10 Genuine Good Guys in Major League Baseball

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2016

10 Genuine Good Guys in Major League Baseball

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    Curtis Granderson has won friends and influenced people at every stop in his major league career.
    Curtis Granderson has won friends and influenced people at every stop in his major league career.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The idea of making a living playing professional baseball probably pops into the minds of nearly every youngster at one point or another.

    That's one of the reasons that it is so tough to accomplish. The level of competition is staggering, and there's no end to the amount of work that it takes to get there.

    To those lucky enough to make it to the show, it's a non-stop battle to stay there. Players must constantly work to improve, upgrade their conditioning and learn more about the game.

    Some players are tightly wound as a result and may come close to the breaking point. But there are others who know how blessed they are and have gratitude every step of the way.

    These are baseball's good guys. They make life better for those around them and give back to society with their friendliness, warmth and charitable nature. 

    In this piece we look at 10 good guys in the national pastime.

Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Chicago Cubs are on the verge of transforming themselves into a juggernaut as the 2016 season plays out.

    They have continued to improve after making the playoffs in 2015 and getting to the National League Championship Series, and they won't be satisfied by anything less than a World Series appearance.

    They have talent up and down their lineup, and Anthony Rizzo has proved to be one of their most important players. The first baseman is known for his clutch hitting, strong fielding and all-around play.

    He is also a great guy off the field, and he learned long ago that baseball is a game and that other things in life are much more important. 

    That's because Rizzo is a cancer survivor, and he goes out of his way to help others who are battling the disease. 

    Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma when he was minor leaguer in the Boston Red Sox system at the age of 18.

    He fought the disease resolutely, and then he started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. This organization helps families battling cancer and has raised more than $1 million to fund cancer research.

    Rizzo does more than corporate work. He makes it a point to meet young people who are diagnosed themselves and then befriends and encourages them on a regular basis.

    While the Cubs are in the middle of what may turn out to be their first championship season in well over a century, Rizzo does much more than play baseball.

R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Knuckleball pitchers are rare in the big leagues these days, and R.A. Dickey has proved to be one of the best at his craft.

    The 41-year-old Dickey has been pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays since 2013, but it was the year before that he became a phenomenon with the New York Mets. He had a 20-6 record and earned a position on the National League All-Star team, and he pitched a scoreless inning in that game.

    Making the All-Star team at the age of 37 is a remarkable story. It is one of indomitable will, as Dickey was met with a strange diagnosis shortly after the Texas Rangers selected him in the first round of the 1996 draft. A medical exam revealed that he did not have an ulnar collateral ligament. Dickey was born without that ligament in his throwing elbow. 

    As a result, he had to teach himself to throw a knuckleball if he wanted to reach the big leagues.

    He had been a first-round draft choice, but he became the ultimate underdog. Most would have thrown up their arms and tried a new career. Dickey kept fighting.

    He not only made it, but he became an All-Star. He serves as an example of what a person can do when the goal is to overcome a bad break. That makes him one of the best guys in baseball, because he demonstrates that it's all about the will that an athlete brings to the mound.

    Dickey also helps other knuckleball pitchers. He has a bond with Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox, and even though they compete against each other in the A.L. East, he will help Wright out if he sees any issues with his delivery.

    "We all have each others' (phone) numbers," Dickey told Christopher Smith of MassLive.com.

Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles grew up wearing hand-me-downs and borrowed clothes when he as a child in the San Diego area.

    As a 13-year-old youngster playing baseball, he accompanied a friend to the sporting goods store at the start of the baseball season. As his friend ran down the aisles gathering up new equipment, Jones could do little more than watch. He did not have the money to purchase anything of his own.

    However, his friend's father, Steve Ruiz, walked up to Jones and told him to go shopping, according to Mike Klingaman's 2012 story that appeared in the Baltimore Sun. The youngster's eyes opened wide and he followed those instructions. He also told Ruiz that he would pay him back some day because he would be playing big league baseball.

    Jones has more than lived up to his word, as he has regularly taken Ruiz on a shopping spree before the start of spring training.

    That shows that Jones remembers his roots and takes care of those who have helped him, which is clearly an admirable characteristic.

    Jones is also known for dishing out celebratory pies when an Oriole teammate wins a game in the bottom half of the ninth with a walk-off hit.

    The Orioles had banned the tradition prior to the start of the 2016 season for "safety" reasons, but when Matt Wieters brought home the game-winner on Opening Day against the Minnesota Twins, Jones could not help himself.

    How can you not love a teammate who celebrates in the style of The Three Stooges?

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    A convincing argument can be made that Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball.

    The 28-year-old has already won the Cy Young Award three times, and he has made the All-Star team each of the last five years. He has a 2.38 career ERA, and he has been below 2.00 three times in his career.

    While he doesn't show it when facing major league hitters, Kershaw is also a charitable man. When visiting Africa with his wife on a Christian mission, he met a young girl named Hope and he wanted to help her and other children like her.

    He started "Striking Out to Serve," and he makes a contribution to the Kershaw's Challenge Foundations every time the strikes out a batter. That organization provides for African youngsters and helps better their living conditions.

Curtis Granderson, New York Mets

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Curtis Granderson has been playing in the major leagues since the 2004 season when he broke in with the Detroit Tigers. He has since played for the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, and he has been smiling every step of the way.

