By Griffin Olah
October 13, 2019
Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
Game 1 of the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves was entering the bottom of the 7th with the Braves up 3-1. The first game is always among the most important, and the Braves had the ability to add to their lead. Ronald Acuna Jr., the Braves’ young phenom and leadoff hitter, stepped into the box. He worked the count to 2-2, and then unleashed a long fly ball off of Cardinals pitcher John Brebbia. The ball flew down the right field line, nearly leaving the confines of Sun Trust Park and extending the Braves’ lead. However, it came up short and careened off the wall.
After watching the ball, Braves fans willing it to stay in the air and go over the wall, and seeing it land just short of a home run, attention turned to the bases. There, Ronald Acuna Jr was inexplicably on first base. After launching a ball 331 feet down the right field line, Acuna was stranded at first. He moved to second on a groundout by 2B Ozzie Albies, and was then doubled up after a Josh Donaldson lineout.
It’s easy to see that something went wrong on the base paths with Acuna, though. While the double play was bad, it was almost inevitable. The real issue was his single to lead off. Acuna hyped up his long ball, as usual, but this time it came up short of the fence. Acuna stood in the box, his bat raised to the sky in celebration, for two seconds as the ball was in the air. After that, he jogged to first only for Cardinals OF Dexter Fowler to play the ball off the wall and fire it into the infield. If Acuna came running out of the box as soon as the ball left his bat, he would have easily made it to second. He would have then moved to third on Albies’s groundout and the double play would have been much more difficult to turn. Acuna could have scored.
After the game, the Braves were understandably frustrated. Veteran 1B Freddie Freeman pointed back to when Acuna was benched in August for not running out a foul ball, believing you only need to “have that conversation once” (West, 2019, para. 4). Albies believes that Acuna “probably scores that inning if he’s on second” (West, 2019, para. 8). Acuna was a problem for the Braves in that moment, but what about the rest of baseball?
Media attention on Game 1 revolved around Acuna’s lack of hustle, much like it did last season with Manny Machado’s lack of hustle and possibly dirty play in the playoffs for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This time, however, the actions of Acuna are perceived as more representative of the entire league. New outlets point to Acuna’s hustle as evidence that “the game has changed” into something selfish and immodest (Mushnick, 2019, para. 10). While people in the game – GM’s, managers, coaches, players – have excused the actions of players like Machado and Acuna, the media feeds off of it and turns it into something it’s not. Is Acuna not hustling a problem? Sure, he might have cost the Braves a key run that would have factored heavily in the 7-6 loss. Is Acuna’s hustle emblematic of baseball as a whole falling into bat flipping ruin? No, it probably isn’t.
The traditional media – old players, managers, and GMs sitting in broadcast booths – like to talk about how baseball as a whole is changing into some unwatchable mess of strikeouts, home runs and bat flips. Former pitcher Goose Gossage said of the sport “it’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable,” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 7). Hit king Pete Rose said the game has turned into a “home run derby every night” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 14). And former manager Lou Piniella derided the shift, claiming he “won a few games without having to shift” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 14). While that is up for debate and interpretation of each person watching the game, Acuna’s hustle is not some overarching issue like the media is making it out to be. It’s a key mistake in an important playoff game, but not some egregious pattern of error that needs to be corrected. With this miscue, the focus on Ronald Acuna Jr. has shifted from his near 40-40 season and his 1.579 OPS in the Postseason so far to his inability to hustle and his selfishness (“Baseball Reference,” 2019). Acuna put together an amazing season, shouldn’t the focus be on marketing one of the league’s best young players instead of his relatively small faults?
Baseball Reference. (2019). Ronald Acuna Jr. Stats. Baseball Reference. Retrieved from https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/acunaro01.shtml
Mushnick, P. (2019, October 5). Braves’ Ronald Acuna is doing his part in ruining baseball. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/10/05/braves-ronald-acuna-is-doing-his-part-in-ruining-baseball/
Nightengale, B. (2019, August 19). MLB lifers decry the state of the modern baseball: ‘Unwatchable’. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2019/08/19/mlb-baseballs-old-timers-decry-state-modern-game/2047025001/.
West, J. (2019, October 4). Braves critical of Ronald Acuna Jr. for lack of hustle in NLDS Game 1 loss. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved from https://www.si.com/mlb/2019/10/04/ronald-acuna-jr-lack-hustle-braves