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Down The Line

September 30, 2007|Bill Shaikin

How to preserve your best player

Craig Biggio retires today, and we leave him with this question: If you had remained a catcher, could you have reached 3,000 hits?

"No chance," Biggio said. "I would have survived four or five years."

That brings us to Russell Martin. Biggio came up as a catcher, but he hit so well and stole so many bases that the Astros moved him to second base to maximize his offensive abilities. He played three seasons at catcher.

"By the time I got to my last at-bat, I was tired," Biggio said. "I didn't have the same energy I had at the beginning of the game. It's such a grind. It's like being an offensive lineman, except you don't get six days off between games."

Martin has caught 100 more innings than any other major league catcher this season, his first full season in the majors. He is batting .295 with 18 home runs and 21 stolen bases, but his batting average and slugging percentage have declined significantly in the second half. His stole 16 of 19 bases in the first half, five of 11 in the second half.

If he is important enough to the offense to bat third for a good chunk of the season, should the Dodgers move him back to third base, his original position? As the chart elsewhere on this page shows, they could use a third baseman.

"Naturally, I'm an infielder," Martin said. "That's why I pick balls. That's why I've got quick hands. I could play infield. But I like catching. There's more involved. I'm calling the game. I think, if I would move anywhere else now, I'd be kind of bored, almost."

No worries, at least not in the near future. The Dodgers have no plans to move their All-Star catcher, General Manager Ned Colletti said.

"He looks like he keeps himself in good shape," Biggio said of Martin. "I love the way he plays the game. He cares about his pitchers. He can hit. He can run. He's got all the tools to do that for a long period of time.

"There's not a lot of good catching right now. They're hard to find. It's such a valuable commodity. It's pretty special."

Martin is considered an elite defensive catcher, where Biggio was not. The Dodgers have a huge competitive advantage with Martin behind the plate, because he is superior offensively and defensively to just about every other catcher.

But they ought not to squander that advantage by playing him so many innings next year.

"I enjoy playing anywhere on the field," Martin said. "But catching, I'm getting good at it. It's something I had to work hard to get good at. And, now that I feel comfortable, I don't really feel it's going to tax my body in the next couple of years. Maybe down the road, I might think about doing something else. That's a long ways away."

762 home runs and looking for a job

Jeff Borris, the agent for Barry Bonds, laughed off the question of whether his client might not find work next season.

"Why wouldn't he be in a major league uniform?" Borris said. "He's going to get hit by a bus in the off-season?"

Bonds would like the 65 hits he needs for 3,000, and another shot at the World Series. He hit 28 home runs and led the NL in on-base plus slugging percentage, but he'll have to convince prospective employers he can function outside a Giants environment in which he could dictate when he played and when he practiced.

And three last items for the year

Tip of the cap to major league officials for suspending umpire Mike Winters. Too many umps these days forget to listen, nod and walk away. . . . White Sox GM Ken Williams on keeping intact much of a team that won the World Series two years ago but flirted with last place this year: "I've seen what last-place teams look like. This is not what they look like.". . . Happy 100th birthday, Gene Autry.

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