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A cautionary tale

I wasn’t drunk in our last entry, I was half-asleep. I had just completely erased Nick the Greenstick from my mind. Won’t happen again. He won’t let me, as I spend the season counting up the walks. Yeesh. Egg … On my face … Running … That’s another shirt ruined.

Why is it I only get comments when I screw up?

On Monday, Jesus Montero hit some monster shots in batting practice, making like Roy Hobbs in "The Natural," or Bama Rowell in real life, whichever you prefer. Today, we can read a very similar story about the Braves'Jason Heyward, the consensus best prospect in baseball. As good as Montero is, as ready as he may be quite soon, we need to recognize that these stories are a long-time staple of spring training coverage.

One of my favorite such stories, which I will loosely paraphrase here, goes back to the 1930s and an outfield prospect named Tom Winsett. Winsett was an eternal prospect, a guy who got repeat cups of coffee over several years, starting when he was 20. In the Minors he hit for terrific averages and had real power. The Red Sox gave him three brief looks but ultimately let him go to Branch Rickey’s Cardinals. Rickey sent him down to the Minors and got some terrific numbers -- .356 with a .673 slugging percentage and .348 with a .617 slugging percentage. In 1935, in the midst of a season in which Winsett hit .354 with 50 home runs for Columbus, Rickey dealt him to the Dodgers for a bag of spare parts (the best of whom, pitcher Dutch Leonard, was injured at the time).

The Dodgers, then a lost franchise, were thrilled to get Winsett. He gets to Brooklyn and puts on a show in batting practice. Balls are flying out of that tiny park at such a rate there might not be enough left for the game. Rickey is asked how the heck he could trade this … this … Hercules? Rickey quietly instructed his interlocutor to closely observe Winsett’s swing. Yes, it’s powerful, says Rickey, but look how it goes through the strike zone. He always swings at exactly the same place. His swing has only one plane. "Woe to the pitcher" Rickey said, who happens to put the ball in the place where Winsett’s bat functions, but just about anywhere else is perfectly safe.

Rickey was right, as he was about so many things. Winsett stuck with the Dodgers for a year, did very little, and was finished in the Majors at 28 with career rates of .237/.325/.341. He played in the Minors through 1942, finishing with a .310 average and .554 slugging percentage. He obviously had talent, but for whatever reason was incapable of making the adjustments that would have made him a star, perhaps even a Hall of Famer.

Normally this doesn’t happen. Most of the time hitters do what they’re supposed to, and a solid Minor League hitter proves to be a solid Major League hitter. I’m not suggesting that Winsett equals Montero. This is more of a cautionary note: Don’t overrate meaningless events. Don’t applaud feats of strength that have little application to real performance. Enjoy it for what it is, a sideshow, and restrain your enthusiasm.


If you haven’t seen the news by now, I cannot be more excited to be sharing with Jack Curry, formerly of The New York Times. Not only is he a fine writer but a class act and wears a mean sports jacket. The Grey Lady’s loss is our gain. Having shared the stage with him a half-dozen or so times on YES, I look forward to both his writing and his on-air analysis of the Major League scene.

• First chat of the week done. Here’s the transcript; lots of Yankees talk. For no reason at all, we also bantered a bit about the films of John Wayne.

• I’ll be back here doing the same on Friday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Bring questions … And a fondue set.

• For those in the New York-New Jersey area, I’ll be talking baseball in person on Sunday and Monday, along with my BP colleagues Kevin Goldstein, Christina Kahrl and Jay Jaffe. On Sunday at 3 p.m. we’ll be at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State University in New Jersey (check out their site for directions). If you haven’t been there, it’s a great place to see Yankees memorabilia, as well as fat, bearded sportswriters in captivity.

• On Monday, we four will be in New York City at the Barnes & Noble at 18th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, beginning at 6 p.m. I hope to see you on one or both occasions.

Wholesome Reading has been updated, and not only that, but I sweep out all the Viagra-spam several times a day. Warning! Politics!