving plays. You’ll get a good look at them, because most of them are replayed in slo-mo. You will discover that a signficant number of these plays, if not an overwhelming majority of them, could have been made without so much as a slight reach. Many of the balls are caught waist-high or higher, but the guys are diving anyway.

      You are right about the old-timers memories. Sometimes they remember just what they want to remember. Rizzuto did remember that Dimaggio made only one error in 1947 – and you can imagine what kind of glove he was playing with. They didn’t use baskets in ’47.

      I grant you that, once in a great while an outfielder does make a spectacular all-out diving play, a true demonstration of skill that goes beyond the pale. These types of catches happen considerably less than what appears on Web Gems, however. I stand by my article.

  6. I guess I shouldn’t have to slid into second base on steal either, cuz the “real” players will steal the base standing up.

    Seriously… There are some flops and ugly plays, but the average MLB outfielder today is much better athlete than Joe D was. They are bigger, stronger and faster. Not all have great instincts, but diving gets you to a ball you couldnt get to.

    I guess Joe D never had a ball that was in the gap that he got the perfect jump on but still needed that extra 3 feet from a dive.

    Bashing ppl that make great plays by sacraficing their bodies… come on seriously??

  7. Well, for starters, Soriano didn’t move until he went to Washington. The Nationals manager Frank Robinson is the one who asked him to move. I think Jose Vidro is the one who they moved him for.

    Either way, this is a nice thought, but it’s also utterly ridiculous. So you never have to dive for a play? The ONLY way is if you don’t get a good read? Does anyone realize how asinine that sounds? Not that I’m real confident this will get posted, but c’mon.

    I agree that players play it up…I also agree that players have always done it. That was in large part the allure of the Negro leagues when they were in their hey day in the 30’s, it’s what made Willie Mays such a hero while Hank Aaron wasn’t as talked about.

    Anyway, guess you gotta write about something, but I wouldn’t take it on, “the players of his day say a ball NEVER fell near him”. Yea, they also claim that Bob Feller threw harder than anyone does today, AND one of them went so far as to claim that he would refuse to sign a multi year deal(I believe that was Bob Feller as well) and would only get paid based on what he did that year.

    It’s nice to remember these players, but at the end of the day, the older we get…the better we were. Lets keep that in mind, hmm?

    • I didn’t say that the older players were better. I do say that they rarely dove for a ball. Some occasionally did, I’m sure, but not Joe D. He just never conceived of such a stunt.

      BTW, Willie Mays was not a diver either. I won’t say never, but I will say rarely. Many consider him the best fielding centerfielder ever. Flashy with the basket catch, yes, but he stayed on his feet.

      Today, when they end up on the ground, it’s just drama for TV time and, oooh, aaaah.

  8. DiMaggio and Mays would not stand out as much today unless they were willing to bring their effort up to today’s standards.

    • Thanks for you comment. However, I disapgree with you. In fact, the whole gist of my article is to drive home the point that most of this flopping to catch is the ball is unncessary showboating – just TV entertainment junk.

      Class stands out in any age.

  9. Yeah, and old-time basketball players were better because they never jumped to shoot or dunked. This article is a bunch of hogwash. Get real. I suppose throwing a forward pass is showing off in football too, instead of a more efficient way of moving it downfield. In fact, any innovation or athletic improvement to any sport is simply showing off. Babe Ruth was the biggest showboater of all, with all his unnecessary home runs. Ballyhoo.

    • First, thanks for your comments.

      I challenge you to carefully watch the replays of these supposed spectacular plays and think to yourself, “Could the player just have easily caught the ball without flopping/” I think you be surprised at what you see instead of what the athletic magician wants you to believe.

  10. this is the dumbest article i have ever read.

    • But have you read your own resume?

  11. You are an idiot. Do you notice that all the comments about your “article” are all negative. Give up writing….and thinking. Nobody wants to read your conspiracy theories about baseball.

    • Dear D: I think I can safely assume that, in your case, D stands for “diving” and not “DiMaggio.” That’s OK by me. There are many people who have had the “WEB GEM” brain transplant. I am simply doing my part to offer a cure. Sometimes my therapy fails.

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