Baseball's best defenders can amaze you in the blink of an eye

Updated: March 30, 2009

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Omar Vizquel has taken his defensive wizardry to the Rangers this season.

HANDS ARE QUICKER THAN THE EYE

Defense is my favorite part of baseball. I could watch the very best in the game take ground balls all day long.

My favorite story that illustrates just how good some of these guys are happened 12 years ago, when I went to Seattle to do a story on Omar Vizquel, the great shortstop for the Indians at the time. His hands were legendary throughout baseball, and I wanted to see them up close.

On this trip I did something I'd never done before, and probably will never do again. I brought my glove with me. Since I was doing a story on his hands, I needed to be able to check out the sleight-of-hand move that I'd seen him do when he played catch with other players. They'd throw the ball to him and his hands are so fast it doesn't even appear to go into his glove. All of a sudden, the ball is in his throwing hand and it's coming back.

So there I was playing catch with him in his driveway on a misty January day in Seattle. He hadn't picked up a ball since the end of the World Series. I threw him 50 balls and he did this sleight-of-hand move every time because I asked him to show it to me. After 50 tosses back and forth, I still couldn't figure it out. Finally, I stopped and asked him to slow it down. He explained that he was actually deflecting the ball off the heel of his glove into his bare hand, which is at least a foot away. He's catching it there and then throwing it back. He did this 50 times in a row, in the rain, in the middle of January. He didn't mishandle a single one.

I said, "How can you do that???" He looked at me and said, "Tim … it's magic."

And that's what defense is all about with the greatest players in the world. Their hands are just so indescribably good that for him to catch 50 throws without one of them actually making it into his glove is something that I'll never forget for the rest of my life.

He would actually use this trick in a game from time to time when he was really, really rushed, but it was something he did most often in infield practice or playing catch. I asked him if he knew if anyone else could do this trick and he told me that Carlos Baerga tried it plenty but would always hurt himself doing it.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 29 | March 26 | March 25 | March 24 | March 23

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Buster Olney asks some baseball people to give their impressions of spring training 2009:

This is the never-ending spring training, almost as long as the artificial spring of 1995, when replacement players were used, and which turned into a scramble after the players' strike was settled. I asked some talent evaluators, over the phone and through e-mail, to offer some observations on spring training 2009: on players, on teams, on trends; whatever came to mind for them. Here is a sampling.

From an AL talent evaluator:

"No. 1: It would not surprise me at all if both the AL Central and AL West went for fewer than 88 wins. The parity in the Central has been well-documented, but I just don't see the pitching in the West for anyone to run away and hide (particularly if John Lackey joins Ervin Santana as unable to go).

"No. 2: What precisely was Will Ohman's agent thinking? He has said for a month that he had $1 million-plus on the table and just wanted performance bonuses to get to $2.50 million. Now, it is a week before Opening Day and the word out from his tryout for the Dodgers is that he isn't close to ready to go. He should have just given up the ghost for '09 and signed two weeks ago like Beimel. (Update: Later Monday, Ohman signed with the Dodgers).

"No. 3: You have to feel for the folks who work for the Padres. They have several great baseball people over there, people who have had their decisions handicapped by off-field issues relating to their owner's divorce. It is not going to be easy to watch the unit they are forced to run out there over the next six months."

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Peter Gammons goes through a list of 10 things that caught his eye on Monday:

Ten things for a Monday morning:

1. The Cubs' Kevin Gregg/Carlos Marmol closer situation is not set in stone. "I think it's the right way to start the season and take some pressure off Marmol," Lou Piniella said Sunday. "We'll see how it evolves."

Piniella has Aaron Heilman, and hasn't decided whether to keep Jeff Samardzija as "a real good fourth bullpen alternative" or send him to the minors and avoid putting Angel Guzman on waivers, as he is out of options.

Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild is encouraged that Rich Harden can hold up in the rotation. "He's really worked hard, made some changes in his delivery, and I'm hopeful he'll make it through the year," Rothschild said. "He's a special guy."

2. Bud Selig has given MLB security an open checkbook to try to clean up the messes in the Dominican Republic and other foreign countries. MLB has officers in the Dominican right now, is cooperating with the FBI in at least two major scandals involving the Chicago White Sox and the Washington Nationals and is trying to deal with falsified birth records, kickback scandals and the performance-enhancing drug smuggling that avoided security -- and the Mitchell Report -- until recently.

