Here’s what Major League Baseball truly doesn’t want you to know about their biggest stars. Heading into 2017, not a single one of them wears pinstripes on their back or dons red "Sox." The rebuilding Yankees are down an A-Rod and a Tex, borderline Hall-of-Famers both, albeit for very different reasons. They still have CC Sabathia, another on the fence Hall vote waiting to happen, but he has unquestionably faded quietly into the down side of his career. As for the Sox, when Forbes released their list of the Top 20 selling MLB jerseys at last year’s All-Star break, David Ortiz was #1, he’s gone now too, and Dustin Pedroia snuck on at #20, hardly “big star” territory. Mookie Betts almost won MVP last year and Chris Sale looks to be an early Cy Young candidate, but neither are household names… for very different reasons… yet.
Nope, for baseball’s biggest names, one must look west to the land of Trout, Kershaw and Posey, to the middle of the country for the rising hotspots of young talent in Wrigleyville and the new curse-breakers-to-be in Cleveland, or down to Texas where today's year-in, year-out contenders roam.
Its in those places we find... 15 Things MLB Doesn't Want You To Know About Their Biggest Stars
15 Buster Posey Is Baseball’s Best Catcher But Shouldn’t Be Playing There Anymore
When a 94 MPH fastball connected with Buster Posey’s helmet during the San Francisco Giants’ home opener just days ago, the “City By The Bay” denizens held their collective breath. Placed on the DL with “concussion symptoms”, or as Manager Bruce Bochy described it, “foggy,” Posey’s impending return gives San Francisco an opportunity to fix two problems in one maneuver. They can move Brandon Belt to left field to replace weak hitting Jarrett Parker and they can move their prized possession to first base, perhaps indefinitely, where he belongs.
By any measurable standard, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, and Ivan Rodriguez are the greatest living former catchers. Posey has logged just over 6000 innings behind the plate. Of the rest, only Carter had his peak seasons after reaching that mark. While Posey remains one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, the decline is coming for the 30 year old, and soon, and the window to win for San Francisco is now. They need to keep their star on the field to do so.
14 Josh Donaldson’s Was Older Than Mike Trout Is Currently In His First Full Season In The Majors
The Chicago Cubs drafted Josh Donaldson as the 48th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, before trading him the following off-season to the Oakland A’s, where he was widely considered the least impressive of the four prospects the team received for major league pitchers Rich Harden and Chad Guadin. “At the time of the deal, we got roasted. Absolutely roasted,” General Manager Billy "Moneyball" Beane recalled. Years later, going into the 2012 season, Donaldson was extremely lowly ranked, the 20th prospect in the A’s system alone. “I don’t think any of us saw anything like fourth in the MVP balloting last year,” Beane would go on to say in 2014, a year before Donaldson would win the award with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Indeed, just as we all begin to notice Donaldson, the leading vote-getter in the 2015 All-Star Game is already turning 31 and likely never to get enough counting stats to be close to Hall of Fame caliber. We will just have to wonder what could have been if his talent had been recognized earlier.
13 Quietly, Anthony Rizzo Is Struggling This Season
Its extremely early to call for a medic, but Anthony Rizzo’s full season stats, if he continued at his current pace through 12 games, would be a meager 13 home runs and 39 runs batted in. For a man coming off back-to-back 30 HR/100 RBI seasons, that would be a sharp drop-off. Its been hardly noticeable thus far however as the Cubs have been busy raising World Series flags and donning 108-diamond championship rings, with Rizzo as championship trophy bearer to share with the Wrigley faithful. The defending champs are a healthy 6-3, seemingly barreling towards another postseason and a shot to defend their crown. But they better hope that a reason to believe this trend will continue doesn’t rear its ugly head soon.
12 Andrew McCutchen Went From The Greatest Smile In Baseball To A Declining Superstar With A Grudge
Andrew McCutchen has stated publicly he would like to be a “Pirate for life,” and retire in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife Maria. But hitting only .241 through July last season, a career low, he found himself benched as the trade deadline drew near, a clear sign he was being held back to avoid injury should a deal go through. His parents, who always spent their wedding anniversary with their son, typically watching him play, sat in the stands in Atlanta, as McCutchen sat in the dugout. He was again subject to trade rumors in the MLB Winter Meetings this off-season.
“Cutch” is now in the final year of a $51.5 million over 5 deal, which up until recently was well below his worth. If he plays closer to his old value, he may play himself into a trade, and if he continues to decline after being forced to play right field after manning center his whole career, tensions between him and the team could continue to go south. That said, winning has a way of curing everything, and if Pittsburgh finds itself able to advance past the Wild Card Game this year for the first time since 2013, it may just bring all parties happily back together.
