Today the MLB players association released the list of 30 candidates for their annual “Heart and Hustle” award that’s “presented to an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit, and traditions of the game.”
A few things about the candidates list stood out to me …
• Matt Kemp is the Dodgers’ candidate, which is pretty extraordinary given that his own general manager publicly criticized his lack of hustle throughout the season. His heart must be off the charts to make up for it. Or something.
• Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox’s candidate. His “heart” was so big that he missed the final 40 games of the season after trying to play through a foot injury that worsened. He did show a lot of “hustle” by taking infield reps from his knees while on the disabled list.
• Pablo Sandoval is the Giants’ candidate, which is a remarkable accomplishment for a 5-foot-11, 250-pound man who runs the bases like he’s wearing skates.
• I’m not sure if Twins candidate Nick Punto deserves the “heart and hustle” award but I’d certainly be in favor of giving him the “false hustle” award for sliding head-first into first base on every close play this decade.
• Of the 30 candidates listed, 17 of them can probably be described as “white guys.” Most of the time in surveys about “hustle” or its various synonyms Caucasians unfortunately tend to dominate, but in this case that’s right around MLB’s overall “white guy” population. Not surprisingly, the inaugural winner of the award back in 2005 was David Eckstein, but in fairness Albert Pujols was the winner last season.
1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Indians early last month. The 34-year-old had spent the last seven and a half seasons with the Blue Jays, but his future elsewhere appeared to be written on the wall when the Jays signed Kendrys Morales in November to essentially occupy Encarnacion’s role.
Encarnacion spoke about testing free agency for the first time in his career and the situation that led to him leaving Toronto for Cleveland. Via Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY:
“Toronto was always my first option, but I had never been a free agent, and anybody who gets to free agency wants to find out what’s out there,’’ he said. “I think they got too hasty in making their decision, but now I’m with Cleveland and I’m happy to be here.’’
Encarnacion last season hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 home runs and an AL-best 127 RBI. He’s now on the team that defeated his Blue Jays in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. Encarnacion effectively replaces Mike Napoli, who returned to the Rangers.
I’m on record saying that Sammy Sosa has been rather hosed by baseball history.
The guy did amazing things. Unheard-of things. He was truly astounding at this peak and was incredibly important to both his franchise and Major League Baseball as a whole. His repayment: he’s a pariah. His club won’t claim him and his greatness, by any measure, has not just been overlooked but denied by most who even bother to consider him.
Yes, he had PED associations, but they were extraordinarily vague ones. He’s in the same boat as David Ortiz as far as documented PED evidence against him, but Ortiz will be a first ballot Hall of Famer while Sosa barely clings to the ballot. He hit homers at the same cartoonish rate as Mark McGwire, but while Big Mac has been embraced by baseball and has coached for years, Sosa can’t get into Wrigley Field unless he buys a ticket and even then the Cubs might try to hustle him out of sight. The man has been treated poorly by any measure.
Yet, it’s still possible to overstate the case. Like Sosa did in this interview with Chuck Wasserstrom:
It’s like Jesus Christ when he came to Jerusalem,” Sosa told chuckbloggerstrom.com. “Everybody thought Jesus Christ was a witch (laughing) — and he was our savior. So if they talk (bleep) about Jesus Christ, what about me? Are you kidding me?”
At least he was basically joking about it. Still, it’s a totally unfair and almost offensive comparison.
I mean, anyone who watched Sosa’s career knows that he had trouble laying off breaking stuff low and away. In contrast . . .