The game of baseball is great!
There are very few other sports where players can overcome their physical or skill limitations and become great players simply on effort and hustle.
The legendary Pete Rose was the king of this, squeezing every ounce of talent out of himself, hustling on every play, and ultimately playing in the most winning games of any player in history.
Pete Rose was just had "it". He was an "it" guy.
So what makes an "it" guy? It's different for each player. Some are gritty and fiery, some are stoic, quite, and lead by example. Others still are the guys who look like they have no business being on a ball field, yet always give the best effort of anyone on the field.
One thing these players all have in common, they're all winners.
So who are the "it" guys in today's game?
Playoff Appearences: 2
Carlos Beltran is the quiet-type player who prefers to lead by example, letting his play do the talking. Beltran became an "it" guy during his amazing run with Houston during the 2004 playoffs.
Since coming to the Mets, Beltran has helped lead the Mets to the NLCS, and while the rest of the bats went silent the last two Septembers, Beltran was one of the few Mets who hit, batting .282 with 8 homers and 27 RBI in 28 games and .344 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI in 25 games played in the final month of 2007 and 2008, respectively.
He's a five tool player with very few flaws in his game.
Playoff Appearences: 3
Sure he has yet to pitch well in the playoffs, but you can't even get a chance to pitch well in the playoffs if you can't get there, and if your team needs to get there, then this guy is your man.
What Sabathia did for the Brewers in 2008 was legendary, piching what seemed like every other day, and practically willing the Brewers to their first playoff appearence since 1982. That performance alone earned him the title of an "it" guy.
Now Sabathia is heating up again, leading the Al in wins, and doing for the Yankees in 2009 what he did for the Brew Crew in 2008.
Playoff Appearences: 5
Sure he's no longer a player, but Mike Scioscia is definately a baseball "it" guy, because no manager gets more out of his players.
Since taking the reigns of the Angels in 2000, Scioscia has been as successful as anyone (with the exception of Joe Torre), having twice as many first place finishes (four) as losing records (two).
Scioscia has been to the playoffs five times, winning it all in 2002, giving the Angels their first and only championship.
Scioscia may be doing his best job this season, however. After losing a ton of talent in the offseason, his number one starter to injury, and another to a fatal car accident, Scioscia has managed to get his team to pull together, helping the Angels find themselves in a familiar spot in the standings...first place.
Playoff Appearences: 2
Sure Jimmy Rollins is the cog that gets the Big Philly Machine running, but the Phillies didn't turn the corner and become title contenders until they replaced Bobby Abreu with Shane Victorino.
He doesn't look like much, and that stupid helmet with the two ear flaps doesn't help, but the gritty Victorino just may be this generation's Paul O'Neil.
Nobody on the field wants to win more than this guy, and while he'll never be Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, or Jimmy Rollins, Victorino seems to have no flaws in his game. Victorino is the type of "it" guy who seems to never make a bad play.
Somebody throw a beer on this guy, please.
Playoff Appearences: 11
Any Mets fan who was watching games in 1999 knows that Chipper Jones is an "it" guy.
During that 1999 season, Jones basically won the MVP award by single-hadedly keeping the Mets from winning the division, and then for an encore he would help knock them out of the playoffs.
Any guy who is hands down the leader of a team that wins 14 straight division titles, goes to three World Series, wins one, all while totally destroying his team's closest rival, has to be an "it" guy. And now I'm going to throw up.
Playoff Appearences: 4
Eckstein is getting older, may not be the player he once was, and—let's face it—nobody could win with San Diego this season, but Eckstein has proven he's an "it" guy.
Eckstein, a diminutive infielder who gives max effort on every play, has won two rings since coming to the bigs in 2001. He won his first with the Angels in 2002, and then again with the Cardinals in 2006.
His numbers are solid, but can not even come close to showing the value Eckstein brings to a team.
Playoff Appearences: 6
Steroid controversy aside, there may not be a better hitter in the clutch than David "Big Papi" Ortiz. If your team is losing and down to their last at bat, this is the guy you want at the plate.
He's the active career leader in walk-off home runs with 10.
His comebacks have been legendary as well, almost single-handedly sparking the Red Sox miracle comeback in the 2004 ALCS by winning games four and five with game winning hits.
He's struggling this year, and may never be what he once was again, but there's a certain presence that Papi has when he steps in the batter's box.
Would you want to face him in the ninth inning with the game on the line?
Playoff Appearences: 5
He may be the greatest catcher of all time, but that's not the only thing that makes Pudge an "it" guy. Simply put, Rodriguez wins, and makes all the players, especially his pitchers, around him better.
Don't think so? Well, the Florida Marlins were a fourth place team with a record of 79-83 in 2002. In 2003, the year Pudge arrived, the Marlins were 91-71, and won the World Series.
Was it a fluke?
Well, in 2003, the Detroit Tiger were in last place with the second worst record in baseball history at 43-119. Pudge arrived the following season, and in two years the Tigers were 95-67 and on their way to their first World Series since 1984. (Tigers lost the Series to the Cardinals that year).
If that doesn't make an "it" guy, nothing will.
Playoff Appearences: 3
When your known as the best money pitcher in the game, then you absolutely are one of baseball's "it" guys. Beckett could stink it up all year, and still find himself in the Sox's postseason rotation.
The reason? Look at his post season stats: 13 games (12 starts), 7-2 win/loss record, 2.90 ERA, 96 strikeouts in 87 innings pitched, 0.943 WHIP, and three complete games (all of them shutouts).
Beckett's numbers in the World Series are even more impressive: three games (all starts), 2-1 win/loss record, 1.16 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 23.1 innings pitched, .857 WHIP, and while he only has one complete game, it came as a shutout against the Yankees in Games 6 of the 2003 Series, clinching the win for the Marlins.
Beckett's most impressive post-season stat?
Two, as in the number of rings he has.
Playoff Appearences: 12
What can be said about this guy that hasn't already been said? Let's face it, he's the king of all baseball "it" guys.
For some reason, Derek Jeter always comes up with the big hit, always makes the much needed out, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
And now in 2009, despite being past his prime, Jeter is arguably having his best season to date, and in my opinion, is the MVP of the best team in baseball.
His stats are very good, but the only numbers that are going to get this Yankee captain into the Hall of Fame are four and six, as in four rings in six World Series appearances.