Allow me to step on my soapbox for a moment here. I am tired of folks screaming about baseball and “the right way” to play it. Whether it’s old school players and coaches who had the game pass them by years ago or traditionalists who still believe that RBIs are indicative of a player’s ability level, that subsection of the baseball world and their philosophies would appear to be such that exists entirely opposite my own. Whether from my perspective as a writer or a coach or just a fan, I find so many things about that end of the spectrum to be perplexing.
Here’s what I do and do not believe. I do believe in being “selectively aggressive” and in swinging at a 3-0 pitch if its your pitch. I do not believe in bunting as an offensive focus or gameplan. I do believe pitching and defense, above all, will take you to where you need to be. I do not believe that limiting a player’s personality and creativity is a way to allow them to be successful.
And I sure as hell believe in the way that Javier Baez plays the game of baseball.
Baez’s skill set is such that only describing him as “electric” would almost be underselling. While there are still elements of his game to be developed, particularly on the offensive side, he’s a gamechanger. He brings an impact bat hidden within a beautifully violent swinging motion. His hands and his instincts are on another level from almost any other player in baseball. And his glove can play well (understatement) at almost any position.
Javier Baez is a treasure. In a time in baseball’s history where there is an abundance of wonderful, young talent that makes an entire slate of games worth watching (except maybe, like, if the Padres are playing), Baez is managing to nab our focus over far more accomplished and notable names. And in doing so, he’s become a polarizing individual who has drawn the ire of the “right way” folks for a few different reasons, not all of which we’ll get into here.
Traditionalists don’t like players who carry themselves in the way that Baez carries himself, which can convey a sense of arrogance to the wrong people. He’s extremely confident in his skill set and he carries himself as such. He plays with his heart on his sleeve. That combination of emotion and confidence, the latter of which I’d classify as more swagger than anything, is seemingly as big a no-no as there is for that particular baseball community. The latest entry into this anti-Baez/anti-fun agenda came courtesy of his tag against Venezuela on Tuesday night.
Baez took a throw from Yadier Molina and caught and tagged Nelson Cruz at second base, all while maintaining eye contact with and pointing to his catcher in celebration. He seemingly never looked at Cruz, but promptly brought down the tag that resulted in the final out of the top of the eighth inning. At this point, you’ve seen the play. This demonstration of confidence and outright fun was not something that could be tolerated by folks who believe in playing the game “the right way.” Between that and a home run in a previous game in which Baez smacked the ball over the fence and set his bat politely down on the ground, folks were condemning his actions. While it’s not worth the time to dig up tweets to single people out, such entries into the “right way” handbook referred to Baez as everything wrong with sports and no shortage of expletives that degraded his value to the sport.
But Baez is as valuable an entity as there is to the game of baseball. In a sport which fails miserably in promoting its stars, Baez is a self-promotion machine. His play and his swagger speak for themselves. He’s just downright fun. Which can be a scary thing for a lot of people, apparently. Scarier than players who have had legal issues off the field, whether with alcohol or domestic violence, or have played with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. Baez hasn’t had any of those things. By all accounts, he’s a likable clubhouse guy and as diligent a worker as there is in baseball. What element of that isn’t “right”?
Besides, what does it mean to play baseball “the right way” anyway? There are differing opinions and philosophies on strategy and on fundamentals, sure, but the “right way” folks don’t seem interested in any of that. It’s a character thing or a demeanor thing. It’s not about whether the designated hitter should be a part of the game or if your closer should only be deployed in a save situation or if baseball players respond to yelling and overwhelming conditioning during the season of play. It’s about whether a certain player behaves a certain way in a given situation. And if what Baez was doing was so egregious and offensive toward certain players or fans, then there could be cause for questioning what he does on a baseball field. But it’s not and there’s not.
Maybe if Baez was just his skill set and not as much his personality and swagger, then he wouldn’t be as polarizing an individual as he is. Perhaps if he fielded a routine groundball in the most traditional, fundamentally sound way possible and then walked back to his position without saying much of anything, he wouldn’t face such contemptuous opposition from his detractors. But the flash and the swagger and the personality are all part of what makes him Javy.
