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Friday, March 09, 2012

Aramis Ramirez has a stat answer for his critics

Yeah, but I’m not sure zero Black-Ink is actually a stat.

As for the critics:

‘‘You can’t make everybody happy,’’ said Ramirez, who sees his old team for the first time since leaving when the Cubs play the Brewers on Saturday. ‘‘All you can ask from a player is to go out and do his job and produce and do what he’s supposed to do, and I did that. All I have to say to those guys is go out and look at the numbers, and you realize whether I did my job or not.’’

...For Ramirez, it means critics saying he didn’t care enough to give full effort on every play or every game.

‘‘You talking about Bob Brenly?’’ Ramirez said of the Cubs broadcaster and former big-league catcher who has been his most vocal critic. ‘‘I ain’t going to get into a war with Brenly or any other guy. Brenly played the game. He knows how it is. And if you want, you can put my numbers right next to his and see who did better in their career.’’

Brenly stands by his criticism, which became especially sharp last year.

‘‘Until I see him hustle for nine innings every day, I feel he’ll never be the great player he could be,’’ Brenly said Thursday. ‘‘I don’t argue his stats. They stand on their own. I guess it’s my perception of him not being as good as he could be. If he’s content to be good and not great, that’s up to him.’’

Repoz Posted: March 09, 2012 at 06:35 AM | 47 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cubs, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. SouthSideRyan Posted: March 09, 2012 at 08:17 AM (#4077364)
Cram it with walnuts, Brenly
   2. Jason Michael(s) Bourn Identity Crisis Posted: March 09, 2012 at 09:36 AM (#4077370)
If he runs too hard, he'll pull something.
   3. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 09, 2012 at 09:59 AM (#4077378)
It's hard to tell in these situations whether not "hustling for nine innings every day" is meant as a symptom of a general lack of desire and will to be as good as you can be and a shorthand therefor. You'd almost think it could be meant no other way, because how many chances do you get to hustle and make a difference in nine innings?

What Brenly might/probably means is, "This guy has a reputation of not really working hard in the cage, his body language and attitude aren't very good, he doesn't keep himself in very good shape, and everyone around him says pretty much exactly the same thing," but since you can't really say something like that on the air, you distill it to "He doesn't hustle nine innings every day."
   4. Lassus Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:03 AM (#4077379)
but since you can't really say something like that on the air

Why not?
   5. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:10 AM (#4077381)
Why not?

Too long-winded, too critical, attributes thoughts to other people who might not want that, high likelihood of pissing off bosses and losing job.

No one can seriously think simply "hustling for all nine innings every day" is going to move the production needle very much. That said, some people probably do think that. But it's stupid. But not hustling as a symptom of generally not doing what you need to be the best player you can be? Yeah, that makes sense. We shouldn't kid ourselves; there are a lot of guys out there whose potential far outstrips their production, but they're perfectly content making big money and putting up decent numbers. If wasted potential isn't something that bothers you, you wont be bothered. If it is, you will be.
   6. McCoy Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:17 AM (#4077383)
Well, if Aramis doesn't do those things then his talent level must be on par with Ted Williams or something. 125 to 135 OPS+ year in and year out despite not working at it or being in shape.
   7. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:18 AM (#4077384)
if you want, you can put my numbers right next to his and see who did better in their career


Ooh, burn.
   8. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:28 AM (#4077387)
Well, if Aramis doesn't do those things then his talent level must be on par with Ted Williams or something. 125 to 135 OPS+ year in and year out despite not working at it or being in shape.

That overstates it. From 2003-08, six full-time years ages 25-30, he had an OPS+ of 125 and 20.6 WAR.(*) He's never had a 5 WAR year.

His career isn't over yet, and he had a nice walk year in 2011 (**), but he had more in him than that.

(*) If you want to add '09, a 300 PA year, add another 1.2 WAR

(**) But still only 3.6 WAR.
   9. McCoy Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:33 AM (#4077391)
Yeah, like I said, if Aramis didn't do all those things his talent level must have been on par with Ted Williams or something.
   10. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:35 AM (#4077393)
All what things? He hasn't had a 5 WAR year in his career. There's a long way between that and Ted Williams.
   11. McCoy Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:40 AM (#4077397)
You know this isn't difficult. If Aramis Ramirez doesn't spend time working at his craft or staying in shape then his raw talent must be sky high.
   12. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:40 AM (#4077398)
If he runs too hard, he'll pull something.


