The Unbearable Rightness of Being A Leadoff Man

Thursday, February 20 2003 @ 01:10 AM EST

Contributed by: Mick Doherty

What's the going rate for a good leadoff hitter these days? How about $252 million?

Only one name is associated with that particular contract number, so you've probably already jumped ahead in this little logic game and will be a little less surprised than I was to read that The Dallas Morning News is reporting that The Buck Stops Here Showalter "is toying with the notion of batting Alex Rodriguez [in the leadoff spot]."

This comes on the heels of recent news that, as Unkle Robby Neyer put it this week, "Bob Boone, the Boy Genius himself, is considering using Adam Dunn as a leadoff man."

What in the world of Omar Moreno is the world of traditional baseball thinking coming to? Well, think about it for a minute ...

... just what is wrong with having your best hitter lead off and maybe pick up an extra 30-40 plate appearances a season?

Especially a team like the Rangers, which has no "natural" leadoff hitter now that Frank Catalanotto has departed for Toronto, but is loaded with potential RBI guys ... why not A-Rod first? (And why, all of a sudden, has Little Cat moved from being seen as an "unorthodox choice" to lead off two years ago to being one of the few "legitimate leadoff hitters" in the game?

Dunn is even a less orthodox choice, but Neyer's breakdown is a fair one, and unless you buy Unkle Robby's conclusion that 87-year-old Barry Larkin should lead off for the Redlegs, Dunn really might be a good choice.

But consider the reality -- make that plural, realities -- of the situation ...

- Fans in The Queen City and The Metroplex would howl if their perceived superstar sluggers were "reduced" to being leadoff men.
- There would be a media circus; how often would Alex have to reassure Evan Grant and Peter Gammons that he was "OK" with leading off?
- The players themselves would be a hard sell; there is no question -- none -- that Derek Jeter would be the best possible choice to lead off for the Yankees right now. He doesn't want to. Why make the de facto team captain unhappy?

This last point would particularly be a problem with Dunn, by all accounts a good guy, whose agent would be whispering, "Adam, buddy, arbitration in '05. You go in there with 40 homers and 87 RBI and nobody gonna care if you lead the leagues in runs scored. It's all about the bee-eyes, bay-bee." A-Rod isn't really concerned about playing for contract numbers, natch.

I'm guessing this topic has been covered extensively elsewhere, but it's been percolating for a few days and I thought it was worth tossing out -- er,make that "tossing around" -- with a couple of questions:

- Where are other resources looking at best-possible scenarios for teams and their current or recent leadoff situations? I know there was talk two years ago about Bonds hitting leadoff to get a few extra at-bats while chasing the home run record, if necessary, and I think that led to some idle speculation about how just maybe Barry Bonds would be more valuable to the Giants if he led off all the time.

(I happen to disagree with that ... call me traditionalist, but leave Bonds and A-Rod and Garciaparra in power/production slots -- specifically the three-hole, where they are assured of hitting in the first inning every day anyway.)

- What teams out there are totally missing the boat on leadoff options? Pick a team or three and review their current leadoff man (or most likely leadoff man) and other options. Remember to take into account all the player/fan/media backlash issues. Don't pick the Blue Jays; their best leadoff man is Catalanotto, and it's not even close (anyone taking the bait?) -- but he probably won't lead off, as I understand it. Don't pick Detroit because their best leadoff hitter is their manager.

Where would Rickey Henderson be a good fit?
What about Dunn? And A-Rod?
Where have you gone, Omar Moreno?