And a stupid article by Lonnie Wheeler.
Best bet at second
Womack has winning history
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
SARASOTA, Fla. - Of the 62 players in the Reds training camp, all but two lefties and a veteran catcher, it seems, are trying to win the starting second-base job. The smart money is on Tony Womack.
Other than an extra outfielder spot, and maybe the bunt sign, it's about the only thing to be determined here. But the suspense is killing no one.
It appears that the youngest candidates, Ray Olmedo and William Bergolla, aren't serious candidates. Rich Aurilia, who finished last season playing well at second, has started one Grapefruit game at third and another at shortstop. Duty could call him anywhere, as it so often does Ryan Freel. At 35, Frank Menechino has been a regular only once in his eight American League seasons.
Womack is a year older, and more thoroughly traveled and, it would seem, more thoroughly considered. His qualifications include running and winning, in either order.
In 2001, he started for the Arizona team that somehow won the World Series. He also started for the Cardinals when they went to the Series in 2004, and has been to the playoffs on three other occasions in the past five years, including last season with the Yankees.
All of this makes Womack, at 5 feet 9, sort of a sawed-off Reggie Sanders, with dirtier trousers. Less the home runs, of course. His last one was two Julys ago against the Reds' Todd Van Poppel, who never met a batter he couldn't turn into Harmon Killebrew.
There's one more thing Womack doesn't much of, which makes him persona non productive among the statistically fashionable. For all of the running he does - three straight times during the late '90s, he led the National League in stolen bases - he doesn't walk much.
"People just keep throwing stats in your face - like, this guy has a better on-base percentage," said Womack in the Reds' spring training clubhouse, where he dresses between Menechino and Jacob Cruz on Roster Spot Row. "Who cares about on-base percentage? It's a matter of where you go at the end of the year. I haven't been home after the end of the year in five out of the last seven years, and I don't plan on going this year.
"I don't play for those people. I play for me, and I play to help my team win and go to the postseason and become champions."
When Dan O'Brien traded for Womack in December, the word was that, like Freel, the veteran would provide speed and versatility, serving in as many as five spots. Feistiness wasn't mentioned, but Womack's large supply of it has him swinging hard for second base, with at least temporary disregard for other positions.
"I'm not an outfielder. I'm not a utility guy," he stated, in spite of having been both at various times, as well as a shortstop. "I'm just trying to win the second base job, and I don't think about anything else. I'll only think about something else if I don't win the job."
He won the same job with the Yankees last year, then, batting only .249, lost it to publicized rookie Robinson Cano. Womack was then recast as a general fill-in, but it failed to change his own sense of role.
"That's just the Yankees," he said. "They do whatever they want to do. Unfortunately, I was the odd man out.
"The Yankees took the year away from me, basically. That's how I felt. They took the year away, and it could have been done differently. I just had to deal with it. I dealt with it, and I'm here now and I'm smiling every day."
There's a pretty evident reason for that. Manager Jerry Narron's kind of player - a thinking veteran who handles his situations - matches up nicely with the scouting report on the little Virginian. It's probably no coincidence that Narron has already deployed Freel and Womack together at the top of his lineup.
If that would occur during the regular season, it would place Freel at third base or in the outfield. It would also tandem two breakneck players who are capable of stealing 100 bases between them.
"The Marlins did, it," Womack observed. "They had two speed guys (Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo) at the top of the big boys.
"Speed kills. You can't teach it. It makes it easier for the big boys below us. They don't have to worry about the 3-run homer all the time. Just manufacture a run and make it easier for the big boys to swing the bat. If it goes out, it goes out; but if it doesn't, we still have a chance to score a run."
The Reds last year scored runs in greater number than any other National League team; but it didn't follow that they, therefore, possessed the league's best offense. They were a big-bang team that could be too easily subdued on days when the balls weren't clearing the walls. The runs they scored were not win-effective.
Womack, on the other hand, has been that, if nothing else.
And there's an opening at second base. Do the math.