By now, most baseball fans have seen the highlights of Hanley Ramirez lollygagging after a ball he literally booted down the left field line in Monday night's game between the Florida Marlins and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
After Ramirez's snail-like retrieval of the baseball, during which he probably could have enjoyed a three-course meal, he was promptly benched by his manager, Fredi Gonzalez.
While last night's spectacle was as egregious as they come, it was only one glaring footnote in a growing trend around Major League Baseball.
Although the 2010 season is only a month and a half old, there have been a number of plays that should have resulted in benchings.
Lastings Milledge was thrown out jogging around second base earlier this month after he thought he had a hit a home run. He claimed that he was fooled into thinking the ball was gone because celebratory fireworks went off at PNC Park.
The Braves were somehow uneducated about the "infield fly rule" in a game against the Mets in April, and it cost them a run. It is hard to believe a team managed by the great Bobby Cox could have problems comprehending the rule, but it happened.
No one was reprimanded.
A book could be written detailing all of Manny Ramirez's baseball transgressions, but look no further than Monday night's game for the most recent example. Manny "attempted" to score from first on a two-out double, and although the throw to the plate beat him fairly easily, he slowly jogged toward home and made no effort to plow into the catcher.
As usual, it was "Manny being Manny," and everybody just laughed it off.
These are just three examples, and there are others that could be referenced. The major difference between those instances and what happened with Hanley Ramirez down in Miami on Monday is that Hanley was benched.
Kudos to Fredi Gonzalez on his decision.
How many managers would have done what Gonzalez did? It's hard to say, but odds are that a large number of them would not have the guts to put their star player on the pine.
Baseball, at its highest level, requires a lot of skill—just like football, basketball, and hockey.
One thing baseball doesn't require that the other three do is a large amount of cardiovascular activity. That cannot be debated.
Typically, a player might have to run the bases four times per game. Perhaps he'll have to chase after a few balls in the field. That's it.
So if a player fails to give maximum effort when running to first on what looks like a routine pop-up, or when he poses at the plate on what he thinks is a home run, or if he does what Ramirez did on Monday night, he should be punished.
Did Gonzalez set a precedent? Hopefully other managers have taken notice and will not simply shrug it off the next time one of their players does not give it his all.
Perhaps more importantly, maybe players all around baseball took a moment to pause and think about their own playing styles.
Fortunately, a population of Major Leaguers who play all out, all the time, still exists. But the number is shrinking.
Guys like Manny Ramirez are beyond help at this point. However, young players—even Hanley Ramirez himself—still have time to improve their images in regards to their heart and hustle.
Fredi Gonzalez's brand of discipline might be just the thing baseball needs to make sure effort is an obligation—not a choice.
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