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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #17: Yoenis Cespedes shows off his wheels

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

If you have ever had the good fortune to see a players parking lot at a major league ballpark or spring training facility, you know that ballplayers love their wheels. There are a few normal Toyotas and pickup trucks parked there, but there are a great many more fancy cars. Expensive cars. Excessive cars. Ballplayers have a lot of money and, like almost anyone else with a lot of money, they like to spend it on a sweet ride. Or several sweet rides.

All of which makes the story that came out of Port St. Lucie, Florida last February a bit baffling.

The story, such as it was, was that Yoenis Cespedes has a lot of fancy cars. Indeed, each day, for the first week of spring training anyway, he showed up with a new one. There was this bad boy. This fire-breathing Lamborghini. The day before there was a three-wheeled thing. He eventually showed up on a dang horse.

The cars were certainly a lot of fun, but the fascination the Mets beat writers and columnists covering the team had with Cespedes’ fleet was a bit odd. Lots of players drive fancy cars, especially in spring training when they want to show their new wheels to their teammates. Why was it such a big deal in this case? Maybe it was because the players lot is so close to the media entrance in Port St. Lucie so they paid greater attention to the cars. Maybe it was because Cespedes had just signed a big contract with the Mets and the press was looking for as many Cespedes angles as they could find. Maybe it’s just a New York thing. Hard to say.

Eventually — and inevitably — the press’ fascination with the cars turned negative, with at least one columnist deciding that it was bad for Cespedes to be driving the vehicles he bought with his hard-earned money to work. For some reason it’s fine when some players show off pimped rides or some simply ridiculous vehicles that have been customized out the wazoo, but for Cespedes it was apparently too much. Unlike those other guys, Cespedes was told that he had better back up his “swag” with performance on the field. As I wrote at the time, there are some ugly, racist attitudes inherent in that sort of criticism.

Nevertheless, Cespedes backed it up just fine. He hit .280/.354/.530, 31 home runs and 86 RBI in 543 plate appearances. After opting out of his old deal, he and the Mets agreed to a four-year, $110 million contract at the end of November.

I hope he shows up to spring training this year in an aircraft carrier.

George Springer’s lack of hustle was costly for Houston

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George Springer hit a big home run for the Astros last night. It was his fifth straight World Series game with a homer. That’s good! But he also did something less-than-good.

In the bottom of the eighth, with the Astros down 5-3, Springer was batting with Kyle Tucker on second and one out. He sent a breaking ball from Daniel Hudson deep, deep, deep to right-center field but . . . it was not deep enough. It rattled off the wall. Springer ended up with a double.

Except, he probably has a triple if, rather than crow-hop out of the box and watch what he thought would be a home run, he had busted it out of the box. Watch:

After that José Altuve flied out. Maybe it would’ve been deep enough to score Springer form third, tying the game, maybe it wouldn’t have, but Springer being on second mooted the matter.

After the game, Springer defended himself by saying that he had to hold up because the runner on second had to hold up to make sure the ball wasn’t caught before advancing. That’s sort of laughable, though, because Springer was clearly watching what he thought was a big blast, not prudently gauging the pace of his gait so as not to pass a runner on the base paths. He, like Ronald Acuña Jr. in Game 1 of the NLDS, was admiring what he thought was a longball but wasn’t. Acuña, by the way, like Springer, also hit a big home run in his team’s losing Game 1 cause, so the situations were basically identical.

Also identical, I suspect, is that both Acuña and Springer’s admiring of their blasts was partially inspired by the notion that, in the regular season, those balls were gone and were not in October because of the very obviously different, and deader, baseball MLB has put into use. It does not defend them not running hard, but it probably explains why they thought they had homers.

Either way: a lot of the baseball world called out Acuña for his lack of hustle in that game against the Cardinals. I can’t really see how Springer shouldn’t be subjected to the same treatment here.