Yesterday I noted a couple of scouts referring to Melvin Mora as “a ballplayer” and mused what, if anything, that could mean. My suspicion was that it’s a term baseball people use to refer to a guy who they really like but whom it would be misleading to describe primarily in terms of phenomenal baseball talents. Or that it’s just nonsense.
I should have Googled a bit more, because Andrew Simon of the Hitting the Cutoff Man blog researched this very question a couple of weeks ago. He found scores of examples of guys being referred to with the “he’s a ballplayer” thing in quotes, and broke them down by category. It’s some pretty stunning stuff that both enlightens us and makes us pray that Simon isn’t working in national security or public safety, because he clearly took some time with his head buried in this data.
The results, in my view, suggest that calling a guy a “ballplayer” is really a more robust way of calling someone a “gamer” or “scrappy,” with the added benefit that it seems to avoid the racial implications that “gamer” and “scrappy” seem to often provoke. You rarely see “scrappy” black or Latino guys. There are a lot of black and Latino “ballplayers.”
In the end I fear that it may be so broad a characterization that it’s not really useful, but for now I’m sort of cool with it for being rough shorthand for “good guy/hard worker/not dumb/no ego.”