2010 MLB Season: The First Annual MJ's
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To be a popular athlete takes more than just being good. All the MVP awards and World Series titles in the world won't make a difference if you're still an arrogant tool (sorry, A-Rod).
Popularity requires charm, charisma, dedication and humility. Nobody knows this better than Michael Jordan, one of the most popular athletes ever.
Jordan was an unstoppable basketball player and likely the best ever, but he made several times more money away from the court than he did on it. Why?
Because Jordan was a master at building and maintaining public support. He was to sports PR what Bill Russell was to the center position. Nobody has ever done it better.
Basketball fans across the country loved him, even as he was single-handedly demolishing their team. Nobody ever had anything bad to say about Jordan because he had earned the respect of his coaches, teammates and the general public.
So it seems only fair to name this award after the immortal MJ, who nearly a decade after retiring is still raking in millions of dollars in endorsement deals.
These five baseball players together represent everything that the great Jordan symbolizes. They chose their words, and their actions, very carefully, and for that they were rewarded with public and media praise. They've built their personal brands as athletes to all-time highs and are on the cusp of superstardom. So here they are again for your enjoyment and admiration.
To see the five athletes who won this year's ignominious OJ Awards (worst PR moves), please click here.
Joey Votto, for not criticizing voters after he was snubbed from the initial NL All-Star Game roster.He made it in on the fans' vote, so at least someone noticed he was one of the best hitters in the league.
5. Trevor Hoffman Saves His 600th
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Trevor Hoffman is one of the best relievers in the history of the game, but he's also one of baseball's best role models.
After struggling mightily early this season for the Milwaukee Brewers (with five blown saves and an ERA that hovered in double digits through mid-June), Hoffman lost his job as closer to rookie John Axford. But instead of complaining or retiring, the soon-to-be 44-year-old legend graciously helped Axford along and supported the team in any way he could.
Hoffman has always been known as the guy in the clubhouse who arranges celebrations for his teammates whenever they reach a milestone. On September 7th, the Brewers returned the favor by helping Hoffman earn his 600th career save in a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. After the game Milwaukee players carried Hoffman on their shoulders as fans applauded.
“He’s taught me a lot of things as far as being a teammate and being a team player and going about the game,” said Brewers first basemen Prince Fielder. “Everything he says is good knowledge. His work ethic is through the roof. He works hard every day.”
Hoffman is the all-time leader in saves, and though Mariano Rivera will pass him within a year or two, he still remains one of the best to have ever played the game.
“I guess it shows that you’re doing things right and you’re having an impact in a positive manner,” Hoffman said about the celebration his teammates had for him. “You appreciate the game, you appreciate them and they are appreciating you back.”
Pitchers' careers don't usually have happy endings, but Hoffman couldn't have asked for a better one.
4. Dallas Braden Shows Off His Backbone
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It's not often you see an up-and-coming player call out a future Hall of Famer and actually be right about it. But everything Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden said to Alex Rodriguez was warranted and a necessary slap in the face to one of baseball's biggest egos.
In the sixth inning of a game between the Athletics and New York Yankees, A-Rod nonchalantly ran across the pitching mound from third to first after a foul ball. It was an obvious gesture of disrespect and Braden barked at the All-Star.
"I don't care if I'm Cy Young or the 25th man on the roster, if I've got the ball in my hand and I'm on that mound, that's my mound," said Braden after the game. "He ran across the pitcher's mound with my foot on the rubber. No, not happening. We're not the door mat anymore."
A-Rod coyly denied any wrongdoing, but it was an act any baseball fan should be able to see through.
"He just told me to get off his mound," Rodriguez said. "That was a little surprising. I'd never quite heard that, especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career...I thought it was pretty funny, actually."
A-Rod may have all the talent in the world, but he still has a pea-sized brain and an ego the size of the Empire State building. There may be a pecking order in baseball, but it's nice to know there are people like the 27-year-old Braden confident enough to put players back in line.
