John Baker’s time with the Chicago Cubs was brief, but, in the rich tradition of cult hero back-up catchers, he worked his way into the hearts of Cubs fans with his humor, his guitar, and his pitching arm. He was also a perfectly satisfactory back-up catcher.
Baker, who was released by the Mariners in May, has not yet latched on to another team, and, in the interim, has tried his hand at writing. This piece at Fox Sports on playing the game the “right way” is an absolute must read not only for the inside look at baseball, but also for the keen understanding of human nature as it relates to playing and watching this sport. It’s also just a hell of a well-written piece, structured well, and full of introspection.
(There’s an anecdote in there about a young Padres prospect playing in the Dominican Republic after the 2011 season, that you might be able to sniff out before Baker reveals the identity of the home-run-pimping slugger. It tells you a lot about Baker and the young hitter, and squares very much with what we perceive about those two (good things, I mean).)
Not unlike Baker, I grew up believing in a very specific set of unwritten rules about how you play the game. I never hit any home runs, but I know I wouldn’t have pimped them. I was a head-down, grind-it-out, hustle-at-every-moment kind of player as a kid (when you’re the runt, you pretty much have to be), and that informed the way I watched baseball as a child, a young person, and even as a young man.
I’m not exactly sure what it was that turned me around – so much so that I craved a bat flip out of every single Luis Valbuena plate appearance – but I think it had something to do, ironically, with growing up a bit. Baseball, at its core, is supposed to be fun. Fun to play and fun to watch. If it looks like the players are having fun, then it’s even more fun for us, as fans, to be part of that experience. Yes, of course we want them to be focused enough to play well and win, but if they’re also entertaining us and themselves in the process, what’s the harm? The older I got, the better I understood.
If you forced me to choose between the team of robots that would definitely win it all and the team of authentic and unpredictable human beings that might not, I can’t promise I’d choose the latter. I’m a Cubs fan, after all.
But, since that’s not a real choice, give me some fun on the field. Give me the guy who flips his bat after a long homer. Give me the pitcher who pumps his fist after a big strikeout. Give me the guy who rubs his helmet or flashes lo viste after a big hit. Give me the guy waiting with a pie for a teammate. Give me the guy wearing a bubble gum bucket hat in the dugout.
And definitely give me the guy who does this after working a walk off of Aroldis Chapman: