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So really, what does “he’s a ballplayer” actually mean?

Mar 8, 2011, 12:30 PM EDT

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Yesterday I noted a couple of scouts referring to Melvin Mora as “a ballplayer” and mused what, if anything, that could mean. My suspicion was that it’s a term baseball people use to refer to a guy who they really like but whom it would be misleading to describe primarily in terms of phenomenal baseball talents. Or that it’s just nonsense.

I should have Googled a bit more, because Andrew Simon of the Hitting the Cutoff Man blog researched this very question a couple of weeks ago. He found scores of examples of guys being referred to with the “he’s a ballplayer” thing in quotes, and broke them down by category. It’s some pretty stunning stuff that both enlightens us and makes us pray that Simon isn’t working in national security or public safety, because he clearly took some time with his head buried in this data.

The results, in my view, suggest that calling a guy a “ballplayer” is really a more robust way of calling someone a “gamer” or “scrappy,” with the added benefit that it seems to avoid the racial implications that “gamer” and “scrappy” seem to often provoke. You rarely see “scrappy” black or Latino guys. There are a lot of black and Latino “ballplayers.”

In the end I fear that it may be so broad a characterization that it’s not really useful, but for now I’m sort of cool with it for being rough shorthand for “good guy/hard worker/not dumb/no ego.”

  1. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Mar 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    Minor amendment to your definition: good guy/hard worker/not dumb/no ego/mediocre talent

    Also, where do Asians fit in with these generalized, overly broad, meaningless, titles? I would hopethat there’s a completely new hybrid term that fits here like “he’s a scraptastic ballgamer”.

    • dodger88 - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:23 PM

      Agreed as it seems these extra descriptions are only used on those who are mediocre when looking at statistics.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:31 PM

        Pujols, Maddux, Jeter and others were on the list of Ballplayers…

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      but the article says “not athletic” and everyone knows black baseball players who are any good are “athletic.” Further, the quote excluding the “athletes” from the definition was from Youkilis, about his own team (shock), and everyone knows there are no black (i.e., african-american) players in Boston…

  2. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    “Kent doesn’t show much emotion, he’s a ballplayer” That might be my favorite. Emotionless = ballplayer. Awesome.

  3. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    Yesterday I noted a couple of scouts referring to Melvin Mora as “a ballplayer” and mused what, if anything, that could mean.

    Wasn’t sure if serious, as the first words in my mind were “scrappy, gritty, white, not a good baseball player”. Moshe Mandel at the [now defunct] TYU tackled this subject last year at this link:
    http://www.theyankeeu.com/2010/02/fans-media-and-racism-without-racists-14913

  4. Brian Murphy - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    David Eckstein seems to be the poster child

    Who’s your favorite “ballplayer”?

  5. cur68 - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    Jeez, I don’t even know how we get from ‘ballplayer’ to ‘a given ‘complexion’. I took it to mean they like the guy because he’s not a douche, can field his position, bat just well enough to be respected and is not Dykstra, Manny, ARod, or Latos (wait, I sad douche twice now). How did we get to what color he is from that statement? I happen to agree, BTW; I like him. He’s a ballplayer. Now have I said something wrong?

    • Ari Collins - Mar 8, 2011 at 2:57 PM

      If you look at who’s been called “scrappy” or “a gamer”, it’s a white player 95% of the time.

      • Jonny 5 - Mar 8, 2011 at 3:42 PM

        “pretty fly for a white guy” is the new “scrappy” or “gamer” Just an FYI

  6. pipkin42 - Mar 8, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    Melvin Mora has a huge ego, though.

  7. BC - Mar 8, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    It means he’s not a doorknob. Or a washing machine. Or a Rotato. Or….

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Mar 8, 2011 at 4:24 PM

      Haha. I’d love to hear baseball players be described as random inanimate objects.

      “That guy Jerry Hairston is a real pair of scissors, I tell ya.”

  8. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Mar 8, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    Does this make Matt Stairs a Thunder God?

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Mar 8, 2011 at 4:35 PM

      Yes.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Mar 8, 2011 at 4:37 PM

        Thought so.

      • cur68 - Mar 8, 2011 at 5:54 PM

        Mat Stairs, God of Thunder, King of Beaverland. Has a nice ring to it.

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