In bar conversations that inevitably escalate into situations involving the National Guard, I often find myself defending certain players using the tired "you have to watch him every day" argument. I point to hustle, savvy, selflessness. I illustrate these qualities when, mid-sentence, I bolt across the tavern to the bathroom.
In response, I'm met with skeptical sneers. Rotisserie sports, it seems, has created a culture in which sports fans don't look beyond the numbers. I'm not dumping on Fantasy sports -– they are my sun, my moon, my sea -– but they encourage fans to look at the game in a certain limited way.
|Orlando Hudson's defense is vital to the D-Backs, and his bat ain't bad either. (AP)|
Since no Fantasy game simulates real-world conditions -– and don't tell me that yours does, because it inevitably counts something statistically trivial, like holds -– it's worth giving a respectful tip o' the cap to those guys whose real-world value dwarves their roto-world value. With a fond nod to their historical forbears -– Tony Gwynn, Omar Vizquel, the Yankee trio of Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton -– here are the 2007 "you have to watch them play everyday" all-stars.
Tom Glavine, New York Mets: Think of him as the anti-Rich Harden. Where Harden wields his right arm like a thunderbolt, Glavine goes the lefty guile-and-guts route. Where Harden's mound mechanics owe a debt to the hokey-pokey, Glavine wastes not an iota of motion or energy. Where Harden spends months on the DL with trichinosis, acute dyspnea and distended pinkie toes, Glavine never misses a start. Now, as in 1993, winning teams need more Tom Glavines.
Tim Wakefield, Boston Red Sox: The ever-unassuming Wakefield resembles the guy with whom you make small talk at the corner deli ("say, that Sanjaya fellow sure has crazy hair!!!"). And yet most years he makes the Red Sox a much better team, by sponging up innings and remaining in one piece; it's not a shock that the Sawx's 22-31 swoon in 2006 coincided with a rare Wakefield injury. He also ranks among the game's great bargains, given his in-perpetuity one-year/$4 million deal with renewable team options.
Here's a question: When will "smart" Red Sox fans acknowledge their debt to oft-derided pre-Theo GM Dan Duquette? Not only did the Duke retrieve Wakefield from the scrap heap, but he also engineered the Pedro Martinez trade (parting with sultans of sprain Carl Pavano and Tony Armas to get him) and the Jason Varitek/Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb heist. Duquette is modern baseball's prime candidate for revisionist reappraisal, even if he was 12 years premature in pronouncing Roger Clemens washed up.
Aaron Rowand, Philadelphia Phillies: His recent surge notwithstanding, Rowand remains a limited offensive player, prone to dramatic lunges at breaking stuff four feet outside the strike zone. That said, he will literally run through walls to track down fly balls, a noble trait in a center fielder if not in a member of the health-insurance pool. You worry about any athlete who plies his trade with such abandon, being that the human body can only endure so many Astroturf face-plants, but you gotta admire the self-sacrifice.
Placido Polanco, Detroit Tigers: Before getting reacquainted with the Tigers last season, I assumed that "Polanco" meant "double play" in some foreign tongue. He seems to have curbed that noxious habit, however, and now supplements a frisky bat with a host of skills that don't show up in the box score. He never strikes out, rarely fails to advance the runner, and turns the double-play pivot as well as anybody in the AL. Polanco is twice the player that Robinson Cano is, and richly deserving of a li'l All-Star love.
Paul Lo Duca, New York Mets: I was skeptical when he arrived from the Marlins, owing to his frequent second-half fades and sloppiness behind the plate. Also, you have to be suspicious of any player embraced by Dodgers fans, who should be limited to opining about hot dogs and valet-parking attendants.
But somehow, Lo Duca finds himself in the middle of every Mets rally. His defense might not be Yadier-ian, but it's better than advertised. And his grittyguttyscrappy personality rubs off on his teammates: Lo Duca ranks as the sole modern-day Metsie who would have been as ideal an attitudinal fit on the 1986 squad as he is on this year's religion-and-haircut edition. I'm not sure that's a compliment, actually.
Pat Neshek, Minnesota Twins: Truth is, any number of unheralded middle relievers could appear on this list. I pick Neshek over the other worthy candidates -– Scot Shields, Rafael Betancourt, pretty much the entire San Diego bullpen -– for a few reasons. He's younger than most of 'em, can sling his sweet sidearm stuff all day, and reduces righty hitters to quivering lumps of Jell-O (21 K's in 16 innings, plus a .151 BA/.237 OBP/.226 SLG line against them). And not that this has a whit to do with anything on the field, but Neshek's quirky blog puts most of what Mr. 38 Pitches is throwing to shame.
Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants: Roto owners have shied away from Bonds in recent years, owing to his propensity to sit out a game or two every week and his supreme unlikeability. But even at 42, even with gimpy knees and the daintiest of supporting casts, Bonds can still turn any pitcher's game plan on its ear. Why would anybody throw him a strike unless the game situation completely, inexorably demands it?
Forget the substances stuff for a moment, if that's possible, and think back to 1997 or so. Bonds was the perfect storm of offense: power, speed, balance, patience and presence. He was so good, in fact, that he made us believe Dusty Baker had an inkling of an idea how to manage a baseball game. Every manager should be so fortunate as to luck into a player of Bonds' ability in his prime. What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that it bums me out that I can no longer separate the joyous (on the field, anyway) Barry of the 1990s from the inflated Barry of the 2000s.
Orlando Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks: A prototypical does-all-the-little-things guy, but now with gap power and plate patience to boot. Did groundball-inducer extraordinaire Brandon Webb receive, like, a pickup truck for winning last year's Cy Young Award? If so, I sure hope he lets Hudson borrow it on the weekends; Hudson's unmatched range and pillow-soft hands might have single-handedly shaved a quarter-point off Webb's ERA. Hudson is 29, while Chris Young, Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Justin Upton and Carlos Gonzalez are all 25 or younger. Hello, bandwagon.
A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox: Yes, he could use a charm-school refresher course. But no matter what opponents, teammates, managers, executives, umpires, fans, maitre ds, stewards, stewardesses, TNA wrestlers and Miss Manners might think of him, he remains the game's greatest gnat. He deserves much more recognition as a tough out and an able tough-love handler of pitchers than he receives.