The distance from home plate to first base is exactly 90 feet. At first sight, it appears as such a simple, arbitrary measure conjured up well over 150 years ago.
It’s the distance sportswriter Red Smith once described as “the closest man has ever come to perfection.”
Just think of how many close plays you’ve seen at first for a variety of reasons, either conventional or odd.
That is, of course, when the game is being played the right way without assuming anything.
The Orioles’ 2-13 record speaks for itself in proving the game isn’t being played the right way in Baltimore. Even those having not watched a single pitch this season can see that.
But an embarrassing 90-foot stroll to first by infielder Julio Lugo in the second inning Tuesday night epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the Orioles this season—at least on the field.
A 34-year-old veteran with 10 years of big league experience—with a current .115 average and fortunate to even be in the lineup—decided it just wasn’t important enough to sprint the 90 feet to first base after breaking his bat on a grounder to shortstop Jack Wilson. It was an inexcusable display from any player regardless of age, especially when your team is desperately looking for something good to happen.
In his defense, Lugo isn’t the first to fail to run out a ground ball this season, and he definitely won’t be the last, but more troubling than the effort itself is the reaction—or lack of reaction—from manager Dave Trembley or anyone else in the Orioles dugout.
The man who preached the need to “play the game the right way” when hired on an interim basis in 2007 did not act, at least with any immediate consequence.
No look of disgust or removing Lugo from the game. When asked about the lack of hustle, Trembley didn’t even acknowledge the play in his post-game comments. If he would have, it wouldn’t have been the first time the manager dressed down a player after a game. There is precedent. Just ask Felix Pie.
After wondering aloud earlier in the week whether Trembley had the ears of his players and how that was a far deeper concern than the club’s abysmal record, I now wonder if there’s even a message for the players to hear—whether listening or not.
To allow Lugo to play the game in such an unprofessional way is a proclamation to Adam Jones and Matt Wieters that it’s either acceptable or the manager doesn’t seem to care.
If you won’t even chastise a mediocre veteran with a .294 OPS (.294!) who’s been with the team all of three weeks and is, in no way, part of the future, what exactly ARE you doing to help things?
It appears, much like his 25 players, Trembley is simply waiting. If his days are numbered as manager, he’s not putting up much of a fight.
Twice the Orioles had their leadoff man on second in Tuesday night’s game, and twice they failed to even advance the runner to third. No ground ball to the right side. No fly ball to right. And as much as I typically loathe the thought of surrendering one of your precious 27 outs, there was no apparent musing of a sacrifice bunt.
In fact, a team hitting .223 doesn’t have a sacrifice bunt all season.
Last time I checked, an offense struggling to score runs needs to try to make it happen. And that’s where the manager gets involved.
A stolen base. A hit-and-run. A productive out to move a baserunner over. Ideas as ancient to baseball as the distance from home to first.
Instead, hitters continue to go to the plate with no apparent plan in mind. The few runners that reach base are stationary, simply hoping for a savior to drive them home.
The problem is—if you’ll allow me to channel Rick Pitino in his days with the Celtics for a moment—Frank Robinson isn’t walking to the plate. Eddie Murray isn’t swinging in the on-deck circle. And if they were, they’d be gray and old.
When the big blasts aren’t coming, you might have to steal a run or two, not just wait around and hope for something good to happen.
The major shortcomings of this assembled roster are well-chronicled, especially now with the growing number of injuries at key positions. It’s a far more pressing issue for an organization in the midst of its 13th straight losing season.
However, the Orioles—the players currently on the field, for better or worse—look like a team simply resigned to waiting. Lugo’s leisurely 90-foot stroll exemplified a player waiting to be thrown out at first. It’s a team seemingly waiting to see the manager dismissed. A group of individuals expecting to lose on a nightly basis. They’re waiting for someone to save them—or to quite possibly call off the season.
With very few exceptions, no one is taking a look in the mirror and asking how he can improve the sorry state of affairs. Everyone is waiting for someone else to step up while the losses collect higher and higher.
Nobody—from the manager to the supposed future stars to the veteran infielder who decided it just wasn’t important enough to run the designated 90 feet to first base—is doing a darn thing about it.
Loafing to first on a second-inning grounder might seem like a trivial incident, but the incident and its aftermath speak volumes about where this team currently finds itself.
In last place and waiting indifferently.
Ninety feet at a time.