Photo courtesy of eürodäna
This week, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia won the American League Most Valuable Player award.
So, why do I care? From the time I was ten, there was a certain player I gravitated towards certain types of players. One of those was the Pedroia mold. The bust-yer-ass dirt dog. These guys never had the raw talent, but always made the most of it. For this reason, they never really won awards. They just get pats on the ass when they do their job. And they’re fine with that. And I’ve always been fine with that.
But today, one of them (Pedroia) received a major award. I can’t help but feel like part of it.
Who else fits the bill of “My Guys”? Why, I’m glad you (might have) asked!
In the Pedroia “dirt dog” mold, the Red Sox have had quite a few. But let’s start with my favorite baseball player of all time.
My favorite baseball player of all time is Pete Incaviglia. I’ve always said that I love strikeouts—I love pitchers to get ‘em and hitters to get ‘em. Pete had mammoth power. He jumped directly to the major leagues after hitting (in three seasons) an NCAA record 100 home runs (a record that still stands… think about that) and being named the Collegiate Baseball Player of the Century. He crushed home runs with great frequency, but also piled up majestic strikeouts with even greater frequency.
My favorite Pete Incaviglia stories revolve around his hustle. Defensively, the guy was just a train wreck. But that didn’t stop him from trying. I like this tidbit from Baseball Library:
He showed that desire with the Phils in 1994 when he injured his shoulder crashing into the outfield wall on a ball he had almost no chance on.
That shows the type of guy he was. And… he always wanted to play. He may have skipped the minor leagues the first time around, but he certainly didn’t at the end of his career. During the strike in 1994, he went to play in Japan for his old manager (Bobby Valentine). In 1999, his AAA team loaned him to a team in the Mexican league. In 2000, he couldn’t get a job in affiliated baseball, so he played for three years in the Independent Leagues, the last season doubling as hitting coach (for his friend, manager Mitch Williams).
After three years as a minor league hitting coach in the Detroit system, he took a gig as a manager in 2008—also in the independent leagues. He reached the playoffs in his first year, though, and I’m quite proud of him.
Before there was Pedroia, there was Christopher Trotman Nixon. Trot Nixon is the original Red Sox dirt dog. He’s also the reason I will never, ever like J.D. Drew. Not just because he signed for big money and took Trot’s roster spot. But he had the nerve… the AUDACITY… to take his #7. Unforgivable, and I’ll never be comfortable with Drew in a Red Sox uniform because of it.
If you hear me say crazy things about how much money the Red Sox should give Jason Varitek this offseason, remember I’m just a panicked man in love. If I could have been a major league baseball player, I would have wanted to be just like Jason Varitek. Tek has something Inky and Trot don’t—appearances on MVP ballots. He ranked between 21st and 30th in the voting in the three years from 2003 to 2005.
Alas, Varitek and his agent (Scott Boras) are asking for a four year deal worth $52 million. What do I think he should get? I think he should get a two year deal worth $24 million. Also, he should have an option of a third year (at $12 million) that will be automatically triggered if he reaches certain stats. Like what? I’ll throw out 850 at bats between the two seasons. And if he is named to an All Star team or finishes Top 15 or so in the MVP voting (either year), it is automatically triggered.
Pedroia isn’t the only 5’9″ second baseman in Red Sox history that fits the scrappy dirt dog bill. A couple decades ago, I would tell you my favorite Red Sox player was Jody Reed (Also was a big Greenwell fan). Reed was awesome. Think Pedroia with a bushy mustache and less power. In 1990, Reed finished 18th in the MVP voting thanks to a .289 average and 45 doubles.
Sweet tidbit from Wikipedia:
An amusing sidelight to Reed’s career was his description on the back of one of his baseball cards: “Jody is a dangerous bunter.”
Dirt dogs aren’t the only type of player I gravitate towards.
Like I said, I’ve always liked the fireball pitchers. For that reason, my favorite major league pitcher today is Kerry Wood. I know he has not lived up to his MASSIVE potential (he’s never received a single Cy Young vote, but was a Rookie of the Year), but I’m a huge fan nonetheless. I’d love to see him in a Boston uniform.
One reason I immediately latched onto Kerry was because he was supposed to be the second coming of my favorite pitcher of ALL TIME—Nolan Ryan. While he was a crafty veteran (who could still bring it) later in his career, Ryan spent the early part of his career defining another “type” of player I’ve always loved—the pitcher who could throw a million miles an hour but had no idea where it was going. For a season emblematic of that, look at 1977. Ryan threw 299 innings and fanned 341 batters. He also walked 204 batters (second most all time to a 19-year old Bob Feller). Funny thing is… he only allowed 198 hits.
Many people remember Ryan for being the all-time AND single-season strikeout record holder. Some may know he’s first all time in fewest hits allowed per nine innings. But not many realize he is the all time walk record holder and the all time wild pitch record holder. And for good measure, he’s 11th all time in hit batsmen.
Ryan never did win a Cy Young Award, though he finished second once, third twice, fourth once, fifth twice, eighth once, and ninth once. He placed in the MVP voting seven times, peaking at 14th place.
Of course, what relief pitcher do I like? Well, it would have to be the “Wild Thing” himself, right? It’s Mitch Williams. Mitch, a teammate of Inky in both Texas and Philly, has the most career innings pitched (691) for any pitcher that has allowed more walks (544) than hits (537) in a career. I love his 1987 numbers—in 109 innings, he allowed just 63 hits and struck out 129 batters. But… he also walked 94 guys. Get this though… Mitch Williams finished Top 10 in the Cy Young voting twice, and even finished 10th in the MVP voting once.
We could go on and on. I used to feverishly collect baseball cards of Ozzie Guillen and Benito Santiago. Ozzie? Well, he just got no love. He was a wizard on defense… just happened to be the second best shortstop named Ozzie. Of course, now he’s a headline-grabbing manager. And Benito? Well, I was a catcher. Santiago could throw guys out from his knees. That’s pretty much awesome.
So, who were your guys?