MOST JOURNALISTS who have been arts critics or columnists will admit to being wrong on occasion about a film, a show, a book or performer they once championed or raked but with the passing of time have reassessed, for better or worse. Not so sportswriters, who amazingly are never wrong about anything or certainly never admit it. (Skip Bayless, for some reason, comes to mind.) Latest case in point in my local sports universe, now based in Dallas again after 30 years in L.A., is one of the guys who covers the Texas Rangers for the Dallas Morning News, Evan Grant.
At the beginning of the 2015 season, Mr. Grant wrote a column making the case that, statistically, Elvis Andrus was the worst shortstop in the major leagues. Ouch. No matter how much money you make, that’s got to sting. It recalled the ignominy once heaped upon that other Ranger shortstop, Mario Mendoza, who in late ’70s was presumed to have a batting average below .200, thus giving rise to the insult “below the Mendoza line.” Except that it wasn’t true. Mendoza was a light hitter but finished his career with a lifetime average of .215.
As for Andrus, Mr. Grant’s mean-spirited measurement might have made eye-catching copy, but it proved to be premature. Andrus, at 26, hit .258 last season while playing in 160 games, and, yes, made 22 errors, not in gold glove range. (A-Rod made as many as 24 twice, for the Mariners and Yankees.) In any case, he finished the season as MLB’s 7th best shortstop according to ESPN’s Rotisserie League numbers — out of 30. He was 8th and 11th in two other rankings I saw. The Rangers won the West and made the playoffs.
BUT IN THAT UGLY Game 5 that decided the division series against Toronto, ending the Rangers’ season, Andrus did commit two unlucky bobbles in the seventh inning that invited Mr. Grant to torch him again, not only for the loss but the loss of the series. A heat-of-the moment judgment that I’m sure Skip Bayless shared if he was near a microphone and that reflected Joe Six Pack’s instant POV, but one that conveniently ignored the Rangers’ poor performance in earlier games, particularly the quick collapse of sore-arm starting pitcher Derek Holland in Game 4.
After winning the first two on the road in a best-of-five, the Rangers essentially lost the series by dropping the next two at home in Arlington. They should never have had to return to the Skydome. But scapegoating one player is easier and apparently more gratifying than reviewing the full dossier. Welcome to the sports page and sports talk radio, where Attention Deficit Disorder is a permanent condition.
BILL BUCKNER, a terrific baseball player demonized for decades for a single miscue in the 1986 World Series, knows this all too well. Andrus, who makes a lot more money than Buckner ever did in that pre-monster-salary era, didn’t need our sympathy in the big scheme of things. Even if he had been traded in the off-season, as presumably would have pleased Mr. Grant, Andrus would have been pulling down 10 or 15 million per annum in a new uniform.
But, hey, as the Rangers ready themselves for the postseason once again after winning 95 games and the AL West, Mr. Grant just the other day wrote a column celebrating the career year Andrus had — yes! Well, hard not to notice that in 2016 Andrus hit .302, some key homers, etc. Guess what? No mention of blaming him for last year’s loss to the Blue Jays or two weeks into the season going out of his way to call him the worst SS in the majors. Down the memory hole! I got the impression Mr. Grant even thinks Andrus is pretty good now. But the playoffs are here. Tomorrow’s another day and another column.