Results tagged ‘ Lou Boudreau ’
Guess who was back in the Yankees lineup Saturday? Jorge Posada, who lost his designated hitter job last Sunday night at Boston, was the DH batting eighth against the Rays. Eric Chavez, who had replaced Posada as the Yankees’ DH against right-handed pitching, was in the lineup as well but at third base.
The crowd at Yankee Stadium displayed its approval by showering Posada with applause when he came to bat for the first time in the second inning. Chavez had just fouled out to the catcher with the bases loaded for the first out of the inning. Posada had the crowd on its feel once more when he hit a single into right field that scored two runs.
Chants of “Hip, hip, Jor-ge!” reverberated around the Stadium. They were sounded again in the fourth inning when Posada singled to left-center. There just may still be a place on this team for the popular former catcher.
Despite hitting 32 home runs this season, Curtis Granderson keeps telling people that he is not a home run hitter. That cuts no ice with Rays manager Joe Maddon, who employed the Boudreau Shift against Granderson in the third inning by having three infielders stationed on the right side of second base (the shift is so named because it was first used by Indians shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau in the late 1940s to combat Red Sox slugger Ted Williams).
Mark Teixeira when batting left-handed is accustomed to seeing the shift against him, but this might have been a first for Granderson, whose speed makes the maneuver questionable because he could easily drop down a bunt to the left side for a hit. Of course, that’s part of the design of the shift, to tempt a power hitter to try to bunt for a single rather than swing for the fences. This did not work with Williams, who kept pulling the ball and finished his Hall of Fame career with a .344 batting average and 521 home runs.
Granderson did not lay one down, either, but swung away and struck out. In the fifth, the Rays used the shift again against Granderson, who pulled a Ted Williams by hitting a home run to right field. That was No. 33 for Curtis, who tied the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista for the major-league lead. Curtis, when a team uses the Boudreau Shift against you, it means you’re a home run hitter!
The Yankees displayed an interesting variation on the old Lou Boudreau Shift in the sixth inning Tuesday night. When he was the shortstop-manager of the Indians in the late 1940s, Boudreau devised the shift against Ted Williams by stationing three infielders to the right side of second base because the Splinter was such a dead pull hitter.
The shift has become commonplace in the game. Yankees fans surely remember that it was used regularly against Jason Giambi. The Yankees also use it regularly against Jim Thome. But here was the twist in the Yankees’ deployment against White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn. They kept shortstop Derek Jeter to the left of second base and moved third baseman Eric Chavez to the right. Normally, the shortstop moves right to leave the third baseman to cover the left side.
I hadn’t noticed it until Dunn hit a foul ball that fell in front of the third base dugout with Jeter giving chase. I thought it was weird that Jeter came so close to catching the ball, since I assumed Jeter was all the way on the other side of second base. I looked around for Chavez and noticed that he was where I thought Jeter had been.
It is an intriguing concept. It sort of makes sense to leave the shortstop in his usual spot, but I checked with a lot of my colleagues in the press box and none could recall having seen that alignment before. I later learned that some other clubs such as the Rays and Red Sox have used the same maneuver.
Derek Jeter turned 36 Saturday. That may not be an age that is considered a milestone, but I have always thought it was. After all, once you’re 36 for the first time in your life you’re closer to 50 than 20. You may not be starting the back nine of your life, but the halfway house is clearly in view.
As for a professional athlete, 36 is definitely on the back nine, unless you know anyone playing in the pros in his or her 70s, excluding Minnie Minoso, of course. Yet in this day and age of dedication to conditioning and nutrition, the pro athlete can endure far long than his antecedents, and there are few in baseball in better shape than Derek Jeter.
It is hard to think of him as getting old. Other than natural maturity, I have not seen any great change in his approach or demeanor from the 21-year-old kid who came to the Yankees’ spring training camp at Tampa, Fla., in 1996 ready to assume the role of shortstop.
The plan was for regular Tony Fernandez to move to second base and be ready to switch back if Jeter did not handle the job. Fernandez got hurt and was out for the year while Jeter went on to win Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year honors and help the Yankees win their first World Series championship in 18 years.
Long ago and far away, sure, but all these years later Jeter is still a main cog on the Yankees at one of the sport’s most demanding positions. And he is in no mood to think about playing someplace else, not in a different city and not at a different position.
Yet Jeter has reached that age which historically players at his position often move to another position. No better example exists than Cal Ripken Jr., a player Jeter admires and emulates, who was shifted to third base in 1997, the year he turned 36. He played only three games at shortstop after turning 36, not counting the 2001 All-Star Game.
Two other Hall of Famers, Ernie Banks and Robin Yount, were moved from shortstop in their early 30s due to arm injuries that hampered their effectiveness in the middle infield. Banks went to first base, and Yount to center field.
A couple of years ago, I sat down with Jeter and talked to him about the Yount move. This was a time when Bernie Williams’ career was winding down, and I queried whether he had given any thought to playing center field in the future.
Not a word, just a blank stare from those piercing green eyes. “I just thought maybe we’d talk about it,” I said.
He grinned and said, “Then I guess you’ll have to find someone else to talk to about that.”
Needless to say, I never brought the subject up again, and I am not going to do so here, either. I have been of the opinion since that day that shortstop is where Derek Jeter belongs for as long as he wants to play it. If he was not coming off shortstop for Alex Rodriguez, he wasn’t coming off shortstop for Jack O’Connell.
And why should he? It is not as if he is Phil Rizzuto, who hit .195 at age 36 and was a part-time player the next year and a half. Or Pee Wee Reese, who won a World Series with the Dodgers at that age in 1955 but was moved to third base two years later. Or Joe Cronin, who played very little shortstop after the age of 35. Or such Hall of Famers as Joe Tinker, Travis Jackson, Arky Vaughan and Lou Boudreau, who were retired as players before they turned 36.
Further research shows plenty of evidence that moving off shortstop is not all that warranted. Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Luke Appling played more than 130 games at shortstop when each was 41. Rabbit Maranville, another Hall of Famer, finished 10th in the National League MVP race when he was 36 in 1928. Dave Concepcion was the Reds’ regular shortstop until he was 38, and as late as the age of 40 Omar Vizquel played 143 games at shortstop.
There are two shortstops that really stick out to me and with whom I hope Jeter will keep company – Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith. They share an amazing distinction. Shortstop was the only position they played in their entire careers – 2,518 games for Little Looie and 2,511 games for the Wizard of Oz. Each made the All-Star team playing shortstop at age 36, which Jeter will do next month.
Aparicio’s last year was 1973, the first year of the designated hitter but he was never used in that spot, and Smith spent his whole career in the DH-less National League. Jeter has been a DH in 17 games, but the only position he has played in the field is shortstop. He celebrated his 36th birthday with game No. 2,193 – and counting.