Saturday, August 13, 2005

When Two Center Fielders Chase After The Same Ball

When I saw the replay of Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron's head-on collision (I was listening to the game in my office), I had two thoughts

First, of course, was Dennis Byrd and that awful hit he took during that Jets game (1992 -- wow)

The other one -- the alternative reality was, if it was the Center Fielder's ball, why didn't the right fielder pull up, and if it was the Right Fielder's ball, why did the center fielder have to be such an alpha male?

The following is reprinted from The Sporting News. I haven't heard anyone mention this parallel scenario in the last 2 days. Maybe I've been somewhere else. But it keeps running through my head.

"Because of a fifth-inning play involving past and future stars, the game had repercussions far beyond 1951. The 20-year-old Mays, who had slugged 20 homers for the Giants after being brought up in late May from Minneapolis (where he was batting .477), led off the Giants' fifth by flying out to DiMaggio in right-center. On the play, right fielder Mantle also went after the ball, only to catch his foot on the wooden cover of a drainage outlet. Mantle's knee buckled, forcing the 19-year-old speedster out of the game and the Series. More than that, the injury signaled the start of leg problems that hounded Mantle during his 18-season career, which began in '51 with two stints with the Yankees totaling 96 games, in which the Oklahoman had hit 13 homers."

Mantle caught his foot because he was trying to pull up to avoid colliding into Dimaggio, who had, it seemed when you look at the film today, the much harder angle. Nevertheless, Dimaggio exercised his perogative as the center fielder to make the catch.

Mantle, by then the better center-fielder, was playing out of position to accommodate the acknowledged leader of the team.

At the end of the 1951 season, Dimaggio retired.

We are reminded (again)that baseball is harder than that. You just can't stick anyone anywhere.