Top Five: MLB's Current Blue Collar Heroes
Beneath the flashy exterior of modern Major League Baseball, there exists a brotherhood of hard-nosed, thick-skinned men.
These often under-appreciated few live boldly, without waver, day in and day out. We cannot doubt the toughness of an Albert Pujols or the fervency of a Jim Thome, for these are men of great resilience.
Instead our attention must shift toward a handful of the gritty, Git'R'Done type—the type who wouldn't miss batting practice for their own wedding.
This elite corps signifies a dying breed of player, the kind that would tell a team doctor, "Thanks for your opinion, Doc, but I don't need two kidneys to swing a bat."
Today's game is a business—it has to be to survive.
Much like any other industry, baseball has a product, and it has investors, contributors, and benefactors.
It has a system of operation.
Players constitute employees and proprietors, and thus must remain in a position to provide their services.
This translates into an injury-weary psyche amongst all those involved, including managers, coaches, agents, administration, investors, owners, and players themselves. The totality of these contingents results in a great discrepancy between the threat of injury and the threat of profit loss.
Today's player must walk the fine line of risk and reward to assure their own value and appease the masses.
With this being said, the brotherhood of roughnecks in today's game represent a different time. They hearken back to the days of a lock-kneed Kirk Gibson's dinger or a grimacing Willie McCovey struggling to leg out a double.
Each man on this list possesses qualities both transparent and intangible. Some may not be in the 500 home run club or possess double-digit Golden Gloves, but they awake every day only to bring to their respective ballparks a sense of purpose and respect for the game.
Keep in mind that there are many tough guys out there. It is out of respect to the many that lace them up every day that this list exists, and feel free to throw in any names absent here.
Aaron Rowand, OF, San Francisco Giants
This 31-year old journeyman has had more collisions than Daytona's SAFER barrier. This fact is not in itself an achievement, but getting up is.
The Portland, Oregon native has patrolled outfields for the last nine years with reckless abandon. Google "outfielder hits wall", and you'll find several somewhat-disturbing Rowand videos.
His prowess has achieved him a Gold Glove (2007) and, more importantly, the respect and sympathy of anyone suffering from head trauma.
Roy Halladay, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
What is there to say folks? The man is an absolute work horse.
He's led the league in innings pitched, wins, and complete games several times and shows no signs of slowing down.
Halladay has been cyborg-like in throwing low-90s fastballs with pinpoint accuracy while avoiding lengthy DL stints for most of his career.
Regardless of the future, Halladay is able to draw sympathy from the bum-shouldered, hammer-swinging tradesman to the light-fingered secretary suffering from Carpal tunnel.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox
Youkilis could be the poster boy for toughness. Donning a Grizzly Man beard and glossy dome, this Cincinnati native exudes a manliness Bostonians covet to the tune of "Yoooouk."
Something about his rugged exterior and consistency shoulder a healthy amount of blue-collar support.
He pleases crowds in Boston while his infamy builds in New York, and he does so with consistency, save a spotty 2005.
Jason Varitek, C, Boston Red Sox
To be entirely accurate, a second list should be created featuring solely the catcher position. Anyone who has ever frenzied to strap on several pounds of clunky plastic, only to be hammered by 90-MPH fastballs and occasionally steamrolled by baserunners can understand why catchers inherently possess toughness.
Varitek is no exception. In fact, he is the epitome of this toughness.
We all remember the 2005 collision with Jorge Posada, or at least Posada does. Varitek needs no real hype—he's the real deal.
Reed Johnson, OF, Chicago Cubs
Johnson might not appear on conventional MLB radar screens, but the tough, 32-year-old California native has impressed savvy baseball observers for years.
He appears on this list despite not being an everyday player because of the impact he makes in limited opportunities.
At just 5'10" and 180 pounds, Johnson isn't the biggest or the broadest, but his self-sacrificing acumen warrants a spot on this list.
He brings a great work ethic into the clubhouse, where he is also admired for always going the extra mile.