Why A Baseball Hero is Different

Tony Gwynn, one of baseball's all-time greats, died yesterday. He was only 54. Gwynn was a remarkable hitter. The stat that stands out the most (at least for me) from his Hall-of-Fame career is his mere 434 strikeouts in 10,232 lifetime plate appearances, an average of just 29 strikeouts every 162 games. The image that stands out the most (again, at least for me) is that of a fairly average-looking guy who was a dominant figure at the highest level of a professional sport. And that's one of the reasons I love the game of baseball. You don't have to be a bulked-up monster to be a star in baseball. You don't have to be a foot taller than the average human to be a star in baseball. You don't have to have blazing speed or titanic power. The game continues to be, in spite of the discredited efforts of some of its worst participants, an everyman's game. Tony Gwynn's phenomenal career is proof of that fact. And I saw that fact once again on display the day before Gwynn died when the Oakland Athletics took on the New York Yankees on a sunny Father's Day in Oakland, California.

Oakland's starting pitcher was Jesse Chavez. Chavez is listed as being 6'2" and weighing all of 160 pounds. I think both stats are generous. He's not the kind of guy you'd look at and think, "There's a professional athlete." Maybe a salesman, teacher, or coach, but no way a professional athlete. Chavez made it to the big leagues in 2008. Before 2014 he'd started just 2 games at the major league level. Due to some injuries on the A's, Chavez was moved to the starting rotation at the beginning of the season. As of this writing, he has a 6-4 record as a starter and an ERA of 2.93, which happens to be 8th best in the American League. And on Sunday he recorded a win against the New York Yankees.

The thing is, guys built like Gwynn or Chavez, guys whose physical appearances belie their remarkable talents, are not that rare in baseball. Take a look around. Every team has one or more of these guys. For every Yasiel Puig, there's a Dustin Pedroia; for every Cal Ripken, there's a Dave Roberts; for every Frank Thomas, there's an Alexei Ramirez. And for every kid out there who loves the game, guys like Pedroia, Roberts, Ramirez, Chavez, and Tony Gwynn are the stuff baseball dreams are really made of.          

Jesse Chavez pitches against the New York Yankees on June 15, 2014. Photo by Jonathan Dyer

Jesse Chavez pitches against the New York Yankees on June 15, 2014. Photo by Jonathan Dyer