On the other hand, if he doesn't run harder, the mad injury towel on the loose might catch him.
   13. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:46 AM (#4077399)
You know this isn't difficult. If Aramis Ramirez doesn't spend time working at his craft or staying in shape then his raw talent must be sky high.

There's a long way between "none" and "enough."
   14. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:49 AM (#4077403)
You know this isn't difficult. If Aramis Ramirez doesn't spend time working at his craft or staying in shape then his raw talent must be sky high.


Work or not work isn't a binary thing...

I agree with SBB - and I've always been something of an A-Ram defender (despite being glad the Cubs didn't re-up him) - Rameriz was a very good, and at times, even great player. He was among the NL's finest 3B for most of his Cubs career... But - at the end of the day, he's been Matt Williams or Ken Caminiti with a different skillset.

That doesn't mean he was lazy and didn't work at all -- but I do think that it's entirely possible that he could have been beyond the Williams/Caminiti level of 3B and instead, come within sniffing distance of the Brett/Schmidt level. I think he definitely had the raw hitting skills of a Brett - but he never quite got over that hump.... and there's a pretty big gap between Brett and Ted Williams.

Could he have worked harder is the question... and frankly, all I've read leads me to believe the answer is "yes".

That doesn't mean I regret his time in Chicago or consider him a disappointment - I just think that Brenly has a bit of a point... Rameriz was good - actually, better than good - but I do agree that I think he could have been great, and I don't think he was quite that.

But c'est la vie - he was better than plenty of other talented players who didn't manage to reach his level.

EDIT: coke to sbb
   15. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: March 09, 2012 at 10:51 AM (#4077404)
I love Aramis, but I get what Brenly is saying. I didn't need to see Ramirez doing Aaron Rowand-esque pinballing around to prove that he "cared." But there were numerous times over the years where Aramis could have been on first or second base because of an error, but was either out at first or didn't make it past there because he loafed it out of the box. Yes, he was injury prone, but it was still grating when his body language suggested he was content half-assing it.

And if you want, you can put my numbers right next to his and see who did better in their career.


That's kind of lame in the same way some people act like your criticism has no validity if you aren't in the industry (e.g. "Let's see YOU make a better album!"). Brenly didn't have nearly the playing career that Aramis did, but that doesn't mean anything he says on this matter should be instantly discredited.
   16. McCoy Posted: March 09, 2012 at 11:03 AM (#4077410)
I'll take "quibbling" for $500, Alex.
   17. Brian C Posted: March 09, 2012 at 11:40 AM (#4077443)
I'll take "quibbling" for $500, Alex.

This is an outdated reference. Years ago "Jeopardy!" doubled its dollar amounts, so there aren't any '$500' spots on the board any more. Formulations of this joke should all be in increments of $200 now.
   18. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 09, 2012 at 12:04 PM (#4077449)
And if you want, you can put my numbers right next to his and see who did better in their career.


Bob Brenly: 1 World Series title
Aramis Ramirez: 0 World Series titles

   19. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: March 09, 2012 at 12:25 PM (#4077462)
This is an outdated reference. Years ago "Jeopardy!" doubled its dollar amounts, so there aren't any '$500' spots on the board any more. Formulations of this joke should all be in increments of $200 now.

Move aside grammar police, here come the comedy police. :)
   20. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 09, 2012 at 12:57 PM (#4077487)
This is an outdated reference. Years ago "Jeopardy!" doubled its dollar amounts, so there aren't any '$500' spots on the board any more. Formulations of this joke should all be in increments of $200 now.


