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‘Lollygag your way down to first…'

Hustling is not some “old school” axiom, meant to be ignored in today's me-first sports world.

The word has other, less attractive definitions. In baseball, though, it means going all-out, all the time; giving full effort.

If Major League Baseball players hustle, it helps their teams win. It's as simple as that.

An example. It somehow became fashionable among some players within the past few decades to stand at the plate and admire one's home runs. That never happened before the 1970s, because if you tried it, the next time you batted, the pitcher would knock you down.

Now, though, pitchers can't obviously throw at hitters without having umpires throw them out of the game. Opponents don't like such showboating, but there is little they can do about it.

The best example of this is my old buddy, Barry Bonds, who would drill a ball toward the distant fences, stand and watch it fly.

The problem was, two or three times a season, those shots would hit the fences instead of passing over them, and Bonds, suddenly forced to run, would be thrown out at second on what should have been an easy double.

And he never seemed to learn. One would have expected his various managers to have pointed this out to him in private, but if they did, he ignored their suggestions. And since none had the guts to bench him, it happened over and over again. Bonds' posing was hurting his team.

Things appear to be changing, and for the better.

Early this season, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel benched star shortstop Jimmy Rollins for not running hard on a pop fly that the fielder wound up dropping.

Why should he run as fast as he can on an apparent out? Because fielders are human and fallible, and occasionally drop fly balls or popups, or temporarily bobble ground balls before regaining control and throwing.

If you happen to be jogging down to first, you're out anyway on the grounders, and a base or an out may be lost on the flies.

More recently, Manuel benched Rollins again when he showed up late at the ballpark prior to a game.

Manuel, who once managed the Charlotte Knights to a title, was widely applauded for his actions. Since then, Tampa Bay manager Joe Madden has benched B.J. Upton not once but twice for not running hard on grounders.

Upton didn't complain about his first benching, which was good. But when he did it again—allowing a double play to be turned—he said he had thought there were two outs in the inning and the force at second base had ended it.

The excuse may have been worse than the laxity that provoked it.

When you play MLB for a living, you make vast sums of money for giving three hours a day over the better part of half a year to the game. During that brief period, you should be able to give your employer 100 percent effort.

And to pay enough attention to your job to know how many outs there are.

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