Do the hustle

April 13, 2007

Much has been written on this page and elsewhere about what's wrong with baseball, from performance-enhancing drugs to the out-of-whack economics of the sport. Let us give equal attention to something that is right with the national pastime - Jerry Narron.

Mr. Narron is manager of baseball's oldest franchise, the Cincinnati Reds, and on Wednesday night he did something every baseball fan with basic cable and a memory of Little League has been aching to do for years - he benched a star player for not hustling on a routine play.

Any kid who plays the game knows the cardinal rules: Step into your throws, catch fly balls with two hands, and run out every ball because you never know what might happen. In the first inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion ignored that last one. He didn't bother to even jog, let alone run, toward first after hitting a pop-up to the second baseman.

Apparently, the 51-year-old manager didn't notice at first. But after the inning was over, Mr. Narron checked the tape and immediately benched his cleanup hitter for the rest of the evening. "I don't care if we lose every game, we're not going to play guys who don't hustle," he told reporters.

This may have been an aberration for Mr. Encarnacion, but this kind of behavior is hardly rare, particularly among baseball's overpaid elite. Who hasn't seen outfielders hotdog catches, base runners decline to break up a double play, or batters start a casual home run lope before they can be certain the ball is over the fence?

But in Cincinnati, people know what hustle looks like. It was practically invented there. Pete Rose embodied it. How fitting, then, that it was a Reds manager who drew the line: Make the effort or ride the pine. Somewhere, the ghosts of Little League coaches past are nodding their approval.

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