11 Francisco Lindor’s Didn’t Hit Like This In The Minors
Sure #12 was a #3 prospect when he was called up and sure he led his team to a World Series before he even turned 23. And he has followed up his first full major league season with a dynamic start to 2017, slamming 4 home runs and 8 RBI in his first 12 games. But as a minor leaguer, Francisco Lindor’s BEST season was when he hit .276 with 11 homers and 62 RBI amongst AA and AAA over 126 games. He has always stolen bases and been a wizard with the glove, but to put up MVP caliber numbers offensively would be a bit of a stretch judging solely on previous performance.
By comparison, fellow emerging star shortstops Carlos Correa and Corey Seager had .335/10/44 (in just 53 games) and .349/20/97 slash lines respectively in the minors.
10 Yadier Molina Has A Magic Chest
Major League Baseball has had a string of recent incidents in a 24-hour-news-cycle world that have shed light on the stark contrast on the rules of the game and how the athletes actually play it. There is perhaps no more respected player right now than the St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina, but it all came into question early this season, when a baseball found itself "magically" stuck to his chest protector.
Molina, who had looked madly for the ball before realizing it was glued to his body, was asked if he put a substance there, such as pine tar, to enhance his grip, which would be against the rules, and he barked back at the reporter that it was a “dumb question.” In other words... everyone’s doing it but nobody can admit to it. For a game already brought to its knees by rampant steroid abuse, its hard to believe that cheating is still a regular practice. MLB should legalize this perhaps relatively harmless practice, or start calling out players, even as popular as Molina, for their violations.
9 Albert Pujols Is Possibly Going To Be Baseball’s All-Time Home Run King
It should be a good thing, right? Wipe Barry Bonds from the record book, so that steroids no longer stain the most hallowed of baseball’s statistical history? And coming from a Dominican-born player, nonetheless, the tiny nation that has produced recent baseball royalty at an unparalleled rate, making up around 10% of current MLB rosters?
Albert Pujols has five years left on an enormous ten-year-deal he signed with the Anaheim Angels in 2012. He is not the player he used to be, certainly, but his career trajectory mirrors Hank Aaron, consistent in hitting the long ball, but never dominant. Pujols, 37, has hit between 28-49 home runs in every full season of baseball he has played, including 31 last year. Aaron had 163 homers after reaching that age, and Pujols would tie him at 755 if he mirrored said performance, just seven behind Bonds.
So what’s the problem? Pujols is boring. He lack’s fellow countryman David Ortiz’s flair, Derek Jeter’s charm, or even Bryce Harper’s villainy. Its another way he is like Aaron, but unlike his predecessor, he’s not even known for his humility, almost getting into a fist fight with well-liked teammate Torii Hunter and lamenting “this is not the Mike Trout show” when asked how he likes watching him play.
8 Miguel Cabrera Wanted To Die
Miguel Cabrera quietly pleaded no contest to a DUI charge early in 2012 after a traffic stop in Florida during the previous year’s spring training. MLB and the Player’s Union worked together to create a plan to treat Cabrera’s alcoholism, and the incident was soon forgotten.
However, its hard not to look back with the recent alcohol-related deaths of Jose Fernandez, Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte, the former of whom will be getting a statue at Marlins Park despite his negligence leading to the death of two other men. Cabrera reportedly forced at least two cars off the road during his drunk driving incident, threatened fatal violence to the manager and patrons of a restaurant that had refused to serve him that night to the police, and told one of the officers to “kill me.”
Baseball has a problem on its hands, and instead of building statues, it should recognize that its lucky that Cabrera did not fall to the sad fate of Fernandez, killing himself and others, and work to ensure that great, lovable players like both of them have full, Hall of Fame worthy careers that only the former will now get to have.
7 Jose Altuve, Cut From His MLB Tryout Camp, Almost Never Got A Chance To Make It
He was 16 in 2006 and playing in an Astros’ tryout camp in Venezuela, and was cut the first day. When the 5’ 5” Jose Altuve would finally make the major leagues in 2013, he would be the shortest player in professional baseball in more than three decades. Thankfully, he had never accepted being told he couldn’t succeed because of his height, and came back to camp the next day anyway. Then-Astros scout Al Pedrique signed him for $15,000.
"Everywhere I go, I have to prove myself," Altuve says. "I have to go a little harder than everybody else." It was his father, Carlos, who persuaded his son to not take no for an answer and return a second time. Even now, "every day he has something to say," laughs Jose, 'hit the ball to rightfield.'"
6 Manny Machado Threw A Bat At Opposing Players
In the course of weekend series against the Oakland Athletics in June of 2014, Manny Machado overreacted to a hard tag by A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson, spiking his helmet in the direction of the star before bases cleared as the two went nose-to-nose, hit catcher Derek Norris twice with his back swing without any apology, and swung late at an attempt by reliever Fernando Abad to hit him in retaliation, purposely letting the bat spin onto the field towards the opposing players.
