The MLB Players Alumni Assocation announced its annual “Heart and Hustle Award” today. The award is given to one player from each team “who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit, and tradition of the game.”
This award has drawn some criticism in the past for playing into old, tired stereotypes of what constitutes “heart” and “hustle.” Specifically, those old cliches about how it’s the gritty white dudes who worked hard while black and Latino players were more “naturally gifted” and, often, were accused of being lazy loafers. It’s crazy that such assumptions still linger among those who talk about sports, but they do. For example, last year 22 of the 30 Heart and Hustle winners were white Americans. Twenty-eight of the 30 were U.S. born.
This year’s group of winners is considerably more diverse. Here’s hoping that’s a sign that those old notions of who hustles and who doesn’t — and what “hustle” is, exactly — continues to fade into history.
Baltimore Orioles: Adam Jones
Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia
Chicago White Sox: Todd Frazier
Cleveland Indians: Mike Napoli
Detroit Tigers: Ian Kinsler
Houston Astros: George Springer
Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Kole Calhoun
Minnesota Twins: Eduardo Nuñez
New York Yankees: Didi Gregorius
Oakland Athletics: Marcus Semien
Seattle Mariners: Nelson Cruz
Tampa Bay Rays: Logan Forsythe
Texas Rangers: Ian Desmond
Toronto Blue Jays: Kevin Pillar
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt
Atlanta Braves: Nick Markakis
Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo
Cincinnati Reds: Zack Cozart
Colorado Rockies: Charlie Blackmon
Los Angeles Dodgers: Chase Utley
Miami Marlins: Marcell Ozuna
Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy
New York Mets: Curtis Granderson
Philadelphia Phillies: Andres Blanco
Pittsburgh Pirates: David Freese
San Diego Padres: Jon Jay
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Crawford
St. Louis Cardinals: Stephen Piscotty
Washington Nationals: Daniel Murphy
We wrote a lot about Casey Kelly on this site circa 2010-12.
It was understandable. Kelly was a big-time draftee for the Red Sox and famously split time as a shortstop and a pitcher in the minors, with some people even wondering if he could do it full time. The Sox put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, as he became the top overall prospect in the Boston organization as a pitcher. He then made news when he was sent to San Diego — along with Anthony Rizzo — in the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade in December 2010.
He made his big league debut for the Padres in late August of 2012, holding a pretty darn good Atlanta Braves team scoreless for six innings, striking out four. He would pitch in five more games in the season’s final month to not very good results but missed all of 2013 and most of 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery.
He wouldn’t make it back to the bigs until 2015 — pitching only three games after being converted to a reliever — before the Padres cut him loose, trading him to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt who, like a younger Kelly, the Padres thought could be a two-way player, catching and relieving. That didn’t work for him either, but I digress.
Kelly made a career-high ten appearances for a bad Braves team in 2016, was let go following the season and was out of the majors again in 2017 after the Cubs released him a couple of months after he failed to make the team out of spring training. He resurfaced with the Giants this past season for seven appearances. The Giants cut him loose last month.
Now Kelly’s journey takes him across the ocean. He announced on Instagram last night that he’s signed with the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. He seems pretty happy and eager about it in his little video there. I don’t blame him, as he’ll make $1 million for them, as opposed to staying here and almost certainly winding up in a Triple-A rotation making $60K or whatever it is veteran minor leaguers make.
This was probably way too many words to devote to a journeyman heading to play in Korea, but we so often forget top prospects once they fail to meet expectations. We also tend to forget all of the Tommy John casualties, focusing instead on the Tommy John successes. As such, I wanted to think a bit about Casey Kelly. I hope things work out well for him in the KBO and a baseball player who once seemed so promising can, after a delay, find success of his own.