One MLB official estimates that there are more than 70 young players who are being detained in the Dominican and other countries, and one club official says it's his understanding "there are some big so-called prospects on the list." If the players are found to have falsified names, birthdates and other information, they may not get through immigration. "It's no different from any other immigration situation when it comes to American jobs," one GM said.

The commissioner's office became heavily involved when White Sox personnel director Dave Wilder was caught smuggling cash into the U.S., and the resulting investigation revealed a major scandal involving kickbacks of cash that was supposed to be bonus money paid to teenage prospects. According to security sources, White Sox GM Ken Williams was "distraught" by what happened and opened every computer and book to MLB. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf was outraged because of what had been done to the poor kids in Latin countries, and reportedly has been a driving force in cleaning up the mess, as Selig has been.

"There's a lot that may come down," one source said. "And it could come to a head in the next month."

One of MLB's brightest and toughest security men is spending a month in the Dominican Republic working on several fronts. As for the federal government, threats of jail time remain.

3. Indians manager Eric Wedge will use Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach "according to situations. Each will catch two or three days apiece, although Victor may play more first base because he's so good there. Kelly will catch Opening Day with Victor at first because I want Shoppach catching Cliff Lee."

The Indians rave about the left side of their infield. Piniella insists third base is Mark DeRosa's best position and being allowed to settle there may make the former Cub an All-Star. Wedge says, "There is no more consistent player than Jhonny Peralta. He's the same every day. Throws are perfect, in the same place every time. He has no anxiety."

Peralta also leads all AL shortstops in homers the past three seasons with 57.

For the rest of this entry from Peter Gammons' blog, click here.


Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Buster Olney

BBTN MINUTE: BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYERS

BASEBALL TONIGHT MAILBAG

Inside EdgeHave a question for one of our analysts? Ever wonder what it's like behind the scenes at "Baseball Tonight"? Curious about a player or a team or an executive?

Well, ask away here, at the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse mailbag. Each week, our experts will answer your questions.

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
John Lackey• While the Angels will start the season without righty John Lackey, the team was "encouraged" by the MRI results on Lackey's right elbow and now hopes to have the pitcher back by the end of April or early May, Angels GM Tony Reagins said.
WORST
Cole Hamels• The Phillies made it official on Monday: The night they begin their title defense, they will do so without Cole Hamels on the mound. Hamels officially was ruled out as the Opening Day starter, with the job instead falling to Brett Myers. Instead of pitching Sunday night against the Braves in the opener, Hamels will work an exhibition game Saturday and could make his regular-season debut April 10 against Colorado.

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight he looks at Brett Myers, who will start Opening Day for the Phillies, and wonders exactly which Brett Myers will appear:

Brett Myers (past two seasons as a starter)
Start 2006 2008
First 12 starts
4-2
2.90 ERA
First 17 starts
3-9
5.84 ERA
Finish 2006 2008
Last 19 starts
8-5
4.60 ERA
Last 13 starts
7-4
3.06 ERA

ANGELS ENCOURAGED BY LACKEY

NUMBERS TO KNOW

The Angels will be without, for at least a few weeks this season, two of their best pitchers from a year ago in Ervin Santana and John Lackey. Lackey will start the season on the disabled list, though the Angels did say Monday they are "encouraged" by Lackey's MRI results and expect him to return to the mound in late April or early May. The Angels hope to have Santana back around the same time.

Santana/Lackey
(Rank on Angels' starting staff in 2008)
2008 Santana Rank Lackey Rank
ERA 3.49 2 3.75 3
OBP against .283 1 .313 T-3
K pct. of PAs 23.9 1 19.3 3
K-BB pct. of PAs 5.2 1 5.9 2

While Joe Saunders finished ahead of Lackey in ERA and OBP, Saunders' success was reliant on his fielders making plays behind him, as he posted an extremely low BABIP (.269, league average last season was .300). Lackey and Santana are more likely to repeat their successes because of their low walk rates and high strikeout rates.

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY PREVIEW: SPRING RISERS

FANTASY BASEBALL

Fantasy Have questions about how to build your roster? Whom you should choose early or late in your draft? Which catcher you want? We have the answers. Draft Kit

BASEBALL ISSUES IN THE DOMINICAN

ESPN INSIDER

Insider Which players are being paid too much? Which aren't getting what they are worth? BP Daily offers its take. BP Daily

For more, check out ESPN Insider.