Yesterday we selected as one of our Power Line Picks a Weekly Standard article in which Lee Smith argued that Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons may be the best defensive player at his position in baseball history. Smith is one of my favorite analysts of the Middle East, but I had no idea he’s the expert on baseball that his piece about Simmons revealed.
Smith’s piece was not only well-argued, it was an excellent discussion of the shortstop position. He also included plenty for the baseball historian to love. There was even a reference to Terry Turner, known to a few of us (nearly 100 years after he played his last game) as the double-play partner of Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie.
So what happened yesterday? Playing for the Braves against our Washington Nationals, Simmons committed an error on a routine ground ball in the ninth inning. With that error, Jeff Kobernus scored the tying run (he would have scored even if Simmons had made the play) and Anthony Rendon scored the winner. Game over. Nats 6, Braves 5.
With the victory, and a 4-0 win in the second game of the double-header, the Nats keep alive their very slight hope of making the playoffs. And the Braves will not clinch the NL East crown until they leave Washington.
Simmons’ error does nothing to detract from the claim that he is the best fielding shortstop in the game today, and potentially the best ever. It just highlights the reality I see when I pore over old box scores and play-by-plays — baseball is a demanding, quirky game, and even its very best practitioners make more basic, game-changing mistakes than you might expect.