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Bill had written, “If there is somebody worse than Aikens, he must be playing first with a machete.”
Bill James can’t measure what you mean to a team, Willie. Never will be able to understand it. You’re fearsome up there, man. They can’t calculate intimidation. And George owes you a big part of his paycheck.”
James's riff on Aikens's fielding is an absolute classic. Few funnier things have ever been written.
[...] I will say, though, that the real cost of Lonnie's defense is not nearly as great as the psychic impact of it. He makes you wail and gnash your teeth a lot, but he really doesn't cost you all that many runs. One reason is that he recovers so quickly after he makes a mistake. You have to understand that Lonnie makes defensive mistakes every game; he knows how to handle it. I mean, your average outfielder is inclined to panic when he falls down chasing a ball in the corner; he may just give up and set there for a while, trying to figure it out. Lonnie has a pop-up slide perfected for the occasion. Another outfielder might have no idea where the ball was when it bounded of his glove; Lonnie can calculate with the instinctive astrophysics of a veteran tennis player where a ball will land when it skips off the heel of his glove, what the angle of glide will be when he tips it off the webbing, what the spin will be when the ball skids of the thumb of the mitt. Many players can kick the ball behind them without ever knowing it; Lonnie can judge by the pitch of the thud and the subtle pressure through his shoe in which direction and how far he has projected the sphere. He knows exactly what to do when a ball spins out of his hand and flies crazily into a void on the field, when it is appropriate to scamper after the ball and when he needs to back up the man who will have to recover it. He has experience in these matters; when he retires he will be hired to come to spring training and coach defensive recovery and cost containment. This is his specialty and he is good at it."
Webster's Thesaurus suggests the following words as possible synonyms or related words for "error": mistake, inaccuracy, miscalculation, oversight, slip, blooper, blunder, boner, bull, bungle, fluff, lapse, miscue, misstep, rock, slipup, trip, faux pas, bevue, fault, misdoing, misjudgment, stumble, boo-hoo, botch, fumble, muff, howler, screamer, impropriety, and indecorum. Their list of suggested synonyms for "inept" is even more generous. It includes awkward, bumbling, maladroit, unhandy, wooden, infelicitous, graceless, ill-chosen, unfortunate, unhappy, improper, ill-timed, inappropriate, inapt, unapt, malapropos, undue, unseasonable, unseemly, unsuitable, unadept, undexterous, unfacile, unhandy, unproficient, inefficient, incapable, incompetent, inexpert, unexpert, unskilled, unskillful, and unworkmanlike.
Just a note to the Toronto press corps: You never know when one of these words might come in handy. You never know where a few minutes spent studying this list now might save you valuable deadline-pressure seconds during the course of the long, long, long season. I particularly like "botch," "howler," and "unfacile." I also like "fluff" and "bevue," although I don't really know how to use them. I'm sure you'll have the opportunity to work them in somewhere, though.
A year ago I wrote about Aikens' defense, "Makes Dick Stuart look like a gazelle ... Couldn't scoop out a low throw with a backhoe ... If there is somebody worse than Aikens, he must be playing first with a machete." I must report now that Aikens was 100% improved defensively in 1981; he was all the way up to dreadful. He had greatly improved mobility, and he made a handful of legitimately fine defensive plays (most of his good defensive plays are merely plays that any other first baseman would make routinely) in 1981.
Lord, is he awful. He has 3 particular plays that he makes game-in and game-out. On any throw from right field to home plate, if Aikens can get to the ball he figures he is obliged to cut it off, or at least knock it down. I don't care if the throw is right on line, the play close, the catcher is set, and there is nobody else on base to worry about. If Willie can get to the ball, he's going to cut it off. Somebody should explain to him that this is an option; nobody's going to laugh at you if you let it go through.
The second one is the high pop-up. Willie fixes his stare on any ball popped up in the infield and stalks toward it like a man possessed. He never gives a thought to the notion that there might be somebody else around; I've seen him knock Frank White into center field on balls hit 20 feet from second base. If the ball's hit high enough, the other infielders hold a meeting and decide who gets to tackle Willie.
The third specialty of the house is coming a half step off the base to catch a throw and then looking around not for the base but for the runner. Willie loses about 8 runners a year by standing 4 inches off the base and trying to tag the runners before the runner can touch the base. If the runner slows up this is pretty easy, but if he is coming full tilt it is damned deadly difficult. In any case the runner moves faster than the base does and I've never yet seen a base take evasive action, so you might as well go for the one that doesn't move.
He has a wide variety of habitual misplays; I don't mean to overemphasize these 3 merely because they're his favorites. I also don't mean to make light of the fact that the man can hit. You put him in Tiger Stadium and he'd have a good shot at hitting around .320 with 35 home runs.
(Rick) Cerone is more or less to catching as Thurman Munson is to aviation
Now he comes off like a dick.
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