Monday, April 23, 2007


When I was a kid we had a “team leader” on our football team. He was the guy who out-hustled and out-yelled everyone else. He was always encouraging everyone. He was pretty much an assistant coach. They made him team captain.

But on the other side of the coin, he was one of the dumbest football players I’d ever seen. He just didn’t have a feeling for the game. He’d knock aside our tacklers to get at the runner, allowing the runner to get away. I once saw him, when a runner was held up on our goal line, hit him from behind and push him over the goal. He once lined up alongside me as a wide receiver. Our instructions were just to go down the field and catch a desperation pass. We started down the field. I cut and he cut with me. I cut the other way and he went right with me. He was on me like a defensive back. It only took one defender to cover two receivers instead of the other way around. At the end of the unsuccessful play, the defensive backs laughed at us.

The point is, the guy who yells the loudest and hustles the most might be a few beans short of a full burrito.

Which brings me to Darren Erstad. He was acknowledged as the Angel team leader for years. But after an incredible, historic 2000 season, he became pretty much a minus for them. The reason was he never mastered the strike zone. That is something that smart players, team players, do.

The best example is Brett Butler. He was a player with similar skills to Erstad. When Butler broke in I didn’t think he had a chance with his low ‘on base percentage.’ But Butler worked at it and learned the strike zone and made himself valuable to every team he was on. Another great example is Ozzie Smith, now in the Hall of Fame.

Erstad defenders say his performance fell off because he hurt himself after the 2000 season with his all-out, hustling style of play.

OK. Take that to a doctor. 99 out of a hundred doctors will advise, “Don’t do that.” A guy with all the beans in his burrito wouldn’t do that.

And while I’m on the subject, I wonder how Erstad’s philosophy of hacking away at anything near the plate influenced the Angel teams over the years. They have been notorious as a hacker’s team, eschewing the walk. Can we lay any of that at Erstad’s, the team leader’s, door?

If so, his dynasty continues.



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