I'm guessing $4,501 for the complete bedroom quibbling set, Bob.
   21. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: March 09, 2012 at 01:29 PM (#4077512)
I'll one up #16 -- I'll take "quibbling" for $10, Art!
   22. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 01:34 PM (#4077515)
No hammies, no hammies, no hammies....
   23. Howie Menckel Posted: March 09, 2012 at 01:34 PM (#4077518)

I won $$ with a 3-unit Bob Brenly in 1984 fantasy ball. A fluke year, but the cash is just as green anyway.
   24. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 09, 2012 at 01:43 PM (#4077523)
I'm ready to take a guess, Pat. Highlander 2: The Quibbeling.
   25. JoeHova Posted: March 09, 2012 at 01:46 PM (#4077528)
The problem with trying to judge which players put in work and which don't is that certain things that people use as shorthand for work ethic aren't really reliable indications of it. For example, a lot of people use physique to indicate work ethic. But there are guys like Tim Duncan who are built like 50 year old accountants but are exceptionally skilled and have obviously put in a lot of work on non-muscle building aspects of their craft. Some people equate partying with a lackluster work ethic but Michael Jordan, for example, was a legendary partier who was also known for his maniacal work ethic.
   26. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: March 09, 2012 at 01:54 PM (#4077536)
No one can seriously think simply "hustling for all nine innings every day" is going to move the production needle very much. That said, some people probably do think that. But it's stupid.

I think it's like, oh, pitcher defense, something like that: the lower the level of play, the more important "hustle" becomes.

Some people equate partying with a lackluster work ethic but Michael Jordan, for example, was a legendary partier who was also known for his maniacal work ethic.

I was pleased a few years ago to see Kobe Bryant mention in an interview how he can't hit the buffet table like he used to, and still play hard for 48 minutes.
I don't even pay attention to basketball, but I like it when older players set a good example.
   27. PreservedFish Posted: March 09, 2012 at 02:20 PM (#4077564)
McCoy done got double-quibbled.
   28. Stevens Posted: March 09, 2012 at 02:39 PM (#4077590)
I don't buy that Ramirez didn't work hard. Brenley seems to like scrap, as do many, and Ramirez wasn't that. He was slow out of the box, perhaps due to injury? And he wasn't a fiery personality. But none of that adds up to me like he didn't care or didn't try hard.

All that said, I wonder if "working hard" really makes a difference at the MLB level. You clearly have to work hard to get there and maximize your talent. But what do we really think Ramirez would have been in the show that he wasn't already with this magical work ethic that Brenley suggests he lacks?

Anyway, I don't get it. I saw a guy who really wanted to win, got very frustrated when the Cubs were terrible, had several bit late clutch hits (most often against the crew it seemed), improved his defense as much as he could, and gave his team a home town discount on his big contract extension. Top handful all time for Cubs 3B = not too shabby.

   29. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 02:58 PM (#4077620)
All that said, I wonder if "working hard" really makes a difference at the MLB level. You clearly have to work hard to get there and maximize your talent. But what do we really think Ramirez would have been in the show that he wasn't already with this magical work ethic that Brenley suggests he lacks?


I guess I'd just say that "work harder" to me would have meant more time in the cage... For a slugger, his K numbers were pretty good, but not extraordinarily good. His walk rate improved, but wasn't stellar -- but he hit with good power and hit for a very good average.

To me - this means that A-Ram had some truly extraordinary batting skills. I guess I just think that if he had honed the craft of hitting like say.... a Tony Gwynn or Ted Williams or Rogers Hornsby -- you know, one of those types that basically becomes a PHD of hitting; had become scary maniacal about getting regular time in the cage, kept books on various SPs -- I just think he probably had the natural batting talent to be a truly special offensive player... not just a guy who could go 310/360/550 in his up years, but potentially 350/400/600.
   30. NJ in DC (Now with temporary employment!) Posted: March 09, 2012 at 03:15 PM (#4077640)
[29] At what point do you stop though? Or do you just assume every player has the potential to be the best player so long as they work hard enough?
   31. Brian C Posted: March 09, 2012 at 03:25 PM (#4077656)
I guess I just think that if he had honed the craft of hitting like say.... a Tony Gwynn or Ted Williams or Rogers Hornsby -- you know, one of those types that basically becomes a PHD of hitting; had become scary maniacal about getting regular time in the cage, kept books on various SPs -- I just think he probably had the natural batting talent to be a truly special offensive player... not just a guy who could go 310/360/550 in his up years, but potentially 350/400/600.

Do you really have any idea what his habits were, though? It seems unfair to take the griping of Brenly and a few grumpy Chicago media types at face value.
   32. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 03:37 PM (#4077666)
Do you really have any idea what his habits were, though? It seems unfair to take the griping of Brenly and a few grumpy Chicago media types at face value.


