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by Hubert Huang on Jun 24, 2005
No one roots for players to injure themselves, but the fact remains there are good injuries and bad injuries. A bad injury is a surgically repaired knee that prevents the best player in the history of baseball from taking the field, but not from hobbling to the mailbox to collect his $423,076 paycheck once a fortnight.
On the other side of the dividing line for injuries is the strained hamstring of Marquis Grissom. Grissom returned just ten days earlier from a bruised knee, but even in that short period it became quite clear that the contusion wasn't to blame for his ineptitude at the plate. For several years now, baseball pundits have predicted Grissom's demise as a useful baseball player. Now they're officially correct.
But the usefulness of Grissom's injury extends far beyond getting his wiffle-ball bat out of the lineup. It also took away notorious "veteranophile" Felipe Alou's last excuse for not trotting out Jason Ellison to center field everyday. Already 27, Ellison's unexpected 2005 will likely be the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable major league career. However, with a team whose only realistic goal is to remain competitive enough to motivate Barry Bonds to resume his chase of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in 2005, why not let Ellison prove he's a better major leaguer than he ever was as a minor leaguer?
The real value of Grissom's absence, however, is that it convinced fellow veteranophile Brian Sabean to call up Todd Linden, who inexplicably remained in Fresno despite likely being the Giants' third-best hitter, behind ageless wonders Bonds and Moises Alou. Linden had already belted 19 HR and drawn 57 walks in just 224 at-bats, good for a Herculean OPS of 1.138. And while his 47 strikeouts represent a faintly blinking yellow light in the distance, a few whiffs are a small price to pay for a team with the possibility of challenging the Rockies for last place in the middling NL West.
In his one week of duty, the results have been either outstanding -- if you're a bright-eyed optimist, or ominous -- if you're a crotchety old pessimist. Overall, Linden's line stands at .214/.290/.500. Granted, sub-300 on-base percentages aren't what individuals who find themselves on Wheaties' boxes are made of, but Linden's play in the last three games could be construed as promising. After a difficult 2-16 start, the Giants' hopeful has rebounded to go for 3-10 with 2 home runs in his last three contests. He's even thrown in a couple of walks to boot.
Constructing a case in the other direction isn't a difficult task either though. Regardless of the upswing over the past few games, a .214 batting average is a .214 batting average. And when your "hot streak" is a stretch of three games hitting .300, it's prudent to wait before crowning you a star. In addition, while strikeouts generally are no worse than ground balls or pop-flys, 10 of them in 28 at-bats is a few more than you'd like to see.
All that said, even if Linden never hits a ball out of the infield again, he deserves the rest of the season to prove that he's a piece of the Giants' future…
On another note, when Giants' fans play word association with the term "center field", images of the long, graceful stride of Willie Mays arise; the effortless glide as he tracks down the sharply hit line drive of yet another batter audacious enough to believe that he can take advantage of the vast space behind the Say Hey Kid.
The Giants of 2005, however, seem to have forgotten the standard their renowned predecessor set. Two men -- Grissom and Ellison -- have split the majority of the patrolling duties of SBC Park's spacious center field, and both of them have done a conspicuously woeful job. In his 20s, Grissom was a Gold Glover who seemingly stood just feet from the infield dirt and dared hitters to hit it over his head. In what seems like his 50s, Grissom stubbornly contends that he can do the same. It's a sad sight.
Ellison, on the other hand, simply lacks the instincts to play the position despite a good set of wheels. In Little League, coaches tell their outfielders to break back on the ball initially, because it's far easier to move forward quickly than move back if you misjudge the ball. It's sound advice, and one can be a fine outfielder by doing this very thing -- when the competition is a 4'10, 150-lb, ten year old who is scared of the ball. The same is not true when you're up against the best players in the world though, and someone needs to inform Ellison immediately.
Inexplicably, he breaks back on the ball every single time it's hit in his direction, forcing Giants pitcher to record numerous extra outs (which they're not particularly adept at doing). It's disheartening to see a professional center fielder take two steps back, then charge in two steps too far and have to retreat again before catching a routine fly ball, but that's what Giants' fans get treated to every day.
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by Hubert Huang on Jun 24, 2005