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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