No - of course not... but I guess I'm just saying that if A-Ram were this cage fiend, if he had notebooks on how every NL hurler pitched to him, we'd certainly know about it.

Again - I don't want to overstate any of this - the fact that Rameriz isn't a "Michael Jordan of batting" is something that applies to 99% of the league. I'm NOT saying he's lazy.

All I'm saying is that based on what he has been able to do offensively, based on the way he actually hit an even higher plateau of offensive performance relatively later than most players -- I just suspect he might actually have had the rare skills that could made him a generational great on the order of a mid-level or better HoFer.

Granted, that's a lot of hunch and supposition than anything else -- but I just share Brenly's opinion that as good as A-Ram was, I think he might very have the rare abilities to have been even better.

I have no hard feelings towards him and I'll say again that it's NOT as if I consider him a "disappointment" by any stretch... it's just that I think if you somehow turned him into one of those top 1/10th of 1% workers/skill-honers, he'd probably be well on his way to the HOF. He's got nothing to be embarrassed about regarding his career - just saying I think he could have been even better.
   33. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 09, 2012 at 03:41 PM (#4077670)
To me - this means that A-Ram had some truly extraordinary batting skills. I guess I just think that if he had honed the craft of hitting like say.... a Tony Gwynn or Ted Williams or Rogers Hornsby -- you know, one of those types that basically becomes a PHD of hitting; had become scary maniacal about getting regular time in the cage, kept books on various SPs -- I just think he probably had the natural batting talent to be a truly special offensive player... not just a guy who could go 310/360/550 in his up years, but potentially 350/400/600.


Most people just can't do that. You can't make yourself obsessive about something unless your survival depends on it. If I tried to do my job 14 hours a day I'd burn out and quit. Some people can do my job 14 hours a day because it's all they think about.
   34. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: March 09, 2012 at 04:09 PM (#4077702)
"Mrs. Ramirez, where did your husband say Brenly could stick his criticism?"

"In the butt, Bob?"
   35. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4077708)

Most people just can't do that. You can't make yourself obsessive about something unless your survival depends on it. If I tried to do my job 14 hours a day I'd burn out and quit. Some people can do my job 14 hours a day because it's all they think about.


I understand that completely - again, it's not like I'm saying that A-Ram has had any sort of career to be embarrassed about... I'm just saying that if he were to have given that obsessive side a spin, I do think he had the skillset to be a mid-level HoFer.
   36. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 09, 2012 at 04:31 PM (#4077727)
Sorry, I realize now you were making the same point I was.
   37. McCoy Posted: March 09, 2012 at 04:31 PM (#4077728)
How many obsessive players have their been?
   38. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 09, 2012 at 04:40 PM (#4077739)
There's different degrees of obsessiveness. Some players seem like they aren't paying attention to the game even when they're at bat, which means they can't learn from their experiences. I'm sure everyone can remember seeing someone like this. (This seemed to be the case for Andy Laroche, though maybe his hand injury was what doomed his progress)
Others have great focus when they're at work, but then they leave the park and stop thinking about it. Others are thinking about how to be a better player all the time.
   39. The Good Face Posted: March 09, 2012 at 04:41 PM (#4077740)
I understand that completely - again, it's not like I'm saying that A-Ram has had any sort of career to be embarrassed about... I'm just saying that if he were to have given that obsessive side a spin, I do think he had the skillset to be a mid-level HoFer.


Wouldn't that pretty much apply to any All Star type player who wasn't an obsessed maniac?
   40. Greg K Posted: March 09, 2012 at 05:46 PM (#4077817)
based on the way he actually hit an even higher plateau of offensive performance relatively later than most players

I don't really know anything about Ramirez's past history and I don't really mean this as a criticism, but this is an interesting point in that in a vacuum I'd be inclined to see this as evidence of a particularly hard working hitter. A guy who maybe didn't have the skills to be successful (or as successful as he could be) right away. He had to work at it, and put in hours and hours of training and research to eventually achieve his potential. I'm thinking of Frank Catalanatto here, as a guy who was famous for keeping detailed notebooks on pitchers and being incredibly methodical about his hitting. I'm sure I'm simplifying his career, but I always recalled him as a guy who didn't come into his own as a hitter until his late 20s, early 30s.

