We take a bit of a detour for a bit of baseball news. And yes, I can see some of you in the back sneaking out of the room. Just know that this isn't all about sports news, but as much a venting. Yes, it's full of baseball minutiae, but venting nonetheless.
For those of you who can't take such things, though, feel free to bypass all this and jump to the very end for a fun "undercover" video.
But first and most important things first.
On Thursday, the Cubs' Kris Bryant was named the National Leagues Most Valuable Player. Interestingly, it was close between him and Anthony Rizzo as to who the most valuable player was on the team, but Bryant's remarkable versatility likely pushed him over the edge, playing an amazing seven different positions during the season, though most of them were at third base. Rizzo, by the way, finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. As a result of all this, Bryant became on the fourth player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in consecutive seasons.
Oh, and he is is the first player in baseball history to be named College Player of the Year, Minor League Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and MVP in four consecutive years.
Which leads to the main part of this article.
Al Leiter is an idiot.
Yes, yes, that might be redundant, but still… Billy Ripken was an idiot yesterday, too, but Leiter was worse, and has a longer record of being so.
Both are former ballplayers who are now longtime analysts on the MLB Network. Right after the awards announcement they were on the air discussing Kris Bryant winning the MVP Award. And while they both fully agreed he deserved it, Leiter went on a rant about how he hates that they play Bryant all over the field and don’t stick him at third base and leave him there. Billy Ripken agreed, but Leiter was the one who started it and was bouncing in his seat and haranguing. He kept saying “I don’t like it!!” – yet never really ever said why, nor even tried to understand why the Cubs do move Bryant around. Just “I don’t like it!!” And how it may have hurt his stats.
First of all, stating the most obvious, I could argue that if Bryant didn’t play seven positions last year, he might not have won the MVP Award. Without that, he might not even have been the MVP on the team -- Anthony Rizzo arguably may have had better stats and is considered the team leader. Other league MVP candidates probably had better stats, as well. But because Bryant played everywhere…THAT’S what made him SO valuable! In fact, just minutes before Leiter (and Ripken) went on the air, the in-studio analysts on their own network were explaining right before the awards presentation that Bryant’s versatility was what made him the near-certain favorite. All Leiter and Ripken had to do was look up at the monitor!
Second, while it may have dampened Bryant’s stats a bit (but they were awfully great, as is…), it could be argued that they were better because of it. The whole year, Bryant said how much he loved playing all over, that it was fun coming to the ball park every day and not knowing where he’s be playing, that it was like being in sandlot ball and kept things fresh.
But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the ranting suggests that they know what’s better for the Cubs than Joe Maddon, probably one of the three best managers in the game…who led the team to the most wins in the majors, and led the Cubs first World Series in 108 years. But no, Al Leiter “hates it!!” and knows better.
As someone who actually paid close attention to the Cubs all year, I know exactly why the Cubs played Bryant all over. One reason is that that allowed them to give Javier Baez a LOT of playing time to develop, rather than sit on the bench all year. And the Cubs lost Kyle Schwarber in the fourth game of the season – so by playing Bryant in left field on occasion, that allowed the Cubs not to lose a step. Similarly, by playing right field and first base in particular, that let the Cubs rest Rizzo and Heyward more, and again, not lose anything with a platoon player filling in.
In fact, if the Cubs had played Bryant only at third base all year, and used very good, but lesser platoon players, I think it’s fair to say that the Cubs likely wouldn’t have won the most games in the majors and maybe wouldn’t have had home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Furthermore, if he’d only played third, and Baez didn’t develop as he did, then we probably wouldn’t have seen Baez explode in the playoffs and win the NL championship series MVP Award – so maybe the Cubs don’t make it to the World Series.
Leiter also tried to make a stupid point, ranting about how during the entire playoffs Bryant only played third, as if that proved his belief. And ranted how Zobrist only played the outfield, and Baez only played second base, case closed! Except that his point missed everything –
First, Zobrist mostly played second base during the season, not the outfield! The reason he was able to play outfield in the playoffs is specifically because Maddon had switched players around so much during the regular season, and Baez was therefore ready to step in and play second base – where he shined. And secondly, Bryant only played third base during the post-season because (unlike the regular season) there was not only no reason for him to play elsewhere, as there was during the regular season giving everyone a lot of playing time, but that allowed Maddon to play Zobrist in left field…where he won the World Series MVP Award… -- and play Baez at second base…were he won the NLCS MVP Award!! None of that would have happened without Bryant playing all over during the season, opening things up for others.
So, Al Leiter is an idiot.
And Billy Ripkin comes in second for agreeing with him. And both of them for not even trying to understand any of Maddon’s thinking. They just had their opinion and were sticking with it.
Joe Maddon actually knows what he was doing. And that’s why he manages, and won the Cubs first World Series in 108 years. And why they aren’t getting offers.
End of rant.
Which leads us to the the video. Kris Bryant apparently likes going undercover. For one, he pretended to be a Lyft driver during the baseball season. And for another, during this past year's Spring Training in Arizona where the Cubs have their camp, here he is going to nearby Mesa Community College where he pretended to be a European transfer student who the coach has recruited. It's not an especially funny video -- though it's surprising how long it took for these college baseball players to figure out that that was Kris Bryant, who'd just won Rookie of the Year. But it's charming and just fun to see how Bryant likes to do this sort of thing.
Side note: the name he takes here is "Roy." The inside joke is that RoY is the nickname given for Rookie of the Year.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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