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November 28, 2012
The Year in Hustle
Winfield's Dictionary defines hustle as
Hustle is absolutely one of my favorite things, though I have a problem with the way it is usually used. For instance, "whatever it takes to help your team win" could refer to:
Throwing pitches hard
That's not what hustle usually refers to, of course. We know how Winfield thinks of hustle. I, personally, think hustle is any extra effort that is unlikely to provide a reward in most instances but will provide a reward in some cases—backing up a base every time, for instance, even though only one in 100 balls will actually get through. Running hard on routine grounders. Those sorts of things. But what about the broader population? There are 240 MLB.com highlights from 2012 that have the word "hustle" in the description. For fun, I watched them. Here's what I learned about what qualifies as hustle:
In most cases, "hustle" is used as a synonym for "run". This isn't totally unreasonable; the most common definition of hustle in the world is to hurry, and running is a form of hurrying. But in baseball, and in all sports, hustle is about more than hurry, and I wouldn't consider most forms of running to be hustle. There's a lot of running! It's a sport about running! To quote a real dictionary this time, here's an excerpt from the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, which commits 50 lines of text to its definition:
So all running isn't hustle. It's basic baseballing. All scoring of runs isn't hustle, either. "Altuve Hustles Home" might be adorable but it isn't hustle:
So we've talked about what we're talking about. Onto the GIFs. Presenting the winners of the 2012 Hustlies, culled from the 240 videos:
Fewest Steps Taken in Hustle Award: Brian Matusz
If Brian Matusz had struck out Franklin Gutierrez, he would have probably walked off the mound, circled it, perhaps grabbed some rosin. The usual strikeout routine pitchers do. Had he done that, he would have taken eight or nine steps. Instead, he let Gutierrez bunt the ball, took two steps, and was done. Can't really rule out the possibility that this was Matusz taking the lazy way out.
Other people who hustled: Manny Machado; Ryan Flaherty; Matt Wieters, who doesn't know it yet but is going to catch 18 innings in this game.
Turning Lack of Hustle into Hustle Award: Rafael Furcal
Furcal would end up on third.
Other people who hustled: Michael McKenry, who doesn't know it yet but is going to catch 19 innings in this game. (Just a coincidence.) First-base ump Jim Joyce, who gets in position even though the play is automatic.
Shortest Hustle Double: Eric Hosmer
Admire the Orioles' complete disinterest. This is, remember, the second-best-managed team in the AL in 2012.
Other people who hustled: None.
Best Legit Hustle: Yoenis Cespedes
There was a game in the late 1980s in which Eric Davis scored from first base. It might have been this game, which fits the time period and the teams involved and would certainly have heightened the impact of Davis' move, coming as it did on a walk-off play. I associate the memory with my bed—as in, I remember lying in bed and just being so excited that it had happened, and I resolved right then and there that it was going to be my goal to score from first, too. So I started a running program, running up and down my driveway so I could get fast like Eric Davis. At some point that season, I did manage to do it, but that doesn't mean anything because Little Leaguers are terrible and I also probably got a home run on a blooper over the second baseman. Anyway, scoring from first on a single is my benchmark for speed, hustle, and awesomeness. But for a quirk of fate, my benchmark for speed, hustle, and awesomeness could have been scoring from first on an errant pickoff throw, which Davis also did against the Giants that year.
(As it turns out, it's not that rare at all! Since 1985, 355 different players have scored from first base on a single without an error being recorded. Some of these are certainly walkoff situations, where the batter would have no incentive to try take an easy double. For instance, J.T. Snow. Rickey Henderson did it five times after 1985, and Davis actually did it four times.)
The moment Yoenis Cespedes decides to go is so subtle. Casper Wells comes up in position to throw, sees Cespedes isn't going, and relaxes. For just a moment, his back foot is off the ground, and the lower half of his body is no longer aligned toward the plate. That's the extra split second it'll take for him to re-cock, and that's the moment Cespedes chooses.
Other people who hustled: Kyle Seager, who points.
Best Bryce Harper Hustle: Bryce Harper
Chris Heisey: 0 highlights for hustle in 2012
Amazingly, there is also not one highlight for hustle for Mike Trout, the league-wide Heart & Hustle winner in 2012, or for any of the previous league-wide winners who are still active: Torii Hunter, Roy Halladay, and Albert Pujols. Heart & Hustle voters clearly put an overemphasis on Heart.
But you know who does have highlights for hustle? Bryce Harper. Harper has SIX hustle highlights, the most in baseball. (Michael Bourn has four.) As has been shown previously, most of the hustle highlights are nonsense, but Harper's highlights feature real hustle because Harper really does hustle.
Other people who hustled: Third baseman Luis Valbuena, who hustled toward that slow roller but left third base unoccupied so that Harper didn't have to worry about a throw to third base.
Thanks to Ryan Lind for research assistance.