February 22, 2013

What's The Allure Of "Gritty" Players?

I was reading Hardball Talk this morning and came across this link to this column with Mike Schmidt saying Michael Young could be a Hall of Fame player. Now I was going to make fun of Mike Schmidt in this post but I don't want Philly coming after me with snowballs. So instead I'm going to look at what makes "gritty" players like Michael Young so alluring?

In that same column Schmidt said if Michael Young has another couple of "Michael Young Years" he could be a Hall of Fame player. I'm sorry to bring this up but if you look at Young's career numbers, he ain't even close to the Hall of Fame. Young is nowhere close to 3,000 hits, doesn't even have 200 home runs or 1000 RBI's. Young simply was a good player, but he was never dominate. And he'll never sniff the Hall of Fame.

But what makes players like Young make someone like Mike Schmidt say he's bound for the Hall of Fame? One word: "grit". Grit makes former players, broadcasters, writers, and fans insane. They love gritty players. But what makes gritty players so alluring? I have a few ideas.

Most Of Them Look Like Us: One of the allures of gritty players is that they look like us. They're as tall as us, built like us, weigh about as much as us. And this gives the illusion that we could be a baseball player like them. Look David Eckstein was never as good as people made him out to be, but just because we look like him doesn't mean we can throw on cleats and play baseball like Eckstein. There's a reason why Eckstein made it to the big leagues and why you work inside an office. Eckstein had a little bit of talent.

They're White: Look you can't talk about gritty players without talking about race. You just can't. You can't hide the fact that white players like David Eckstein or even someone like Aaron Rowand receive more attention and are called gritty because they are white. It sounds cliche but have you ever really heard of a black player like Ben Revere called "gritty"? I swear he would fit the profile of a "gritty" player but you never hear anyone describe Ben Revere as "gritty".

It's no secret that people identify with other people that look like them. They might not want to believe it, but it's true. The media especially identifies with players like David Eckstein or Aaron Rowand or Michael Young because most of the media is white. Especially the baseball media.

It's a Male Thing: Getting back to the media, you never hear a female reporter call a player "gritty". Not even an old newspaper writer like Susan Slusser. It's a male thing to call another person "gritty".

Illusion: Like a great magic act, there's an illusion to gritty players that get people hot and bothered. "Look at him run those base paths! Look at the dirt on his jersey! Man that guy really tries unlike the rest of the team." The illusion part is all in our head. I doubt someone like Eckstein says to himself, "I need to slide at first base to be called gritty." We see these guys running or hitting the ball and we create an illusion in our heads that these players are somehow super human.

Now these reasons might not fully explain the allure of "gritty" players but it was the best I could do. These are the reasons why I believe some players are "gritty" and why some aren't. If you have a better explanation  then leave it in the comments.


  1. So would Marvin Benard be considered "gritty" or did that only apply to his batting helmet?