Ranking the 10 Most Misunderstood MLB Players
There is something special about walking into a ballpark, past the food vendors, and emerging upon the field where professional superstars play catch before a game.
These are players we see on television nearly everyday. We read about them in the paper and discuss their productivity with our friends.
We may think we know the players inside and out, but these major leaguers have lives just like you and me.
What we think we may know about Bryce Harper, Kevin Youkilis or Jason Bay is superficial at best. We may love them or hate them for obscure reasons rooted in nothing more than our own bias.
It's time to clear some things up, here are 10 of the most misunderstood players in the majors.
10. Adrian Beltre
From an outside perspective, Adrian Beltre can come off as a teammate who frequently finds himself scuffling with fellow players. And for some odd reason, it always begins with a head rub.
For those baseball fans unaware of Beltre's inherent weakness, he cannot stand to have his well-groomed head touched.
The head-rubbing ritual began with Felix Hernandez in Seattle, continued with Victor Martinez in Boston and has lived on with Elvis Andrus and other teammates in Texas.
Some players swear it's for good luck, but for unknown reasons, Beltre knows his noggin will inevitably be a target.
Next time you see Beltre take a swing at a teammate, know that someone dared to touch his shaved head.
9. Derek Jeter
Simply because he has played his entire career for one of the most hated organizations in sports, Derek Jeter is sometimes viewed in a bad light.
Despised mostly for their continued success, the New York Yankees and Jeter have created a bond many franchises desire with their stars.
However, Jeter has been criticized as being overpaid and occasionally for playing the game with too much flare (i.e. his diving catch that sent him into the stands during a 2004 extra-innings match up with the Boston Red Sox).
The 18-year veteran shortstop is no doubt a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and while surprisingly never winning an MVP award, Jeter has certainly been the most valuable player for the Yankees' franchise over the past two decades.
8. Justin Morneau
When Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer became the faces of the Minnesota Twins in the mid-2000s, a World Series trophy was in the forecast. The Twins had two young, stud players with the letters J and M for initials. It had to be a good sign.
Since then, each has won an MVP award. But in recent years, Morneau has suddenly begun a sharp decline.
Injury-ridden seasons plagued the first baseman in 2010 and 2011, and in 2012, he watched as his offensive production dropped to lows he hadn't witnessed since 2005.
Some would say Mauer's leadership has overshadowed Morneau and recent talk about his placement on the trading block surely won't help his status in Minnesota.
Truthfully, though, Morneau is an All-Star caliber MLB player and has Comeback Player of the Year award written all over him for the 2013 season.
7. Hanley Ramirez
Hanley Ramirez has struggled with his consistency at the plate and has been criticized for immaturely handling situations in the past.
One instance occurred during an early-season game in 2010 in which he chose to jog down the line on a double play ball. The following inning, Ramirez misplayed a blooper and kicked it into the corner of the field, allowing multiple runners to score.
Ramirez was also cited as having displeasure when the Marlins organization signed Jose Reyes as their regular shortstop and moved Hanley to third base.
What the Dominican Republic native needs is a reliable manager, which he has in Don Mattingly. Ramirez has the tools to bounce back from a .252 batting average over the past two years, 36 points lower than his career average, but focus will be key.
He will benefit from a strong lineup in Los Angeles and will have the ability to return to his early-career form when he won the Rookie of the Year award.
6. Barry Zito
Barry Zito's career has been a bit of a rollercoaster.
He won the Cy Young award with the Oakland Athletics in 2002, going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA.
After Zito signed a contract with the San Francisco Giants in 2006 worth approximately $18 million per year, he went on to record his first five losing seasons all in succession.
Analysts and fans were ready to write off Zito until this past season when he went 15-8 and became a solid arm in arguably the best pitching rotation in baseball.
He proved himself useful in the postseason as well, convincingly winning Game 5 of the NLCS to spark a Giants series comeback and defeating ace Justin Verlander of the Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.
Zito is back and he wants people to know.
He never left. Let's just say he just took an extended mental vacation.
5. Josh Hamilton
Just last week, the Los Angeles Angels swooped in and signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract.
Angels owner Arte Moreno called it a "great investment" and does not consider the addition a "risk" as some other clubs did.
Some franchises were placing too much weight on Hamilton's past abuse of drugs and alcohol, shying away from a long-term deal.
Truth be told, the Angels landed an extraordinary player who makes an already potent lineup terrifying for opposing pitchers. Hamilton is one of the best hitters in the game, and despite a couple relapses, has not let his substance abuse history affect his playing ability.
He will continue to torch pitchers for the next five years.
4. Jason Bay
"Jason Bay is a guy who used to be good who's just looking for a fresh start." (h/t Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing)
And it's so true.
Remember when Jason Bay won the Rookie of the Year award with the Pirates? Remember when he would slug 30-plus home runs per season? Remember when he was an All-Star as a Red Sox?
Those days may be gone, but the criticism that Bay is a lazy player is still around.
The fact is, however, that Bay is simply a laid back guy. It doesn't mean he doesn't care about the game. It just comes off that way.
Bay has the ability to turn his career around in Seattle after three miserable seasons as a New York Met. Maybe he wasn't a fit in New York or maybe he couldn't perform on the big stage.
Whatever the reason, Bay is glad Seattle has given him the opportunity to right the ship.
3. Kevin Youkilis
Kevin Youkilis' gritty style of play and unconventional batting stance has aggravated some baseball fans, especially those of the state of New York.
Now, those Yankee fans who have loathed Youkilis in the Red Sox uniform will be forced to embrace his bravado in 2013.
Youkilis' enormous chin, which has been covered with a gruff goatee for many years, will be clean-shaven when he makes his debut with the Bronx Bombers next season.
If there's one thing that proves how misunderstood Youkilis is as a player, it will be the affection that Yankees' fans will soon rain upon Youkilis. After all, what sort of fan wouldn't want a hard knocks player on their team.
Sure, Youkilis can get in your face and isn't afraid to speak his mind, but as long as he produces on the field, he has every right to do so.
2. Bryce Harper
He's arrogant. He's precocious. These are opinions.
He was on the Sports Illustrated cover at age 16. He blew a kiss to a pitcher after hitting a minor league home run (h/t Scott Miller of CBS Sports). These are facts.
Any player who enters the major leagues with the amount of hype surrounding Bryce Harper is bound to have his haters. The 20-year-old has handled much of the criticism extremely well.
Take his plunking by Cole Hamels for example. When Hamels sent that message, Harper responded by silently advancing to first, stealing home a few minutes later and kindly answering questions after the game.
The kid is a talented and determined player who is seeking to make a huge impact on the game.
Just don't ask him if he's ready for the Hall of Fame.
1. A.J. Pierzynski
Last week I wrote an article ranking the 10 Most Irritating Players in baseball. Guess who topped that list?
That's right, Mr. Pierzynski and I have become good friends over the past week.
While many baseball players and fans can't stand the Chicago White Sox catcher, the fact is that Pierzynski is simply one of the toughest and smartest players in the game.
He is a great general behind the plate, developing young pitchers such as Chris Sale and Jose Quintana as well as helping to revive the career of veteran Jake Peavy.
Pierzynski produces at the plate too. He walloped 27 home runs last season, by far the most of his 15-year career.
If he's your teammate, you love him. If you play on any of the other 29 teams, you hate him.
For some, that's just the way it goes.
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