    Kevin Long is the hitting coach for the Mets, and before that he was in the same position with the Yankees. He has worked with Granderson during both of his stints with New York's major league baseball teams.

    “I’ve never seen him come to the field looking discouraged,” Long told Harvey Araton of the New York Times. “I’ve never seen him with his head down. I’ve never seen him anything but positive. We laugh all the time when we say, you know, does Curtis ever have a bad day?”

    That means the 35-year-old Granderson has had 13 years worth of good days in the major leagues. 

    Aside from regularly being in a good mood, Granderson has long been about giving back to the community. He started the Grand Kids Foundation, which is about helping youngsters through education, physical fitness and nutrition.

    Granderson's foundation has helped thousands of children from New York to his hometown of Chicago and beyond, and that organization continues to thrive.

     

Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    There may not be any field boss in the history of baseball who is sillier than Joe Maddon.

    The Chicago Cubs manager established himself as one of the best at his craft during his nine-year run with the Tampa Bay Rays, and he has helped turn the Cubs into a legitimate threat to win the World Series.

    However, Maddon understands that a 162-game season is a marathon, and the time at the ballpark and between games can drain a player.

    As a result, Maddon likes to keep things interesting by giving his players themes during road trips. Some of those have been having players wear pajamas or costumes on road trips and bring in baby bears during spring training.

    The idea behind Maddon's madness is to keep things loose (obviously) and creative. It has worked well in Tampa, and it appears to be working even better in Chicago.

Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

    It's difficult to find a player who has been better all-around over the last eight seasons than Andrew McCutchen.

    He has been a true five-tool player who hits extremely well, hits with power, runs, fields and throws superbly.

    He has been one of the primary reasons the Pirates have gone from a perennial loser to a consistent contender in the challenging National League Central Division.

    As much as McCutchen has done on the field, he has also done sensational work off it. It begins in the Pittsburgh locker room, where he is a leader for the Pirates.

    “There are a lot of things that come with great performance,” McCutchen told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There are a lot of things that come with success. But like God says, ‘To whom much is given much is expected.’ You have expectations in a lot of different ways. It’s up to you to be able to meet them.

    McCutchen had done quite a bit of work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and he is also involved with Habitat for Humanity, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund and the Light of Life Rescue Mission. 

    McCutchen does not seek out the spotlight and he doesn't like to acknowledge his outside work, but he admits helping others is clearly a part of his make-up.

    “Helping in general is what touches my heart," McCutchen told Cook. "I do a few things here and there. They all mean something to me because it means you’re doing your job."

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Joe Mauer has gone from the young phenom of the Minnesota Twins to the veteran leader of a team that is trying to find itself.

    Mauer's ability to drive the ball to all fields and make contact made him an impact player when he came into the American League as a 21-year-old in 2004, and he established himself as one of the best catchers in the game by his second season.

    Over the years, Mauer has moved to first base and designated hitter. He has also established himself as one of the nicest players in pro baseball. 

    Mauer is known for his warm and friendly personality and his overall decency. When teammate Trevor Plouffe wanted to congratulate "Soup" (another friend) and call him a great guy, he described Soup as being "Joe Mauer nice."

    That's a real thing in Minnesota, and the 33-year-old St. Paul native exemplifies that kind of personality. He often gets chided because he is such a nice guy, but he's more than happy to wear that label.

Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The beauty and purity of Robinson Cano's left-handed swing was apparent from the first time he stepped into a major league batter's box in the 2005 season with the New York Yankees.

    Balance, timing, quickness and athleticism; Cano has had it all when he swings the baseball bat with authority. He has been a force to reckon with in his career with the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners.

    Cano's has a career slash line of .307/.355/.497, but those numbers don't tell the full story. 

    He started the RC22 Foundation to help underprivileged children in the Seattle area, the Dominican Republic and around the world. His RC22 Dream School opened in the Dominican Republic in November 2015, and it offers employment training programs for residents.

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Mike Trout has been compared to Mickey Mantle since his arrival in the major leagues as a 19-year-old during the 2011 season.

    Trout took little time to get acclimated to the big leagues. He showed off his power, speed, defensive ability and all-around skills shortly after arriving in Anaheim with the Los Angeles Angels.

    Trout has made the All-Star team in each of his first four full seasons in the American League, and he will almost certainly make it again in 2016. He won the American League MVP in 2014 and the All-Star MVP in each of the last two years.

    Trout showed his caring and concern shortly before Christmas last year when the New Jersey native heard about a fire in Buena Vista, New Jersey, that burned down the home of Tony and Barbara DeSimone.

    Trout didn't know the DeSimones, but he made his way over to their house with Christmas gifts for the whole family.

    “Your house burns down, you don’t have anything for Christmas, and all these people are giving, giving, giving, then bam! Mike Trout comes. It’s like Santa Claus arrived,” Barbara DeSimone told Seth Vigdor of the Philly Influencer.

    Tony DeSimone said that Trout was a rarity among professional athletes. 

    “You see how a lot of stars are in this day and age; they don’t remember where they came from,” he said. “But Mike, he’s a true ambassador of Major League Baseball. He remembers where he came from, and he really helps the people in this area.”