Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel had the opportunity of a lifetime during Game 1 of the National League Playoffs. He could have shown the world the real definition of "winning," and, in doing so, would have have forever secured his place in the annals of courage.
Instead, he struck out.
So while the Phils beat the Rockies by having more men cross home plate, they certainly weren’t winners in the true sense. As a result, the fans lost, but infinitely more important, so did our children.
At issue is the complete lack of hustle from Phils outfielder Jayson Werth. Let’s rewind to the sixth inning.
Philadelphia was leading by just three runs when Werth hit a ball high in the air. One would think that a a multi-millionaire being paid to play a boyhood game would actually do his job (i.e.: run), which is what all young baseball players are taught to do.
But what did Werth do? Absolutely nothing. He just stood there, admiring the ball he hit. You know, the one that was definitely going out of the ballpark.
Except that it didn’t.
The wind pushed it around, and it caromed off the outfield fence. Werth ended up with a stand-up triple, but unquestionably should have been in a position to record an inside-the-park home run.
Not only is that the opinion of the Phillies radio announcers and countless fans, but Werth himself. He was quoted saying, "I think if I’m running out of the box, potentially it could have been an inside-the-park-home run…I was kind of mad at myself for not hustling out of the box, but at the time I hit it, I didn’t think that’s where it was going to land, that’s for sure."
Last time I checked, it’s not in a player’s job description to think about where a ball is going to land. His job is to hit the ball and run fast. Period. He failed to do the latter, and he’s lucky his mistake didn’t cost his team the game.
But we’ll hear from fans that the error didn’t result in the Phils losing, so no harm done.
Under that rationale, it’s acceptable not to play to the best of your ability, as long as your team doesn’t lose? Tell that to players like Babe Ruth and Pete Rose, a guy who once scored from first base…on a single!
There is never an excuse to not hustle, but to arrogantly watch your ball in a playoff game is unforgivable. Add to that the 50 mile-per-hour wind gusts that Werth knew was playing havoc with the ball, and you have an incomprehensible situation.
Charlie Manuel should have yanked him, right then and there.
If he had, he would have sent the right message about winning.
It’s not just about how many runs are scored in a game. If an adult plays a game against a seven-year old, and beats him, does that make him a "winner?"
The entire reason we compete is to strive for excellence. The two questions any player has to ask of him or herself, from Little League to the Major Leagues, are: 1) did you play to the best of your ability during the game, and 2) did you perform better than you did yesterday. If the answers are yes, then you emerge victorious after every game.
Americans are special because we innately understand the true meaning of winning. Do we love the superstar teams that roll over the competition, but often do so without hustle? No. But we cheer when baseball teams sprint on and off the field between innings (although most rarely do), and we gravitate to those who exhibit maximum effort in practice and on the field, such as Notre Dame’s Rudy. Since he never made the big plays that determined championships, did that make him a "loser?" Of course not. Quite the opposite. He worked his tail off, day in and day out, trying to be the best player he could be. And because of that attitude, he became an inspirational hero across the nation.
The critical point is that we put forth effort. Effort as a player, as a parent, as a professional. Sure, we will make mistakes, but at least we try.
Unfortunately, that lesson is being lost on our children.
Whether they like it or not, Major Leaguers are role models, and what they do and say matters. Just look at widespread steroid use among America’s youth during the time baseball chose not to outlaw those drugs. Players used steroids, and children followed suit.
Baseball fans, Phillies patrons, and parents should express their disappointment when professionals willfully send the wrong message to our kids, and managers should do the right thing by publicly addressing those failures.
Werth’s lack of hustle doesn’t make him a bad person. He is a good player, but he should be made to realize that actions have consequences. He should have been benched.
We can only hope that he and all his teammates now understand the need to play the game the right way.
Their fans, particularly their young ones, deserve nothing less.
Chris Freind, author of "Freindly Fire," is an independent columnist and investigative reporter whose readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. He can be reached at [email protected]