One of the pleasures baseball fandom affords me as a (straight) chick is a large display of talented athletes that double as potential candidates for celebrity crushes. I pity the girls whose only options are limited to pretty boy actors or members of One Direction, while the MLB offers up a rich offering of fit and skilled beaus at the top of their field, leaping and bounding in those clingy polycotton blend pants …
But I digress, sort of–I’ll confess that ever since he joined the Mets for the 2014 season, I’ve had eyes for Curtis Granderson. (See last week’s staff post and the immediate aftermath, in which the sheer force of my affection propelled him to that grand slam in Atlanta.) Granderson has proven himself at the forefront of the sport and team, and in more ways than his leadoff spot in the rotation. There’s little doubt he’s earned a rightful place in the hearts of Mets fans who are not just me.
First, the man is versatile. He throws right, but bats left, making him an even more formidable leadoff hitter for many pitchers. He spent most of his career in center field, but has thrived in right field for the Mets–see that backward running catch in the 11th inning of World Series Game 1–and was named a 2015 Gold Glove Award finalist.
Though late in career to have made a position change–at 35, Granderson is currently the oldest non-Bartolo Met–no part of his game seems to have taken a hit. In fact, an argument could be made for the opposite. Granderson and Daniel Murphy led the team in hitting in the 2015 postseason, but as Murphy slumped against Kansas City and the team’s defense fell apart, Granderson hit three home runs and drove in five runs, and fielded well even with a damaged thumb ligament that later required surgery.
Granderson currently has the second-lowest swing percentage in the MLB, at 37.7 percent compared to a baseball-wide average of 47.4 percent. Interestingly, in 2012 he set a Yankee record for most strikeouts (195), dethroning his own record of 169 from the previous year. And while these two categories aren’t diametrically opposed, they do suggest that Granderson has become a more discerning hitter over the past several years, swinging less without sacrificing overall hits.
Granderson suffered no shortage of accolades in his earlier years though, either. In 2007, he became the third player in MLB history to join the 20-20-20-20 club, behind Frank Shulte and Willy Mays. Only four players have ever managed the feat, after Jimmy Rollins followed Granderson into the club that same year. Granderson also Led the American League in triples in 2007 and 2008 with 23 and 13, respectively, and was a three-time All-Star in 2009, 2011, and 2012. In 2011 he was also named Outstanding Player by the New York Yankees, and won the Silver Slugger Award.
To date he is 14th amongst active MLB players for most career home runs, at 267 and counting.
But the award that perhaps most embodies Granderson’s strengths is the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, which he received in 2009. The award acknowledges both the on-field performance and community leadership of a player. Here even Granderson’s accomplishments in the sport are outmatched by his outreach work. He started The Grand Kids Foundation to promote education, sportsmanship, and access to underprivileged children here in the States, volunteered as a member of the MLB’s national youth service Action Team program supporting similar populations, and worked with Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move!” initiative. When he found out Virginia Tech massacre victim Brian Bluhm was a Tigers fan, he contacted the Bluhm family and maintains a relationship with them today. When offered a Corvette as part of a commercial package, he opted instead for a Malibu to keep a lower profile. In lieu of payment, he’s directed the money from his endorsement deals with Nike, Louisville Slugger, and Rawlings be donated to inner city baseball programs. He’s even written an inspirational children’s book, illustrated by New York City public school students.
Granderson is also active and articulate when it comes to baseball as an organization. He served as a Major League Baseball international ambassador in Italy, China, New Zealand and South Africa, and received a letter of commendation from commissioner Bud Selig. He’s been a leading voice in the Player’s Association since early in his career, with executive director Michael Weiner dubbing him “intelligent … dedicated, and very open-minded.” And he’s repeatedly spoken out about the importance of keeping baseball America’s pastime by making it more inclusive for everyone, particularly with respect to the rapid decline of African-American major leaguers–dropping from 19 percent in 1986 to 7.8 percent last year. He wears his socks high as an homage to the Negro League players.
Finally, if we circle back to crushes, there’s that smile. One of the things I’ve always loved about the Mets is that their terrible streaks have prevented them from getting jaded–they still seem genuinely happy when something goes their way. Granderson fits right in on that front; he was voted friendliest player in a 2011 Sports Illustrated survey of nearly 300 major leaguers.
While the exclamation “the Grandyman can!” sort of makes me want to punch someone, Granderson himself seems to embody the power of positivity in all the best ways. And what could be better for our overanxious fanbase–and for New York City–than a bit of optimism, persistent educational advocacy, and some serious fielding skills? With all the nerves surrounding this year’s rocky start, we fans may do well to take another page out of Granderson’s book, and add ”Don’t think. Have fun” beneath the brim of all our caps. I for one have my fingers crossed that 2016 may be our grandest season yet.
Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports