It’s Those “Little” guys who make All the Difference
Superstars are great but you have to have the players who make all the routine plays, get the bunt down when you need it and can sit for a week without complaining and still get the job done. You need the guy who can fill in for an injured star and not miss a beat and the guys who can keep the clubhouse loose and make the stars feel good.
The great Oriole manager Earl Weaver once remarked that a team only has 25 players and every aspect of the game had to covered. What he needed was three or four stars and the remainder needed to be steady and dependable if unspectacular players to get the daily grind done. All championship teams need those “little” guys to be successful.
That’s why most successful big league managers come from the ranks of former players who weren’t stars. Stars don’t have to study the game. Many times they don’t know why they are stars. They depend on raw ability and an undefined understanding of the game. They can make up for mistakes with one swing of the bat or one strikeout at the right time. Others have to be steady and dependable and work hard at all aspects of their game. Their manager needs players who always make the routine play, always get the bunt down and are good in the clubhouse. These players have to learn what it takes to win a ballgame or they won’t be around too long.
Think of them as the man on the factory floor who makes certain that a product is well made and repairs are done as they should be. He doesn’t get to go on business trips around the world or hobnob with executives in $1,000 suits but the company couldn’t do without him. He’s the grease that makes the wheels turn. He’s the guy who knows how to make things work and who is happy to just be part of the team.
You may not want these guys in your fantasy league as their importance doesn’t often show up in the highlight stats or the highlight reel. I can guarantee you that the scouts, managers and coaches know who they are and seek them out. They often play for several teams during the course of their career and they often have lengthy stays in the bigs. These are four of my favorites plus an American League East powerhouse who fit the mold.
Except for Evan Longoria, how many of the players on Tampa Bay strike fear into the heart of any opposing team-on paper? This is a team built around players who can play several positions, bat almost anywhere in the order and bunt, hit and run and make all the routine plays. One is practically interchangeable with the other. Yet this team for the past few seasons has been in the thick of things in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Perhaps not what most managers would prefer but in the hands of Joe Maddon, a baseball analomy and a delight.
Here’s the rest individual player wise.
1. Jamey Carroll: He’s played for too many teams to list here and this winter signed on to be the regular shortstop for the Minnesota Twins. He began his major league career with a reputation as a utility player but became a regular second baseman, third baseman and now shortstop. When finally given the opportunity to play every day he didn’t waste the chance. Managers quickly realized that his value didn’t show up on the traditional statistical sheets. Hardnosed, durable and dependable, he soon became a vital cog on some very good teams.
2. Omar Infante: Like Caroll, began his career as a utility player with the Atlanta Braves but soon proved his value as a regular. He puts up better offensive numbers than might qualify for inclusion on this list but I put him here because he was a valuable relatively unknown on some very good teams. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that since trading him to Miami, the Atlanta Braves haven’t been quite the force that they were, no knock on Dan Uggla. Players such as Infante bring that unknown quality to a team which can make the difference between the playoffs or watching those same playoffs on television come October.
3. Omar Vizquel: One of those unsung players who might make it to the Hall of fame someday. Vizquel is now in his forties and no longer a regular but his ability at shortstop was legendary. Perhaps too good to be on this list but too good to be overlooked. In the prime of his career he went from spectacular fielder to spectacular fielder with offensive ability gaining him more attention than ever before. Vizquel played on too many great teams to be ignored. All of his managers would point in the direction of shortstop and say that without Vizquel, their success would have been much more difficult.
4. Willie Bloomquist: the Arizona diamondbacks love this guy. Who wouldn’t? He plays all over the diamond, plays hard, can field and has great speed. When star regular shortstop Stephen Drew was injured halfway through the season it was Bloomquist who filled in. Bloomquist is listed on the Arizona roster this spring as an outfielder but don’t expect him to stay there. He does nothing above average and everything solid and steady. I was hesitant to include him on this list as he is more of a utility player than anything else but Arizona wouldn’t have won the division last season without him.
These are only five of the guys you need to win your division. But you sure need them if you hope to.
By: Doug Bird