Goldman: No one is looking for the next Rudy Law

From SABR member Steven Goldman at The National Pastime Museum on September 1, 2016:

Ten years ago, I was speaking with a colleague about Yankees outfield prospect Brett Gardner, whom I had just interviewed at Double-A Trenton. Having seen Gardner’s speed and patience in action, I was excited to see him climb the ladder to the Major Leagues. My colleague, who was an excellent judge of horseflesh (who would eventually be employed in a talent-evaluating capacity by a Major League team), told me to temper my expectations. “Right now, he looks like the next Rudy Law,” he said. “And no one is looking for the next Rudy Law.”

For those who missed early 1980s baseball, Rudy Law was very briefly the center fielder and leadoff man for a transiently successful edition of the White Sox, the Tony La Russa–helmed “Winning Ugly” team of 1983. Signed by the Dodgers as a nondrafted free agent in 1975, Law slap-hit his way to the Majors with high averages (.334 career in the minors) and up to 79 stolen bases a year. He brought the speed with him to the Majors, but left about 60 points of batting average in the sticks. A player hitting a soft .300 with speed is playable; a player hitting a soft .260 with speed less so. He also didn’t bring all the defensive benefits that a speedy player normally brings, in part because Law’s arm was widely rated among the worst in the Majors.


In comparing Gardner to Law, my colleague was citing the latter as emblematic of the kind of singles-hitting speed player who could get regular work as an outfielder in the couple of decades before the game’s late-1990s power explosion but couldn’t after. Some of these were very good despite their lack of power, or at least provided value. Others were next to useless except for their speed. The one thing they all had in common was how infrequently they hit the ball over the wall.

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Originally published: September 2, 2016. Last Updated: September 2, 2016.