I think it's safe to say that Braden is over the dispute by now. He said everything he needed to say when he pitched a perfect game against the Rays two weeks later. Take that, A-Rod.
3. Stephen Strasburg Stays Humble
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It would have been easy for him to complain or gloat. After all, most scouts thought the No. 1 in the 2009 MLB Draft was ready for the major leagues right away.
But the Washington Nationals were in no rush to showcase their young phenom and assigned him to the minor leagues. Strasburg dominated, finishing his minor league career with a 7-2 record and an ERA of 1.30.
Over seven stellar innings the big righty struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates hitters and allowed two runs en route to his first career run. After the game he was the epitomization of humility.
"I just wanted to go out there and say I've had my first outing in the big leagues. I've had a great time."
Strasburg could've gotten cocky and declared that he'd be the best ever (like his new teammate Bryce Harper is fond of doing), but he didn't. He kept his place and said the right things.
Everyone and their uncle has already anointed Strasburg as the next big thing in baseball. He may very well be, but for the meantime he's just enjoying the ride.
He's got a bright future ahead of him and, if he keeps his head from ballooning with praise, he's got a good chance of following in Jordan's footsteps.
2. Dustin Pedroia Refuses to Quit
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Usually when you break your foot, you take a few days off from work to relax and recuperate.
The gritty Red Sox second basemen broke his foot on June 25 and just two days later was seen taking ground balls from his knees. The doctors told Pedroia he couldn't put any weight on his left foot for three weeks, so he improvised.
Pedroia may very well be crazy, but this sort of bodily sacrifice is almost unheard of in baseball. It's also an example of the leadership qualities that has made Pedroia into one of the most well-liked players in the game.
At a time when other Red Sox players were dropping like flies, and one (Jacoby Ellsbury) had abandoned the team to recover in Arizona, Pedroia did literally everything he could to support his team and get back to the field quicker.
When asked by teammate John Lackey what he was doing on the field, Pedroia replied "I'm polishing the machine."
He's a machine, alright. And an MJ Award winner too.
1. Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce Share a Handshake
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Your 2010 MJ Award winner is...a tie?
Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game when he induced Cleveland Indians shortstop Jason Donald to hit a soft grounder to first basemen Miguel Cabrera. Galaragga ran to first to cover the bag for the 27th out, except first base umpire Jim Joyce spoiled the party by calling Donald safe.
Donald wasn't safe, though. Joyce had missed the call.
It's not very often in sports that we see an athlete and an umpire or official actually get along. It's even rarer when the athlete has a legitimate complaint with the call made. But an umpire actually admitting that he was wrong? That's completely unheard of.
Galragga and Joyce share this award because they showed the world that two men can be civil with each other even when one has wronged the other.
Joyce admitted that he was wrong after the game and tearfully apologized to Galarraga, who graciously forgave him. Even when the call was made, Galarraga didn't resort to verbally attacking Joyce (even though his manager and teammates did). He calmly returned to the mound and retired the next hitter to secure the shutout.
Emotions in sports can run high, especially when someone is on the verge of making history. But a perfect game, after all, is just another way to get a win.
Galaragga's actions that fateful June day serve as an example for athletes everywhere, professional and amateur. He showed tremendous judgment and humility in making amends with Joyce.
Joyce, for his part, deserves credit as well for admitting that he had made a mistake. Dozens of officials think they are infallible and use any disagreement as justification for ejecting a coach or player. Everyone makes mistakes, but it takes a real man to admit it.
"That was one of the coolest things I've ever seen," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said the next day. "What sets that apart from anything that's probably happened in a long time in our sport is the absolute sportsmanship of it. … Galarraga and Joyce are two true gentlemen, period, in the way that they handled themselves. People will always remember that. I'll never forget it."
Congratulations to both Galaragga and Joyce for showing fans everywhere that baseball can be more than just a sport.