However, I'm sure you're referring to something particular about Ramirez and I've just taken it slightly off topic.
   41. Walt Davis Posted: March 09, 2012 at 06:11 PM (#4077850)
Is ARod obsessed? Spend hours in the cage? Have a book on every pitcher that's ever thrown him a pitch? What about Jeter? What about Matt Holliday? What about Prince or Braun?

Ryan Braun "cared" so much he was possibly one of the worst defensive 3B in history so his team had to move him. Obviously if he would have worked harder on his defense, he'd be Brett too.

Players are who they are. ARam is an oft-injured, poor defensive 3B -- who was also horribly mis-developed by the Pirates. You want to say he "coulda been Brett" or whatever, point your finger at his lack of development and being forced to play hurt by one of the worst organizations (at that time) of my lifetime. (And Baker probably deserves a lot of the credit for ARam's development.)

Didn't hit for enough power? From 2004-9 (cherry-picked to avoid his below-par 2010, I'd include 2011 but that would require a calculator) he had a 248 ISO. 3Bs with better power than that from ages 26-31? Schmidt and ARod (and Chipper by 3 points). AROD and Chipper are the only two other 3B ages 26-31 with a BA>300 and SLG>550. (Brett just misses on SLG)

BA>=350, SGL>=600 seasons, post-expansion:

Alou 1
Bonds 2
Brett 1
Cash 1
Galarraga 1 (Coors)
Nomar 1
Hamilton 1
Helton 2 (Coors)
Edgar 1
Piazza 1
Pujols 2
Manny 1
AROD 1
Thomas 1
Walker 4 (Coors)

So, generally, you are talking the greatest RHB of the last 50 years doing it once (or twice if you're Pujols). There are some ARam-ish kinda names there (Alou, Nomar, Hamilton) so, gee, he never lucked into that one Norm Cash season.

He doesn't walk, he's fragile, he's not particularly good defensively. Those are his faults. And hardly the first time a fragile player has had his dedication questioned by idiots like Brenly.
   42. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 06:16 PM (#4077859)

Wouldn't that pretty much apply to any All Star type player who wasn't an obsessed maniac?


Sure, but I guess I was just looking it from the perspective of say.... Mike Schmidt was never going to win a batting title - he was a slugger, a damn good one, but he was always going to K a ton (and walk a ton and hit a ton of homers). Mike Schmidt didn't need to hit .330 to be uber-valuable, a clear inner-circle HoFer. Further, he might well have been less valuable if he had perhaps tried to become a .330 hitter.

I just look at A-Ram -- a 30 HR guy, who does hit .300, who does tend to strike out noticeably less than most 30 HR guys. I'm just surmising this all here, but I just look at a guy who could do so, so much with the bat and can't help but think he could have been more.

A-Ram was a like a mini-George Brett and it's just hard for me NOT to think that if you can be a "mini-George Brett", a bit more work could have made you an actual George Brett.

Let me emphasize yet again... being a mini-George Brett is nothing at all to be ashamed of.
   43. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 09, 2012 at 06:22 PM (#4077868)
I guess I'm just saying that if A-Ram were this cage fiend, if he had notebooks on how every NL hurler pitched to him, we'd certainly know about it.


We'd only know about it if he was a) a hitter on the level of a Gwynn or Williams, and b) a gregarious personality on the level of a Gwynn or Williams. If you're just one of the 40 or so best hitters in the game and not a really good interview, your cage sessions and notebooks don't make for much of a story.
   44. zonk Posted: March 09, 2012 at 06:24 PM (#4077870)
I don't really know anything about Ramirez's past history and I don't really mean this as a criticism, but this is an interesting point in that in a vacuum I'd be inclined to see this as evidence of a particularly hard working hitter. A guy who maybe didn't have the skills to be successful (or as successful as he could be) right away. He had to work at it, and put in hours and hours of training and research to eventually achieve his potential. I'm thinking of Frank Catalanatto here, as a guy who was famous for keeping detailed notebooks on pitchers and being incredibly methodical about his hitting. I'm sure I'm simplifying his career, but I always recalled him as a guy who didn't come into his own as a hitter until his late 20s, early 30s.


