Butcher boy. Can of corn. Baltimore chop. Ducks on a pond. Took the collar. The Hot Stove. Walk-off. You don’t have to like baseball, but you do have to love its expressions. The perks of being a sport since the 19th century. Some of these terms have strange origins. A can of corn – an easy fly ball – refers to the late 19th century grocery clerks’ practice of reaching for cans on the upper shelves with hooked sticks and catching them in their aprons. Some of these terms have history behind them. The Baltimore chop was a move used by the 1890’s Orioles during the dead-ball era. Some of these terms are purely descriptive. Like the walk-off, where everybody literally walks off the field. Or climbing the ladder, where an infielder times a leap to snag a sharp liner.
In this week’s Who Did It Best? we’ll look at six recent ladder climbers. They’re all recent because those are the easiest clips to find and it’s way too time consuming to go through old footage that wouldn’t even be clear enough anyway. I’m going to rank them based on five criteria:
- Height of leap
- Speed of ball
- Reaction time
- Lateral distance covered
- The dismount
One of the knocks on baseball is that you don’t have to be a superathlete to make it pro. Baseball fans will argue the point, but they can’t deny it. “You try chasing down a hard-hit fly ball right over your head, throwing from the warning track to home plate on the fly, hitting a 95 mile an hour ball over 400 feet.” It’s all true; baseball is more about muscle memory, hand eye coordination, instinct, and specialized skills. Michael Jordan proved that. But there are certain aspects of defence that a basketball player would be better at than even Andrelton Simmons just because of superior athleticism. Climbing the ladder is a prime example: there’s no efficient route to take, it’s just instinct and hops. When you watch these highlights, imagine Russell Westbrook playing up the middle. He might let a few grounders through to his left and right, but never over his head.
After my rankings feel free to vote in a poll so we can see who people think did it best.
Addison Russell‘s game-ender
Just a baller way to end a game. It wasn’t a particularly hard hit ball by Aramas Ramirez, and Russell didn’t have to leap that high. It was just a thug lyfe moment that deserved at least an honorable mention. Here is ARam’s reaction:
LeMahieu’s slick double play
If I added slickness and whether a double play was turned to the criteria, this grab by D.J. LeMahieu would have cracked the list. The quick reaction combined with the effortless flip to second for the force out is beautiful to watch. But LeMahieu is 6’4″ and while the ball was scalded by Puig, it wasn’t that high over his head.
Emilio Bonifacio stretches to make the grab
The height is impressive, but the speed didn’t cut it. Beltre just gets the end of his bat on this slow change from Ervin Santana, giving Bonifacio more than enough time to time his leap and get the ball.
Jose Iglesias shows off his range
Iglesias was already shading Kendrys Morales to the second base side, but he ranges all the way to the other side of second base to make this outstanding catch. The air isn’t that impressive, but the efficient route Iglesias takes to a ball that is slicing and rising away from him earned this one an honourable mention.
Hechavarria tracks it down
This is like Iglesias’ play on steroids. Unless we’re counting the Flex-O-Ladder, this play doesn’t fully fit the definition of climbing the ladder, but it was too beautiful not to include. Hechavarria is listed at an even six feet, but unless his arms are also six feet that seems impossible. Look at how far he goes into the outfield grass to make this play, and look at the crazy extension.
Who Did It Best?
6. Martin Prado twists and shouts
For years, Ben Zobrist was the most underrated guy in baseball, the guy who made you sound smart when citing his WAR over arbitrary periods of time. Now that he’s on the Cubs juggernaut, I think its time to pass the baton onto Martin Prado. His career batting line over 11 seasons is .293/.342/.424 and he can flat out field every infield position. This ball was hit so hard by Andre Ethier that Prado had to twist his body in the air to pull the ball back as it screamed over his head. Bonus points for casually pretending he didn’t almost fall on his ass on the way down.
5. Josh Donaldson‘s reacts to a laser
Only Josh Donaldson makes this play. I can’t think of another infielder who matches his intensity and focus before each and every play. Jake Marisnick clobbers this ball right over Donaldson’s head. For some reason he’s drawn in closer to the infield grass, which forces him to start his leap almost before Marisnick makes contact. Bonus points for the deep squat dismount.
4. Alexei Ramirez climbs the ladder
Besides Melvin Upton Jr., Ramirez has got to be one of the skinniest, lankiest dudes in the Majors. Correct me if I’m wrong. A great, even excellent, defensive shortstop during his peak with the White Sox, Ramirez always seems to just throw his spindly limbs in the vicinity of the ball and somehow come up with it. It’s rarely pretty, but when you have to listen to Hawk Harrelson scream “Alexei!” every time he makes a good play, pretty is relative.
3. Addison Russell picks it out of thin air
If Ramirez is all spindly limbs, then Russell is like flowing water. This is one of the hardest hit balls on this list, and definitely the best-timed catch. Russell sizes the trajectory up for a split second before making his jump straight up. The momentum of the ball snagging in his glove makes his arm slingshot back between his legs as he lands.
It’s almost a carbon copy of Ramirez’ catch but just barely edges it out for 3rd place because of the overall grace and the fact that he doesn’t roll onto his butt after landing.
2. Carlos Correa spears it at the last moment
Carlos Correa‘s baseball instincts are otherworldly. It’s almost as if he was made especially to play the game. Mike Zunino absolutely hammers this one, and Correa waits until the very last moment to bring it back from hit-land. This is one of those plays that is worse if you watch it in slow mo so I won’t include a slowed down GIF of it. One of the most aesthetically pleasing aspects of a player “climbing the ladder” is observing the momentum of the ball affect the player’s weightless form in the air.
Maybe Correa would struggle on the hardwood or the gridiron, but he’d do just fine in the circus.
1. Adeiny Hechavarria is ridiculously good
Yup. Those are Phillies fans cheering for a player on the visiting team. This wasn’t the hardest hit ball, but it definitely had the most rise to it, and Hechavarria caught it at the very apex of its flight before crashing to the ground like he had fallen from a raised platform. You can’t just watch this play once, so take your time and enjoy this GIF for a minute.
Hechavarria’s been roughly 30% worse than the league average hitter for his career, but managed to rack up +3 WAR last season due to stunning plays like this one. Going by Fangraph’s Def statistic, a composite of UZR and DRS, he trailed only Andrelton Simmons in defensive value among shortstops last year. And on a per game basis, no qualified shortstop had a better glove than Hechavarria.
Make sure to vote for who you thought did it best, and comment with any special “climbing the ladder” catches you think I missed! I flip flopped a lot between Ramirez and Russell, and these exercises are always highly subjective so I’m interested in seeing what the popular consensus is.
BONUS CLIP: Red Sox uberprospect Yoan Moncada climbs the ladder
Some 18-year-old kids really are worth $63 million dollars.