Free Advice to Big Papi
This quickie is from longtime pal and esteemed baseball historian John B. Holway. It relates to the current American League Championship Series, and thus is more current than Our Game readers have come to expect. But baseball’s history begins not in 1839 or 1744 but with the conclusion of last night’s game. Holway and I co-wrote The Pitcher and worked together on Total Baseball‘s first edition. But John’s forays into baseball’s dimly understood past predates mine by eons. He has been researching baseball since 1944. Renowned for his work on the Negro Leagues, he has also written frequently about Ted Williams, whom he saw hit two home runs in the 1946 All-Star Game. The Williams Shift is relevant here.How do you give advice to David Ortiz?No, not with the bases loaded and four runs down.But I was shouting it to him almost every other time up this postseason.“BUNT!!!”They give him a 50-foot open target at third base. Even I could drop a bunt into it.I know David can. Because I saw him do it. About seven years ago in Tampa. You could almost see him shrug and chuckle, “Well, if they’re gonna give it to me…”–then he pushed a 250-foot bunt into left field and jogged to first while the left fielder loped over to stop the ball before it rolled to the fence. Then Papi trotted home on Manny Ramirez’s homer.I wonder if Boston could have beaten Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers in Game 1 if Ortiz had bunted every time they invited him to. He sure could have broken up two no-hitters fast.In 1946 Lou Boudreau pulled his Shift on Ted.Ty Cobb and everybody told Ted to hit to left: It would open up right field so he could drill singles and doubles into it again. But he wouldn’t do it.However, that fall he did win the pennant with an inside-the-park homer to left. And I saw him bunt to third with a swollen elbow in the World Series.Then he got stubborn again.Funny thing: Seven fielders were crowding into right field, but the wary pitchers were still pitching him outside; they were as stubborn as he was.It took Ted a year and a half to see the light, but finally the smartest hitter in history started hitting the ball where it was pitched, lifting homers over the Monster or glancing hits against it like Wade Boggs. Over the years he’d hit a couple over the Wall every season or dump a few flies on the grass in front of it.Yet Boudreau and others were even more stubborn than Ted. Lou didn’t call the Shift off until about 1950.In ‘58 I saw Ted beat Pete Runnels for the batting crown in the final series with three homers–to right, to center, and to left.