Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Place Kickers NFL's Eqivalent of DH

Rick Kaplan
Staff Writer
OAKLAND (January 18) – No, that’s wrong. Place kickers as a specialty are even less justifiable than hanging-on designated hitters, most of whom don’t even own a fielder’s mitt any more.
DHs may be completely one-dimensional, usually immobile, and often surprisingly unproductive.
But, at least they are ballplayers. They know how to throw and catch, and they have been playing the game since childhood.
Most NFL place kickers, on the other hand, couldn’t even qualify for one of those half-time Put, Pass, and Kick–it’s punting, not field goals–contests against a group of 12 year-olds.

Even though I’m not a football fan, this bothers me. Because these corner-kicking refugees–and don’t get me wrong, because I love soccer–are probably the second most important players on an NFL playoff team, right behind the quarterback.
How many recent Super Bowls have been decided by a guy who may not have known how to put on his shoulder pads–if he wears any–before the start of the season?
Last week’s playoff games were a joke. The Ravens stop the Colts over and over and again, but Adam Vinatieri does his trick five times and Baltimore goes home. Ditto for Philadelphia against New Orleans.
It’s really silly. I know it’s called football, and kicking is a big part of the game, but have you ever seen what happens when a kicker tries to run or pass the ball after a fumbled snap!? It’s embarrassing. It’s more painful by far than watching Frank Thomas go from first to third last summer.
You could make a case for Vinatieri being the all-time greatest player in the NFL, no kidding, based on all the important games his foot has directly decided. He happens to one of the rare kickers who is also a skilled football player–having been a punter in college–but isn’t the game deciding field goal scenario more than a little like stopping a tied baseball game in the ninth inning with two outs and giving the best hitter a free swing at a batting practice fastball over the heart of the plate?
Don’t get me wrong (I know, I already said that once). This isn’t some kind of xenophobia about Yugoslavians taking American jobs. In fact, one of the things I love about the NBA these days is how the best teams–such as the Suns, the Mavericks, and the Spurs– are built on an international model, with players like Steve Nash, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli bringing a new level of multiple skills and teamwork to the court and permanently changing the game here.
To try to be objective for a moment, it’s really the same problem as I have with today’s place kickers as I have with the DH: over-specialization.
Pretty different than the days when the great All-Pro offensive tackle Lou Groza would step back seven yards and line up to kick game winners for the Cleveland Browns.


I guess Willis signed yesterday for another year with the Fish. So, what I was going to say–DON’T DO IT– about the Mets considering trading two of their best prospects, such as a Lastings Milledge and a Carlos Gomez, to get a Barry Zito clone becomes irrelevant.
Dontrelle, an Oakland-Alameda product, who seems like a nice, enthiusiastic kid who is "good for baseball," has by no means proven himself to be a front-of-the-rotation type, no matter how much the media wants him to be. His record–which I am not going to recite because I am rapidly getting really sick of any and all statistics–and his talents are remarkably similar to Zito.

Neither is overpowering. Both are leggy lefties who need to be consistently throwing strikes to be effective. Dontrelle has the trickier release point and a little more fastball, Zito maybe the sharper curve.

More extravagant mediocrity: The Dodgers gave southpaw Mark Hendrickson a $1M raise to $3M for 2007 after he crafted a 6-15, 4.21 ERA season (sorry, I couldn’t resist those stats). Question: How much worse could you do if you started anyone–lefty, righty, shortstop–in his slot?


1 Anonymous { 01.22.07 at 4:34 am }

I think that place kickers play a much bigger and more essential role than this article states. They are designed to kick the ball accurately from 20 – 45 yards. Having a Vinatieri can be a huge confidence builder and I am sure that every football player will tell you that every missed field goal demoralizes the team.  Thus these specialized players can be attributed to a closer in baseball, except their job is spread out throughout the whole game. If the closer comes into a close game and subsequently blows the game, that is very demoralizing. Whereas if the closer can shut down the game, then the team has more confidence in their late inning success. The place kicker generates this same confidence in that if the drive falls short of the touchdown, the kicker can come in and salvage some points from the series. As Vinatieri and his predecessor Vaderjagt have shown us, kickers can have different effects on their teams in proportion to their success much like a closer in baseball.

2 rick { 01.22.07 at 12:54 pm }

In responding to the comment above, I really liked your comparison of the kickers to closers in baseball, and let me say that I think you are absolutely correct in pointing out how important the kickers are in football.  That’s the whole point, though, or is it the extra point? I guess I didn’t have enough of my tongue in my cheek when I wrote this column. To me, it’s totally ridiculous and intrinsicly unappealing that someone who can’t tackle or catch a pass regularly decides the biggest games.  And I’ll tell you a secret. I’m starting to have doubts about the role of closers in baseball, too. But that’s a later column. Thanks for the well thought-out reply. 

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