Every now and then, life hands you tidy little coincidences that fit perfectly in your view of the world. The Baseball Gods delivered one of these gems on Monday night.
It concerns the Florida Marlins' Hanley Ramirez, a ballplayer who many misguided souls believe to be the best player in Major League Baseball not named Albert Pujols. Even more preciously wayward fans believe the latest Dominican dandy to be the best player in the National League East.
They're wrong on both accounts—that athlete is the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley.
To be totally objective, the title of second-best going to Prince Albert is highly debatable.
You could make great cases for the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, the Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer, the Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria, the San Diego Padres' Adrian Gonzalez, and possibly—much as it pains me to say it—the Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp (granted, it's probably too early to include him).
All of those guys are exceptional contributors with the bat in every category, possess enough speed to avoid hurting the club, if not use it as a weapon (as Kemp does), and can flash some of the best leather at their given positions.
However, the competition for the head of the NL East class leaves minimal room for argument.
Although a nod must be given to the Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, the improving defense of the Phils' Ryan Howard, and his underrated teammate Jayson Werth, this is a two-horse race consisting of Utley and Ramirez.
Sorry, the New York Mets' David Wright looks a tad lost in the new yard, so he no longer qualifies.
The difference between the Phightin' and the Fish isn't large at all—both are gifted in all facets of the game. Yet the evidence of Utley's superiority is clear and authored by Ramirez, himself.
If you haven't heard by now , the Arizona Diamondbacks' Tony Abreu dropped a little bloop single over the Florida Marlins' infield in the second inning of Monday's contest. More precisely, the jam shot fell a few feet beyond the reach of shortstop and all-galaxy talent Ramirez.
No shame there—he had no play on the ball.
You can even forgive the botched attempt to scoop the ball as well as the subsequent homage to the upcoming World Cup in South Africa. Those things happen to even the slickest of glove men and HanRam most certainly qualifies for that distinction.
The absurdity began when the best shortstop in the Bigs dawdled after the pearl as two snakes raced around the bases to score (from first and second, respectively). Meanwhile, Abreu coasted into third on what should've been a can-o'-corn single. For those scoring at home, that's a FIVE base error on one play—you don't see those too often.
I don't want to hear that Ramirez wasn't loafing, that he was favoring his injured leg.
True, the five-tooler sizzled a wicked foul ball off his shin in first inning, so his giddy-up wouldn't be at its best.
Except you can see for yourself .
Hanley slows up noticeably after booting the ball and there's no sign of a limp when he's chasing the ball in flight off the bat. There's really not much sign of a hitch, period.
Furthermore, that's a dude who has averaged 41 stolen bases per 162 games during his career (roughly 4.25 seasons). In other words, he can pick 'em up and put 'em down with MLB's fastest burners.
Unless that shin is broken, Ramirez could've and should've been quicker to the ball. In short, he should've tried.
Which brings me back to the Phillies' second baseman.
Utley missed the Phillies game on Monday night due to flu-like symptoms. Even more surprising, the gritty superstar was sent home from the stadium.
I know Chase a very little bit, enough to believe whole-heartedly in his universal reputation for being one of the toughest-minded, most intense players in all of baseball. He is, without a doubt, what Duane Kuiper would call a "gamer's gamer."
If Utley didn't play, he must've been really sick. If he got sent home, he was probably near death's door (or incredibly contagious).
That's what it would take to pry the perennial All Star and NL Most Valuable Player candidate from the stadium with his comrades in battle.
I'd be willing to bet large sums of money I don't have and wouldn't be able to pay that Utley's never punked out like Hanley Ramirez did on Monday. I'm talking from tee ball on up through the infallibility of a high school phenom.
Nobody's perfect, but I don't see laziness or ego being Chase's flaws.
I can absolutely, 100 percent guarantee the former UCLA Bruin has never pulled bush league nonsense like calling out his manager for never playing in the Majors, throwing teammates under the bus, and all while refusing to acknowledge the stupidity of such an egregious act.
The physical error was embarrassing but excusable, the subsequent mental one was horrific, and this latest salvo fired by Hanley is downright preposterous to the point of being offensive.
Yet he's also the face of the organization at the moment.
Nevertheless, you might agree with the criticism and still say HanRam's across-the-board statistical edge over the Californian native is enough to compensate for any momentary lapses in attitude. I won't pretend a purely numerical assessment clearly slants toward the younger player (26 versus 31).
But that underestimates the influence an elite player has on the team.
It's pretty tough to give less than maximum effort when the best guy on the squad is doing so. In that way, even the softest spoken individual can set the tone for a team and even an entire franchise.
Sadly, the same can be said when that individual lollygags it.
Consequently, you can have Hanley Ramirez and his incremental individual advantage.
I'll take Chase Utley and the extra effort he gets from the entire team.
And I'll win.
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