Russell Martin of the New York Yankees is good catcher. He was once a great catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers but now, as the ravages of catching take their toll, he is merely adequate. His time draped in the tools of ignorance doom his body to lessened bat speed and too many creaks to mention. Once a patient player capable of hitting for a high average and even stealing some bases, he now just walks a little bit and hits Yankee Stadium home runs.
As a league-average catcher with a strong defensive reputation who also happens to be a free agent, Russ Martin is looking for a four-year deal worth close to $40 million. He might not get that but it won’t be far off.
All that changes when Russell Martin dons the red of his home nation of Canada. Not only does he change his name to Jussell he also ceases to be a stalwart behind the plate. In Russell Martin’s mind, Russell Martin is a shortstop just yearning for his chance.
The Canadian World Baseball Classic entry can expect a boost when many of the eligible big leaguers join its ranks this spring. While the WBC roster has unusual depth behind the plate, with Martin and Oakland Athletic George Kottaras ready to go, the squad lacks a legitimate shortstop. Enter Martin, who insists he can step in and play the most difficult position on the diamond because, c’mon, how hard can it be?
But shortstop is the infield position Martin actually thinks he can play best. He grew up in Montreal idolizing Ozzie Smith and, during batting practice the past two seasons, he would oftten take ground balls at short along with Derek Jeter and the other Yankees infielders.
“It’s my most natural position,” Martin said.
Well yes, Russell. Taking ground balls beside Derek Jeter would make anyone think they have what it takes. And, despite your six innings at second and/or third base over the last two years, you probably don’t have what it takes to play a whole game a short.
If you, Mr. Martin, are concerned about producing offense and catching for four years from some new employer, how many double plays do you think your newly insured yet highly-paid knees should turn? “Less dangerous” than catcher as it might be, it opens so many new avenues for injury that “taking grounders with Jeter for 10 minutes” doesn’t exactly introduce.
As a Canadian, I salute Martin’s willingness to step outside the box and do what is required to help his home and native land. That said: don’t do anything crazy, Russell. I know you might hit like one these days but sir, honestly, you are nobody’s shortstop. Like the drummer who swears he should totally sing a song on the next album, you’re best served back there out of sight.