When my grandson was two-years-old he was clear on what major league baseball player was his favorite. It was Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson. As the doting grandfather I am, before he attended his first baseball game I bought him a Donaldson jersey.
Just after his fourth birthday, the A’s traded Donalson to the Toronto Blue Jays, and for his next birthday I gave him a Donaldson jersey from the Jays in a little bigger size. For Christmas in 2018, I gave Mickey a Cleveland Indians jersey that was a couple sizes larger when Donalson joined them. Last year, for his ninth birthday, Mickey had moved up to a larger Minnesota Twins jersey for a gift once Donaldson moved onto his fourth professional team.
This week, for my first visit to a stadium in two years, the A’s were playing the Twins and Donalson had a great day, hitting a home run, scoring three runs and collecting four hits. But, he had made the last out in the ninth inning, so when the A’s tied the game in the bottom of the ninth he was placed at second base to start the tenth inning. During the pandemic, Major League Baseball has adopted the rule of beginning extra innings with a runner at second base and that player is the one that made the final out the previous inning.
Instead of Donaldson at second base when the tenth inning began, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli put in a pinch runner. Now, he would justify it later in postgame interviews as the way he works to best assure getting that runner home from second. I was second guessing him from the stands as it happened, thinking that taking one of your hottest hitters out of the game might be a problem when his turn in the batting order came around again if the game went beyond the tenth inning.
In fact, the move was an error for another reason.
First, you didn’t need speed to score from second that inning, as Byron Buxton blasted a majestic drive deep into the left field stands for a two run homer. The slowest player in the league would have scored from second on a home run. But, while Baldelli was guarding against a close play at the plate going his way with more speed at second, the move ended up most likely costing his team the game.
The twins took their two run lead into the bottom of the tenth and had two outs when a bouncer to second base appeared to end the game in their favor. But, because of the pinch running move, Baldelli had shifted his starting second baseman to Donaldson’s position at third and had backup Allen Balnkenhorn, who had pinched run for Donaldson, take over for Luis Arraez at second base.
On the scoreboard the mishandled grounder was posted as the Twins first error of the inning, while I thought if you count the manager it was the second. Still, the Twins led by a run with the bases still loaded when a grounder to third should have ended the game in Minnesota’s favor. But, Donaldson wasn’t there to field the routine grounder, and Arraez airmailed the chance over the first baseman’s reach, the errant throw would have cleared King Kong’s reach. The Twins ended the game on the wrong side of a 13-12 score while surrendering three runs in the bottom of the tenth without the A’s getting a hit.
Now, in baseball, when teams play 162 regular season games, a mistake that cost your team a win can get lost in the mix. But, make a mistake from the sideline in football that costs your team a game, and the ramifications can severely cripple a season’s work.
Now, multiply that tenfold when a team makes a mistake in the NFL draft.
Every team except the New Patriots made a mistake by allowing six rounds of selections to go by without taking Tom Brady in the 2000 Draft. Every team had a shot at Joe Montana before the San Francisco 49ers selected him in the third round in 1979.
“This is my Super Bowl,” Oakland Raiders Player Personnel Director Ron Wolf told me before the 1974 draft.
Moves made on draft day are the first step in getting to a Super Bowl, perhaps, as in the case of the Patriots and 49ers, multiple Super Bowls.
For me and Mickey, if Donaldson goes to a new team, I just need to purchase a larger size jersey. For an NFL team, a mistake in the draft can lead to years of missed opportunities.