Since Saturday is the day of rest--at least for our Jewish friends--let's take a break from all the sabermetrics and rosterbation and get a bit nostalgic. I know we all have hopes and ideas about what the 2011 Rays will look like, but let's journey back before you knew what a standard deviation was, back when all you had was a rough concept of mean, median, mode, and range, and back when WAR really was good for absolutely nothing.
My favorite player growing up was Chris Sabo. Why, you ask? Was it because of his solid defense and strong bat? His three all-star appearances? No. None of the above. Chris Sabo was my favorite player for two reasons: 1) He and I had the same first name, and 2) the guy rocked a pair of Rec-Specs. The Horace Grant of the MLB, Sabo instantly became my favorite player because, yes, I
begrudgingly wore Rec-Specs, too. That's all it took.
Years later, after an alleged bat corking incident, I would move on to a new player: a shining beacon of light named Desmond DeChone Figgins. Though I was much older and wiser at this point in my life, I liked Chone Figgins simply because of his name. I mean, isn't there an entire sabermetric progression system based off his name? It's pretty cool. Once I got past his oddly-spelled moniker, I learned to appreciate Figgins for what he brought to the table. Speed has always defined Figgins' career. He out-stole our beloved Carl Crawford for the AL crown in 2005. But, I learned something else about his play that shifted my perspective about baseball a bit: the man played almost every position on the field. One day he starts at third base, the next at short, then at right on the third day because Vlad needs a day off.
His ability to play where he was needed made the team better and that selflessness is what made him, in my mind, a special player, and more than just a name.
And, of course, this brings me to Ben Zobrist. If you hadn't guessed already, I'm a Ben Zobrist homer. In '08 and '09 Zobrist grew to become my favorite player because of his ability to play anywhere. His exceptional hitting in 2009 didn't hurt matters, but it was his ability to play everyday at different positions to allow other hitters into the lineup to give the team the best chance of winning the game. I'm not talking about a Willy Mo Bloomquist sense of a utility man. I'm talking about an everyday player who happens to play many positions. This isn't a huge jump from Figgins to Zobrist, as Joe Maddon is straight out of
Compton the Mike Scioscia school of management.
What's the point of my favorite player timeline? Well, if there is one, it's that as we grow older and change, so do our tastes in players. I liked Chris Sabo for his Specs and his name, Figgins for his name and his utilitymanship, and Zobrist for his utilitymanship and... I don't know. What will Ben Zobrist show me over the next few years of his contract? Maybe the stats will be amazing, maybe not, but I don't think stats make someone stand out as your favorite player, they only can be used to argue it.
For example, I'm sure many of you lifelong (Devil) Rays fans would say Carl Crawford is/was your favorite player. Was he your favorite because in nine seasons in Tampa he hit .296 with 105 triples and 409 stolen bases? Was it his almost 1500 hits that did it for you? Maybe it was, but I'd be willing to bet that there was something not based in the statistics that did it for you. Maybe you respected a guy who played on so many bad teams and was never recognized out of the region until recently. Maybe you liked Crawford for his hustle day after day. Hell, maybe you had the same Leo tattoo on your neck as a child.
So, on this day of rest, I ask you to put your stats away for just a few minutes and tell us who your favorite player was/is and why.