Joe Posnanski has a great post up on his blog that's about, well, like all of my favorite posts of his, is about a lot of things. This one's about home run trots, Molinas, movies, and Jose Guillen. It also has pictures of bullpen cars. Trust me, it all makes sense. But take a minute and read the post and take special note of the fourth picture. I tend to agree that bullpen cars shouldn't bring pitchers to the mound from the bullpen - it looks a little silly to have professional athletes chauffeured onto the playing field. There is, however, one overwhelming reason to bring them back - they look really, really cool.
The main gist of the post is home run trots and Posnanski Adam "Pete" Rosales in it. Stephen Drew hit an inside-the-park home run this year and circled the bases in 15.84 seconds. Rosales hit the ball over the fence and "trotted" around the bases in 15.86 seconds. When I saw it I thought that he was almost sprinting around the bases. I was wrong - he was actually sprinting around the bases.
I have mixed feelings about watching guys like Rosales play. I like what he brings to the team in terms of talent; his track record indicates that he'll be a good utility infielder and maybe a capable starter. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the aesthetics of the game. I'm probably in the minority, but I'm not automatically won over by "hustle" guys. Don't get me wrong, I hate watching guys dog it for no good reason, but I think the praise that certain Charlie Hustle types get is unwarranted.
From a purely visual standpoint, I prefer ballplayers who look smooth. Guys who look like they could hit three homers in a game without breaking a sweat. Guys who look cool. That was one of the fun things about watching Barry Zito pitch (at least when he was going well). His delivery was graceful. How could he make batters look foolish while (seemingly) putting in so little effort? I loved watching Rickey Henderson because even with all of his base running antics, his fake steals, and his hard slides, it looked like he did everything with ease. He always seemed to be in control, despite the incredible speed with which he moved. Same with McGwire's swing. A lot of times it looked like he was casually waving his bat through the zone - then, boom, a 450 ft homer.
I think my enjoyment of grace and simplicity of motion explains why I don't find hustle guys to be visually appealing to watch. It's the wasted motion that I find distracting, and to a certain extent, ugly (in a visual sense, not a moral one). It's Nomar fiddling with his batting gloves. It's Eric Byrnes crashing into the fence chasing a ball that lands ten rows deep. And to a certain extent, it's Adam Rosales all out sprinting, when a simple trot would suffice.
Players cross over from visually unpleasant to watch, to downright annoying when their hustle appears to be contrived. I'm sure that most hustle players who run all out all the time do so because that's just how they play the game. But there are times when it doesn't seem genuine, and when I sense that's the case, the hustle guys really irritate me.
Byrnes is the perfect example of this. His overexcited style of play directly led to bad outcomes, like NOT TOUCHING HOME PLATE IN THE 2003 ALDS, which is the tangible side effect of doing everything at a breakneck speed. But what made me hate watching him, was that he seemed like a caricature of a hustling ballplayer - as if his main goal was to always move as much and as fast as possible, instead of winning ballgames. I very well could be wrong about his motivations and may be letting the fact that he had long hair and a surfer image cloud my judgment of him. But even if I'm wrong about the sincerity of his game, I'll never enjoy the look of it.
In theory, I'd like every player to be hustling all the time. It's just that the way some players do it by constantly moving, which makes me nervous to watch. And this brings us back to Adam Rosales. I don't hate watching him (yet) and I'm not exactly sure why. I know I've only seen him play a handful of games, but when a ground gets hit to him he doesn't frantically shuffle his feet for no apparent reason. He makes aggressive, but not stupid turns around first after singles. When doing things that matter , it actually looks he's in control. Maybe Rosales will break the mold for me, being a guy who's all-out style of play I can actually enjoy with my brain as well as my eyes.