Baez is really good at the game of baseball. And he knows it. There’s nothing wrong with carrying yourself in such a way that reflects that awareness and reflects that confidence. Baseball needs a player like Javier Baez. A player who not only succeeds as an offensive player and is elite as a defensive player, but looks like he’s actually enjoying himself while he’s playing. Nothing that Baez has done to this point is so egregious that we should declare him anything other than a damn joy to watch.
I, for one, could not be more excited to watch Javier Baez step on a baseball field in 2017. Every single time he steps in the batter’s box, it’s worth dropping everything and tuning in to watch the ball fly off his bat. Every ball hit his way is a legendary highlight waiting to happen. And every single time he does any of those things, you know he’s going to do it with maximum effort and as much fun as anybody in the sport is having at that given moment.
If Javy Baez isn’t playing the game the “right way”, then nobody is.
Lead photo courtesy Orlando Jorge Ramirez—USA Today Sports
6 comments on “Javier Baez and Playing the Game “The Right Way””
Amen! Well put. I am in the middle of reading AG Spaulding’s book on baseball and it’s interesting that it was upheld as a “gentleman’s” sport and the gamblers and carousers were chased from the game as organizers took control. Thing is – people used to wear suits to baseball games. (Which actually would be a marvelous throwback day for Wrigley once a year in April when temps were still below 70 degrees).
It think ppl confuse “the right way” along lines of sportsmanship and don’t separate it from decorum. Baseball already has changed with flashing graphics and walk up music. (and lights.) The sportsmanship element (no taunting, fisticuff’s and ‘respecting’ the game) does tamp down on a much more entertaining game with Demarcus Cousins and JR Smith types.
But the energy and LOVE Javy shows for the game however – is what makes baseball TRULY more interesting and exciting. Watching a team filled with joy and celebration is far more entertaining than infighting, serious players with a grudge.
Toronto (to me) was the opposite of energy of what Javy brings – but I have to admit, I watched more Blue Jay baseball that year than I have in the last 10.
Anyway – (thanks for giving me a place to rant with you) I’m also tired of people trying to hold baseball back from showing emotion – positive or negative. I want these guys to be good role models – but the troublemakers will always be ostracized and the Javy Baez’s will always attract more.
You touched on several aspects that are right on the button for me. It is a joy to see him play. He is a “stop what you’re doing and watch him” player. You can’t just watch his at bats. You have to watch him on the bases. You have to watch him in the field. Jeez, you even have to watch him on the bench — he’s apt to do something you don’t want to miss. If he goes to another team, I’m going to start watching their games.
There’s no point in arguing with the “right way” people. They are the same folks applauding when a pitcher throws at a batter intentionally. Joyous emotion = bad. Anger/revenge = good.
What’s the point in arguing with that?
How people don’t find Javy’s play to be infectious is beyond me.
Exactly the opposite. Take last night’s WBC semi as an example. Edwin Diaz flat-out threw at Balentien’s head. It was a dangerous and dirty play against a guy who’s aggressively putting himself out there for MLB consideration that happened for no good reason. While Lindor went out to try to calm down Diaz, Baez was seeking confrontation with the Netherlands bench. Diaz was the heel, but it was a bad look for Javy, who I adore. Javy also gunned down a runner on a relay and out-slid a tag while stealing third base. His play was spectacular and a joy to watch. But if actively seeking out a brawl doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, well, i guess there’s no point arguing with you.
So he has an edge…and sometimes that is not “right”. But more often than not that edge is entertaining and creates those instincts we love to watch. Expecting perfection from any player is down right crazy and impossible. Well maybe Kris Bryant.
I can appreciate that we don’t want players to be joyless drones out there, but this sounds an awful lot like excusing bad behavior. Diaz had just thrown a pitch that could have ended a man’s career in a glorified goodwill exhibition; Baez decided that the right course of action was to ratchet the situation up.
It’s more than just not right.