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If you're a big baseball fan - as I am - then you know that a team's leadoff hitter plays a determinative role in the club's success or failure.
Great leadoff hitters - guys like Rickey Henderson, Richie Ashburn, and Ichiro Suzuki - are terrific "table-setters." As the first hitter to the plate, their job is to "get something started" by getting on base in any way possible - and to serve as an emotional catalyst for the rest of the team... and for the fans in the stadium.
Some of baseball's all-time best leadoff guys were masters at igniting momentum - my favorite old-timer was Eddie Stanky, an infielder and leadoff hitter whose nickname - "The Brat" - reflected his penchant for momentum-swinging plays.
Branch Rickey, the baseball executive who broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, once took note of Stanky's "spark plug" qualities by observing: "He can't run, he can't hit, and he can't throw. But if there's a way to beat the other team, he'll find it."
In 1951, in a World Series game between the New York Giants and New York Yankees, Stanky (who was then a Giant) tried to steal second base and realized Bronx Bombers shortstop Phil Rizzuto was already waiting to apply the tag. But instead of accepting the out, Stanky (a former soccer player) kicked out with his right foot as he slid and punted the ball out of Rizzuto's mitt and into centerfield.
The Brat popped up and skittered to third. The error led to five unearned runs and a Giants victory that day.
Rizzuto never forgave Stanky for the play.
So while a walk, hit, or even an occasional homer by the leadoff hitter can ignite a team and even fire up the fans in the stands, the opposite is also true.
And of course a poor showing - like a three-pitch strikeout - by the leadoff hitter can hang over a game like a depressingly thick fog. It has a deleterious effect on the other hitters - and can take the fans right of the game.
About the Author
Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.