There is a misconception out there that I do not like Javier Baez. Nothing could be further from the truth. All indications are that he is a wonderful person, a loving husband, and a great father. He is a devoted family man, having proved that in the minor leagues when he took a leave of absence to tend to his family when his sister passed away.
I have no problem with Javier Baez.
The growing Javier Baez cult and fan club are another issue however.
If you dare to speak one truth about Baez, that doesn't match up to the insane level of love these people have for him, you are literally taking your life in your hands. There are so many people out there that think this guy is Hall of Fame bound already that they can't see the forest thru the trees. A former editor once sent me a note on this that simply said "fan = fanatic". Enough said.
I think enough time has passed that I can tell a story for those that don't already know this. Almost two years ago I wrote, in another life, a sentence, in a long story on a number of topics, that Baez was not going to win the MVP for that year. It was basically a throw away line in a nearly 4000 word story. Never gave it a second thought.
The next day I got an email from the editor saying that he was taking me off line for a few days to let things settle down. Apparently they had received death threats against me, because of that line in my story, and people were threatening to boycott the website and advertisers for publishing it.
When I opened Twitter and saw that I had about 100 tweets in my in box, I was surprised. When I read the hate filled notes from Cubs fans, especially Baez backers, it gave me pause, I'm not going to lie to you. I had never experienced anything so insane in my life.
Oh, and by the way, I was right, he didn't win the MVP.
I mention this not for pity, but for reference to the next part of this story. I recently mentioned on Twitter that I did not get the passion for Baez by his fans. I simply said that he was an above average player but was not going to end up in the Hall of Fame. Hello fresh hell.
It took about 15 seconds for the first tweet to arrive blasting me as either, a White Sox fan, or a Russian Bot, determined to destroy the world of Javy and everyone who lives in it. I received nearly 30 similar niceties in about 20 minutes and then these dolts moved on to someone else. It brought back the nervousness of two years ago and was disconcerting.
The charm and appeal of Baez is the excitement and joy he brings to the game. I get that and I love that too. I could do without some of his nonsense, but that is picking hairs. He clearly loves to play baseball with a reckless abandon we all did as little kids. We see our younger selves in him and it makes us happy. I would never want to see him stop playing with that vigor.
It is infectious to the rest of the team, and it makes watching Cubs games way more fun than many other teams in baseball. His at bats are must see TV, and his baserunning is breathtaking, if not dangerous. Some days it's like watching NASCAR and waiting for the crashes.
The other reality, and this is where people get nuts, is that he is not as good as a defender as he could be, or might eventually become, right now. Hold your metrics and stats, they don't tell the story. Stats only can judge what he actually does, not what he should have done. As someone who has seen thousands of baseball games, played by many future Hall of Famers, and, as someone who played the game for years, I know what I see.
I have always thought that second base is his best position for several reasons. First, being a natural lefty allows him to have the fastest tag on a runner I have ever seen. Second, his arm strength gives him a huge advantage when turning the double play, and having to throw across his body. That arm strength would be an asset at third base also, where I see him eventually ending up.
As a shortstop, however, he has one significant issue that hurts him playing there and that is he has a slow release. It may be slight, but at that position slight makes the runner safe. It also forces him to throw crazy throws, because in his reflexes, even he knows he is slower than he should be. I know his fans are already getting the tar and feathers out for me but sometimes the truth hurts.
There is a reason the Cubs moved Addison Russell from second to short, and it is the reason they are hoping Nico Hoerner can hit consistently too. They need a better shortstop everyday and everyone in baseball knows it too. If Kris Bryant ultimately moves on, or moves to left field, Baez becomes the number one choice for third base and they can move Hoerner to short where he belongs.
So, for all those Baez fanatics out there, please don't write me, or threaten me, because I have an opinion that is different than yours. Different opinions is what makes sports so great. We all have our favorite players, and teams, and because mine doesn't match up with yours, doesn't make either of us right or wrong.
I love you El Mago!