Thursday, August 2, 2012

Comedy of Third Base Errors

It's no secret that growing up as a Phillies fan through the mid-'80s, entire '90s (save 1993) up until 2007, I got used to pretty putrid baseball from the first sports franchise I truly loved. The Phillies were a bad team much more than they were a good one, so bad that they eventually eclipsed the 10,000 loss mark.

Watching weak hitters, horrid pitchers and suspect play in the field became the norm. However, one thing I got accustomed to was excellent defensive play at third base. No matter how bad the team seemed to be, the Phillies for the most part had a guy manning the hot corner who could flat out field the position.

I got spoiled right from the start, being born into watching 10-time Gold Glover winner Mike Schmidt make playing third look effortless, and then somehow was lucky enough to witness nearly every remarkable play Scott Rolen — an eight-time Gold Glove winner himself — made in the same vein as Schmidt. Those two are second and third all time in Gold Gloves for third basemen, trailing only Brooks Robinson's 16.

But it wasn't just the defensive greats like Schmidt and Rolen that did a hell of job manning third for the Phils. Schmidt's replacement Charlie Hayes was a fine fielder in his own right. Abraham Nunez, for all his faults at the plate, could flat out pick it at third. World Series hero Pedro Feliz was a vacuum at the hot corner. And of course, Placido Polanco won a Gold Glove last season and arguably deserved one in 2010.

Honestly, the Phillies have only really had three regular third basemen who weren't at least above average in the field at third in my lifetime. Dave Hollins wasn't anything to write home about in the field, but he wasn't a butcher either. The one season of Todd Zeile, a man never known for his defense, wasn't ideal. And David Bell just completely sucked at everything baseball-related in his three and a half painful seasons at third. Oh, and if you want to toss in Greg Dobbs for the few times he started, he was also atrocious at third, but he was a pinch-hitter much more than a fielder.

This is all to say that for the majority of my life, the Phillies were in good hands at third. Maybe not always at the dish, but always in the field.

Then this year happened. With Placido Polanco spending a good portion of the season on the bench or the disabled list nursing his old, injured body, the Phillies have put a revolving door of terrible players at third, and it's been a disaster. How much of a disaster, you ask? Well last night, the newest man to take the hot corner, Kevin Frandsen, made an error in the first inning on a dead double-play ball, an error that directly led to Washington's two first-inning runs. After the play, Tom McCarthy passed along this stat: Phillies third basemen not named Placido Polanco have made an error one out of every eight plays. One out of every eight. Read that again. An error every eight plays. That is beyond horrid. I mean, honestly, little leaguers don't make that many errors in that few chances. For real.

To put that into perspective, Polanco made an error one out of every 70-something plays for his career, according to McCarthy, and has an absurd .990 fielding percent this season. Yeah, talk about a major, major drop-off, and that's putting it lightly.

Frandsen's error was just another in a long line at third. Ty Wigginton was as bad as anyone I've ever seen over there, committing eight errors in just 48 chances for christ's sake.

Mike Fontenot, who played the majority of his career as a middle infielder, wasn't a whole lot better, committing a couple errors in just 25 chances. Only Hector Luna and Michael Martinez, who each only started one game apiece at third, came away unscathed in the error department. It's been beyond embarrassing.

In a season full of disappointment, underachievement and now key cogs being shipped off, nothing has been more comical than the play at third base. For all the terrible seasons and laughable play I've seen by the Phillies in my 28-plus years, that's the one thing I haven't been accustomed to.

I'm used to Schmidt and Rolen and Polanco, even Nunez and Feliz, not bumblers who make little leaguers look like Gold Glovers. Seriously, 2012 cannot end soon enough.

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