Paul DeJong and I were discussing the Nationals’ amazing October earlier this week, during a quick get-together in Manhattan, and the Cardinals’ All-Star shortstop dropped an observation that resonated:
“They had the experience and calmness to be able to not panic when things don’t go your way,” DeJong said of the Nats, who swept past St. Louis in the National League Championship Series before upsetting the Astros in a terrific World Series.
The value of older players has turned into one of several hot-button issues in baseball, as many free agents in their 30s have seen their markets fade or just vanish altogether. Yet in this copycat industry, will clubs look to emulate the Nationals, who fielded the oldest roster (25-man plus the injured list) as of mid-August with an average age of 30.8, as per Major League Baseball’s data?
I don’t think we’ll see an 180-degree turn from the turn toward youth, nor should we. After all, 21-year-old Juan Soto played a huge role in Washington’s success. However, don’t be surprised if more teams trying to win now — and I do think more clubs will be in that mode for 2020 — appreciate that, say, a $4-million veteran (that’s how much Washington’s 36-year-old postseason hero Howie Kendrick made this year) slotted for a specific role might bring more to the table than an untested youngster.
“I think (experience) becomes a factor once the middle of the season starts hitting, when the newness of the season has worn off but now you’re getting into the day-to-day grind of everything,” said DeJong, 26, who has logged three years in the major leagues. “That’s when experience, I think, can find a way to get a hit in your fourth at-bat, or find a way to get on base and work a walk instead of striking out.
“I think it comes down to an accumulation of a bunch of little things over the course of a season. And I think just with more experience, the veteran guys are able to come out ahead in those little moments, those little battles.
“I don’t know what the math says, but it’s probably a hit a week’s difference between .250 and .300,” added DeJong; it’s actually about 1.2 hits a week. “So if you can get (1.2) more hit(s) a week, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but at the end of the season, it’ll add up. So having veteran leadership like that pushes those things in your favor, and you’re able to win those tight games.”
The Astros, by the way, fielded the second-oldest roster, with an average age of 30.3.
DeJong, who winters in Florida, visited town not to talk primarily about geezer baseball players, but rather youngsters. He is serving as the face of an initiative called Topps of the Class, a program created by Topps — at the suggestion of DeJong and his agent Burton Rocks — encouraging kids to work hard in school. Students can bring their report card to a participating hobby store (a list of which will shortly be available on Topps’ website and will be rewarded with a free pack of cards.
“I think it’s important for me to be out there in ways that can relate to multiple kids, not just the athletic kids,” said DeJong, who posed for the pictured specialty promotional cards that he’ll distribute at visits to hospitals and other places. “And for me, especially with my science background, a degree in bio-chem (at Illinois State), to be an ambassador for chemistry or science in general, it’s more about giving kids the confidence and freedom to explore these different subjects without feeling rigid.”
It’s the confidence one gets from reinforcement and repetition. Not altogether different from a veteran player.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Gary Mintz of South Huntington: In a 1971 episode of “Night Gallery,” a cop says that his first arrest at a bar occurred when two patrons argued over which of two pitchers threw harder. Name the two pitchers.
Your Pop Quiz answer is Carl Hubbell and Lefty Gomez.
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