My latest attempt to make an obscure topic a coherent piece of writing...
Do you ever get annoyed when you're watching a game, and you keep hearing the same phrase to describe one player? This guy's a gamer, that guy's underrated, Joe first baseman has all the potential in the world... sound familiar? It's about to get more familiar. Across all sports, players get classified by their teammates, coaches, and most of all, the media. They get placed into a role based on the way they play, and for whatever reason, for better or for worse, that role follows them and in some cases, defines them. Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters ever, but he's also known as an irreverent, sometimes arrogant goofball. I am about to pigeon-hole a group of current athletes into some of the classic roles in sports, and put them on one team. As it's now in the heart of baseball season, I'll have nine roles to fill (no, Hank Steinbrenner, there isn't a DH). I'd like to thank Jon Miller and Joe Morgan for their immeasurable contribution to the art of the play-by-play cliche.
His speed is otherworldly, and fans seem to think his speed can overcome any lack of other skills or tools. Like they're some kind of unstoppable force, because they can outrun anyone (assuming he can get ahead of everyone in the first place). Especially prominent in football and baseball, where a breakaway kick return man or a single-turned-double makes everyone absolutely giddy. Doesn't always have a huge impact on the game, but fun to watch nonetheless.
Jose Reyes, New York Mets: It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... an underachieving shortstop who thinks he's above playing hard and feels his talent can carry him to the top! His speed is undeniable, but Reyes' performance in the field and at the plate has been underwhelming. Sure, he's fun, smiley and full of spunk, but he's not nearly the player I thought he would become a few years ago.
Two kinds--the five-tool kind (call it Type A), who makes plays all over the field and at the plate, or the stat kind (Type B), who relies on his offensive prowess to make his team better. Says all the right things. Usually pretty attractive. The "franchise player".
David Wright, New York Mets: Reyes' buddy at the hot corner is the Prince of New York baseball. But the Mets STILL stink. It appears as though Wright is relying mostly on his defense, support of Willie Randolph (saying the players have to play well first and foremost), and bedroom eyes to get through this season. He's been contending for NL MVP in the first half of the past few years, but has faltered along with his team in the second half. Hang in there, D. Or just come to Boston in a few years, that'd be cool too.
THE STUDENT OF THE GAME:
Intelligence and work ethic combine to add dimension to the overall quality of the player. Mentors to their teammates. Film study and preparation are just as important as playing the game. Catchers and quarterbacks are usually in this role.
Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox: I'm sure there are other great historians, guys who study pitchers and hitters relentlessly, but none of them have caught four no-hitters by four different pitchers (none of whom were that dominant at the time they threw them... Derek Lowe, Hideo Nomo, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester). He's basically a walking encyclopedia of hitters, carrying a mass of binders filled with info about hitters' tendencies. There's no one I'd rather have behind the dish.
Eats up innings like they're breakfast. Veteran. Doesn't have great stuff anymore, but you can never totally count him out. Won't have great stats, but will give the team a quality start when it needs one.
Mike Mussina, New York Yankees: Does anybody else realize the Moose is tied for the AL lead with 10 wins? Seriously, where would they be without him? He won't start the All-Star game, but he's arguably one of the most valuable Yankees if they plan on making a run (which happens to be starting right about... now), especially now with Chien-Ming Wang on the DL. I wrote him off in the middle of April. Boy was I wrong.
HE DOES THE LITTLE THINGS GUY:
Never makes a mistake on the base paths. Never drops a pop-up. Runs out a ground ball every time. Not surprisingly, these athletes also tend to be smaller in physical stature in comparison with their teammates.
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox: This season, Pedroia has lived to the nickname KD gave to him, Mr. April. But his defense is still sparkling at second base, his personality is perfect for Boston, and at a stout 5-foot-8, Pedroia will be a staple in the Boston infield for years to come.
THE OVERRATED/UNDERRATED GUY:
My personal favorite, for its sheer ridiculousness. Once an underrated guy gets called underrated too often, he becomes overrated. When a player gets overrated, he gets pressured to over-perform. Who has the authority to "rate" these people in the first place? And why is no player just "rated"? Can we say Manny Ramirez, as one of the best right-handed hitters ever, is rated? Maybe I'm too much of grammar grub that no else cares?
Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres: This is somewhat of a preemptive maneuver. The NL is loaded at this position, and Gonzalez has the potential to get lost in the fold behind Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols, Derrek Lee, and Prince Fielder. I'm setting the over-under on how long it takes for one of the BBTN shenanigans to call Gonzalez underrated at 2 days after the All-Star voting finishes.
THE GREAT YOUNG MAN:
The media's favorite. Receives every form of praise from the fans, with the exception of sainthood. Seriously, if there are as many great young men as the play-by-play guys say, I am giving my first son a baseball glove as soon as he has control of his digits. It's like he'd be destined to be a good person if he's a good baseball player. There are exceptions, of course, but it just seems like every wide-eyed rookie getting called up also happens to be a wonderful human being.
Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians: Sizemore is the one of the bright young stars in the Majors, as we all know. He plays spectacular defense, hits for average and power, and, of course, is a model citizen, melting the hearts of women in Cleveland one AB at a time.
THE GREAT ATHLETE:
Surpasses the athletic ability of his teammates. Mythical tales constantly told of multi-sport prowess. Web gem waiting to happen. He would have seven tools, if those two extra tools actually existed. Like the Speedster, doesn't necessarily translate to being a great player. Can turn into a classic "What if" Guy (see below) if athletic potential leads to brief glimpses of greatness.
Rick Ankiel, St. Louis Cardinals: You all know the story... pitching prospect gets called up, pitcher throws well, pitcher becomes inexplicably wild, pitcher transforms into outfielder, outfielder homers in first ML game as a position player, outfielder grabs the center field job like it was always his in the first place. I don't care how many diving catches guys make, Ankiel's two ungodly outfield assists against Colorado are two of the best plays I have ever seen in baseball. If everything happens for a reason, then we know that was once Ankiel's curse of wildness revealed his gifts as an offensive player.
THE "WHAT IF?" GUY:
Full of potential. Career has been seriously affected by injuries, off-the-field issues, playing on bad teams. Character guy, plays the game the right way. Ends up never winning a World Series.
Ken Griffey, Jr., Cincinnati Reds: What is so amazing about Griffey is how he has continued to put up monster career numbers, even through his injuries. At the same time, it is so unfortunate to think of what could have been instead. Just imagine... instead of having an oversized, egotistical, selfish, cheating head as the all-time home run king, we could have had Griffey, a classy athlete if there ever was one, a great ambassador for the game with the perfect swing.
So, the lineup...
Future editions of the Cliche Play-by-Play All Stars will include the NFL, featuring the Full Grown Man, Game Manager, 3rd Down Back and Shut Down Corner, and the NBA, featuring the Pure Point Guard, Coach Who Can Flat-Out Coach the Game of Basketball, and Disregarder of Human Life. Stay tuned...