To the surprise of many, he was only suspended five games, which leaves many to wonder, did the Baltimore Orioles’ best player truly learn his lesson, or will more childish incidents mar his star-level performance in years to come, including affecting his expected mega free-agent-contract in 2018.
5 Madison Bumgarner Defends White Baseball Traditions So Much On The Field Its A Little Uncomfortable
In 2015, Bill Baer published a list on NBC Sports, detailing two years of Madison Bumgarner getting into on-the-field incidents with other players for his perception that they were behaving inappropriately. He threw at Jesus Guzman after he celebrated a home run, went after Yasiel Puig after his infamous trademark bat flip, yelled at Alex Guerrero as he demonstratively let out frustration after a pop-up, almost hit Carlos Gomez after he did the same, and caused the benches to empty after Delino Deshields tossed his bat, mad at himself. The statement perhaps implied when Baer wrote “this what one might describe as a ‘trend’”? All the players were minorities.
This issue, of course, goes well beyond Bumgarner, and there is little to find about him as a person to confirm any racist intentions in his actions. But reflected in the pattern is a tension between players’ defense of “playing the game right” and the increasing clarity that “right” frequently means how White Americans believe it should be done. With more and more emerging superstars from Latin America playing with a different style, this conflict could explode soon.
4 Kris Bryant Is Also Slumping Bad Like His Good Friend Anthony Rizzo
Last year’s third-best home run hitter in the National League has gone yard only twice (and both in one outlier game) this season, and projects to end the season hitting .229 with just 52 RBI as of this writing. “I realize that this is part of being a big-leaguer,” Bryant said after he started the year with an extended hitless streak, “to deal with the 0-for-12s and the 0-for-13s and the bad stretches and just knowing that it’s going to turn around, because it always does. It’s part of a learning process.”
But there are reasons to wonder if the reigning NL MVP may struggle for a repeat performance. He ended the 2016 season hitting an abysmal .224/.296/.388 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) in September, by far his worst month, though he did rebound in the playoffs. “I’m planting the seeds to keep learning, and taking notes in the back of my head,” he added about his recent tough start. There’s surely little reason to worry long term, but one can’t help but wonder if Chicago is in for a 108 years in the making championship hangover this season.
3 Other MLB Players Celebrated The Choking Of Bryce Harper
While Jonathan Papelbon was largely panned by the media for being caught on camera choking teammate Bryce Harper in a dugout scuffle during a Washington Nationals game late in 2015, former player turned journalist CJ Nitkowski was able to collect a rather… different… perspective. After the veteran called out the young star for not hustling out of the box on a fly-out to left, not a single current or former MLBer Nitowski asked was on Harper’s side of the incident.
Amongst the anonymous responses he collected were “Pap did what should have been done three years ago (when Harper first came into the league)” and “I would have done the same thing.” From the moment Harper signed with the Nationals literally 26 seconds before the deadline to blowing a kiss at a pitcher after homering off of him in the minors to yelling expletives at an umpire just last season, he has been largely reviled by his peers. Every sport needs a villain, but to actually appreciate someone being choked shows a special level of hatred.
2 Clayton Kershaw’s Postseason Performance Isn’t Just Bad; Its Making History
4-7 with a 4.55 ERA over 18 appearances, 14 of them starts. The number five starter in a .500 ball club’s rotation? No, that’s Clayton Kershaw’s postseason record.
Kershaw joins Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, and Tom Seaver as the only men to have been rewarded with 3 or more Cy Young Awards in their career. That’s quite an illustrious list for a guy who has yet to even turn 30 years old. Of that elite list of nine, Kershaw currently ranks 1st in regular season career ERA, by a large margin, at 2.38, ahead of fellow career Dodger Koufax’s 2.76. Alternatively, in POST season career ERA, he ranks dead last, again by a large margin, behind Roger Clemens 3.75. Deny it all they want, but there’s something here. One truly has to wonder if he will ever be able to defeat this demon.
1 Outside Of Baseball Fans, Nobody In America Knows Who Mike Trout Is
“When was the last time baseball’s reigning king was a cultural nonentity?”, Ben McGrath asked in The New Yorker in 2014. Sadly, the same could still be said in 2017 for the reigning AL MVP. The man teammates love for his humility and “there’s alway tomorrow” even keel, and whom fans love for his willingness to sign autographs and in one recent occurrence, even play catch with them, is most defined in our minds OFF the field for being a Philadelphia sports fan and a weather geek, so much so that USA Today proposed solving his lack of public image by having him report on the rain and temperature to fans on a daily basis.
And maybe its because he plays on the West Coast, after much of the country goes to bed, or maybe its because his team, The Anaheim Angels, have not been very good overall during his short career, but Mike Trout also actively limits his endorsements and social media presence. “That’s just kind of how it’s been. I’m one of those guys who likes to keep stuff to themselves,” he humbly said.
Perhaps its time for him to end his engagement to Jessica Cox and date a Kardashian. It works for the NBA, maybe it will work for MLB.