By Jerry Grimm
He's sure-handed, quick, adroit, supple, agile, and acrobatic and he takes chances. He's got to be able to throw on the run, scoop the ball up barehanded, and make good throws each time. The hard hit grounder is his main staple and sometimes his range demands that he cover everything from 2nd base to a few feet from the 3rd sacker. If he can't leap, skip, hop, or occasionally venture a "dive" for the ball he's not what a team likes to see covering the diamond's defensive middle. This guy has to be the steadiest glove out there, as he fields more chances than any other infielder. If his arm isn't one that has been taken out of the gun-rack, a big hole will begin to open up on the left side of the infield. Hitters will begin to pump the ball deliberately towards the "hole" with lessening fear. Constancy is the principle thing we want from him, with just enough pep to get some respect.
A good fielding shortstop can fowl up a good hitter's pull swing. Without bragging, this crackerjack infielder must be the best in everything that has to do with infielding.
It is expected that all of the "routine" grounders that come into his vicinity be gobbled up and dealt with in the smartest way. Many times during a game, he's got to think, think, think. Often there arises various options for him, such as where to throw the ball once he gets it. In the end, his decisions better be right. He controls the defensive middle of the diamond and has to be able to communicate very well with the 2nd sacker, or precious "lost outs" will begin to pile up. Being "Mr. Steady" is the reason he's playing in the active spot that he is and although he may be allowed some weaknesses in one or two of the "trick" talents of his trade, he must always be the best all-round glove man. Pressure is the main course served to this defensive glutton, as it is understood that at least half of the game's ground balls will be coming his way and served up in ALL of the varieties that can possibly be rolled out there. What is it like, being required to be the most steady, the most spectacular, the most dependable and the best quirk-handler of all out there? He is the guy that likes the pressure of the game and can momentarily forget any of his own fleeting errors, proving inning after inning that, "You better not hit it this way!"
One of his more incredible duties is chasing down the deep pop-up on the left side, just out of the infield. This requires him to scramble backwards and sideways, twisting and running to the ball without hesitation while not being able to see the ball well. This hit can turn into a double for the hitter, or a d.p. for the defense, depending on the ability of the shortstop. More commonly he is faced with the screaming liner, either trying to get through the hole to his right, or headed up the middle. Perhaps he should layout for this one and often you will find someone that does. At least he was able to stop any runners from advancing-and in our league we'll take that! Another version of his nightmare play is the screamer that short-hops in front of him at about 50 mph. It's a pleasure to watch him execute an innate smoothness which allows him to scoop up the ball (letting it do the work) and then righting his feet, peg it over for the out.
The duty of being the main cut-off man for balls hit to the outfield, is a huge task. He must run out far enough to be in a reasonable position to get the throw from his outfielder; then he must turn on a dime and know where he is going to throw the ball. Without hesitation, he must gun it on a line to the target. We have all seen many extra runs scored because this play broke down somewhere along the way. He must not only have a great arm but also excellent softball instincts to guide him into the right play.
What kind of a guy is he, what's his temperament like usually? Let's put it this way, have you ever seen a "quiet" S.S.? Along with all of the normal required energy needed to perform his duties, often comes an overflowing zest for the game in general. He leads, because he has to be in on everything happening in the infield; he talks and chatters because he has to keep his mind totally in mesh with the present game; he encourages his teammates in the dugout because he wants to win. This kind of guy can make or break a ballclub. He naturally brings his enthusiasm to the plate with him and even if he isn't in the top four hitters, he will always be working on it. Just as in hardball, if he is an exceptional fielder, the club will gladly carry him and bat him in the bottom part of the order. Almost without exclusion, this exceptional position player will give you lots of hustle, either fielding, batting, or running.
The final word on this sparkplug is that he has to have a bit of the gambler in him_even be a little bit impish and daring_he wants to do something about it, make the big play, stop the attack, find a way! He is the true leader and the game won't let him forget it!