I was thinking mainly of when the Cubs signed him to that big extension -- it was right after his big 138 OPS+ year and I distinctly remember Szym (? OK, maybe I don't remember THAT distinctly) making the point in the TO that if A-Ram had reached a new level of performance in his 6th season - it was a very good deal, but that the historical evidence suggests that players don't usually reach a new, better level of performance that deep into their career. Lo and behold, though -- while he didn't quite reach that height again - he was good for a 125-130 OPS+ for the duration, which WAS a notch above what he was previously.

I guess I just see that he was able to cut his K rate noticeably, bump his walk rate a tad, and do it all without sacrificing any power, hitting for a higher average (without any real flukiness in BABIP) -- and I wanted more.

Look - I'm really, really, really not trying to be hard on the guy. Perhaps it very well WAS "hard work" that got him to the next level he did take his game to...

I'm just saying that I tend to think that Brenly is onto something.... Aramis is/was a really, really good player. But I can't help but think he could have been great.
   45. Walt Davis Posted: March 09, 2012 at 06:52 PM (#4077890)
And don't count him out of "mid-level" HoF status yet. It's unlikely for the same reason it's unlikely for everybody (he's got to play another 7+ years with minimal decline) but ...

his career so far is similar to Yount's. OK, he was a SS/CF

Age 26-33, he's virtually identical to Molitor and Molitor had only 90 more hits through 33.

Winfield was 150 hits ahead (but a better hitter)

Age 26-33, he's not far behind Billy Williams (not as good young) which would be promising if the voters didn't screw over 3B by requiring they hit better than Williams their whole career.

It's quite unlikely but he's got an outside shot at 3000 hits (needs 1212). Hard to imagine he'd stay healthy enough to do that but we'd have said similar things about Molitor or Edgar and they have some of the most impressive post-33 PA totals ever (which doesn't make it likely for ARam).

ARam 26-33: 4450 PA, 1186 hits, 297/359/533, 127 OPS+
Molitor 26-33: 3774 PA, 1135 hits, 301/366/446, 124 OPS+
Molitor 34-41: 5177 PA, 1449 hits, 316/380/462, 123 OPS+

Molitor got better and more durable ages 34-41, ARam just needs to repeat his age 26-33 (plus 26 hits).

Of course maybe by then the voters will be doing a better job of adjusting for era or relying on WAR or whatever.
   46. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: March 09, 2012 at 09:14 PM (#4077978)
A couple of things - A 248 ISO in ARam's era is more like a 180-200 ISO in Schmidt's (and others) era. Count stats are up because offense is up.

The second half of Molitor's career had a lot to do with the era change and his physical conditioning.
   47. Something Other Posted: March 10, 2012 at 11:33 AM (#4078155)
To me - this means that A-Ram had some truly extraordinary batting skills. I guess I just think that if he had honed the craft of hitting like say.... a Tony Gwynn or Ted Williams or Rogers Hornsby -- you know, one of those types that basically becomes a PHD of hitting; had become scary maniacal about getting regular time in the cage, kept books on various SPs -- I just think he probably had the natural batting talent to be a truly special offensive player... not just a guy who could go 310/360/550 in his up years, but potentially 350/400/600.

Most people just can't do that. You can't make yourself obsessive about something unless your survival depends on it. If I tried to do my job 14 hours a day I'd burn out and quit. Some people can do my job 14 hours a day because it's all they think about.
I like the nuance here, even though I disagree with your second sentence. I think obsession has an involuntary quality to it, so I think we're talking more along the lines of diligence, perhaps extreme diligence.

Most of us, as we get older, get a better sense of our limits. I know at age 30, while I had terrific stamina, were I to play a 162 game season there would doubtless be times when I'd slow down out of necessity, probably to the point--in extreme heat, which I have trouble dealing with--where I'd look like I was dogging it. I also don't doubt that some times that's what we see when we think we're seeing a lack of effort. Sometimes, there's nothing left in the tank; sometimes, you toss and turn and get two hours sleep and that day can only lope instead of run to the ball; no amount of hard work is going to change that.

Plenty of guys, too, are afraid to look like they aren't giving their all. They're good at appearing to give enormous effort, but aren't accomplishing any more than the next guy. It's a skill and it plays well on camera.

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