Baseball: Leading Men are Hard to Find
Rickey Henderson is 50, and although he is scheduled Sunday to be inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame, he still believes he can play.
Considering the dearth of leadoff hitters these days, says Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, "He just may be right."
The Boston Red Sox are the latest contender to experiment with a new leadoff hitter, dropping J.D. Drew and putting Jacoby Ellsbury back atop the lineup, where he spent most of April and May.
"It's like whoever we put there seems to struggle," says Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I try not to make a big deal out of it because that will only make it more difficult."
The Red Sox have the fifth-worst production from their leadoff spot in baseball. They entered Tuesday with a .658 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), the lowest of any spot in their lineup. The Philadelphia Phillies are the only contender with worse leadoff numbers. The Phillies not only have a .615 OPS, but their .223 batting average is nearly 20 points lower than Cincinnati's .241, which ranks 29th in baseball.
"We try to find guys," Jocketty says, "but there are so few of them."
The two best leadoff teams by OPS are the New York Yankees (.874 OPS) with Derek Jeter and Seattle Mariners (.872) with Ichiro Suzuki.
"I don't think leadoff hitters really know their job," Henderson says. "Everybody (says), 'I want to be a power hitter. I want to be an average hitter. I want to be an RBI guy.' So everybody's trying to do it all in one, and they wonder what their jobs really are."
For a list of each team's leadoff hitters this season, go to baseball.usatoday.com