I’ve been known to refer to Tribe manager Eric Wedge as the comatose rabbit due to his astonishing propensity for sitting in the dugout doing nothing other than wiggling his nose. This phenomenon is especially pronounced when the Cliff Lee gets knocked around for five runs on six hits with two walks in two and two-thirds innings and Wedge remains motionless while everyone else is scurrying about with the look of mild panic that usually accompanies people with a vested interest in their team doing well — relative to movement Wedge’s non-movement is heightened to a frustrating degree. But “comatose rabbit” is actually his natural state. Wedge stoicism personified — personified in the form of a burrowing, plant-eating mammal with long ears, long hind legs, a short fluffy tail, and a tendency to hide eggs and foil hunters named Fudd. In times of calm or even joy, like when the Indians are cruising in a game with an insurmountable lead (1) or are walking off the field in the glow of victory, the comatose rabbit routine smacks of determined professionalism and a singular drive. But in other moments it is exceedingly tough to watch cutaways on STO to Wedge in the dugout chewing on what I can only presume are small green leaves.
And then you get something like this and, well, jeez. It makes you wonder if he really is comatose.
It was at that point, in the last month of the 2006 season, that Peralta knew it might be time to pop in some contact lenses.
“I could feel it for myself,” Peralta said Tuesday. “I didn’t see the ball very good and, when I was playing shortstop, I couldn’t see the signs at home plate. I knew I had a problem with my eyes.”
Peralta was right. He had been diagnosed with myopia (near-sightedness) earlier in the year, but he opted not to wear the contacts given to him, because he didn’t like the way they felt in his eyes.
There was a while there in the late 1980s/early 1990s when the movie Major League hit a bit close to home for some Cleveland Indians fans. We knew that the actual Indians didn’t resemble the humorous mix of flotsam and jetsam that was the fictional Indians roster, at least not completely. If anything, the fictional team actually won games, which provided the crucial distance necessary for the humor not to sting so hard. But anytime your team becomes the subject of a comedy about how bad a professional baseball team can be you never feel completely distanced from the subject and the sting of the humor still hurts. It’s the proximity to reality that gets you.
So perhaps the only thing more painful than your team being spoofed in a Hollywood movie is when the actual team out-exaggerates the fictional team; when the distance between real and facsimile turns back on itself and the real supplants the fictional as the site of spoof and humor. Enter: Jhonny Peralta, who after a full season of sucking at the plate is finally willing to sacrifice comfort/style for the betterment of the team. It was his eyesight that caused problems both at the plate and in the field, but he refused to wear contact lenses because they were uncomfortable and, presumably, refused to wear RecSpecs because they were not hip (it’s a testament to the reporting that the obvious question — why not glasses? — goes unanswered). The learning curve for Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn — who, remember was portrayed as a superficial airhead — was just a few weeks. Peralta? And entire season. Incredible. (2)
Which makes you wonder what sort of control Wedge has over the team. Did he know that Peralta was diagnosed as nearsighted? If not, how could he not know such things? Knowing whether or not your short stop can see seems like critical information for a manager. If he did know about Peralta’s eyesight, how could he not get him to do something about it during the season? Baseball is a pretty tough game. I’m sure seeing helps. I mean, you’d think so, right? Hell, some players will even go so far as to wear contacts that are designed to help them pick up the rotation on a 95 mph pitch. It’s no wonder Peralta was striking out so much: if you can’t see the ball you aren’t going to hit the ball. Was Wedge powerless to do anything about this?
The only thing more surprising about this story that the local media haven’t been having a field day with it. I am totally flummoxed.
1: An insurmountable lead being redefined last season whenever the team had to turn to the bullpen; it’s no coincidence that the comatose rabbit became more pronounced last season than is seasons past.
2: If anything, we now have a new standard of vanity against which to measure all other professional athletes.