Collecting Justin Upton

He's rising above the petty actions of his former team. Here's why I'm collecting Justin Upton.

There will be very little about baseball cards this week. This piece is more about why someone would want to collect a player like Justin Upton. I don’t have to give you the obvious reasons. He’s a former number one draft pick. He’s one of those rare five tool players that every organization covets. At the age off 23 he not only posted an MVP caliber season, but he led his team to a NL West title. Despite an injury that affected his swing, he gutted out the entire following season to try and help his team and managed to put up solid numbers. During the Braves hot start in 2013, he has shown himself to be a man on a mission. This is clearly a talented and prideful man who is determined to show the world just how good he really is. Who wouldn’t want to collect a player like that?

Well, those aren’t the reasons I’ve decided to start collecting Justin Upton cards. I wouldn’t say it has nothing to do with his talent, after all, the situation wouldn’t exist without his talent. It goes beyond that though. It’s motivated a bit by anger at the way I feel he’s been treated by his former team. (Maybe more than a bit.) The following covers some ground that gondeee already covered right after the trade. I know some people are tired of hearing about what gondeee named Grit-Gate. So, if you are sick of it, I apologize, but I want to rant and rant I shall.

Here’s why I’m now a Justin Upton collector.

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I didn’t always hate Kirk Gibson, but I do right now. The same goes for Kevin Towers and Luis Gonzales. I don’t know them. I have no idea if they have likable personalities or not. I can’t peek into the darkest recesses of their hearts and know what their motivations are. As a statement of facr, I know almost nothing about Kevin Towers at all. I didn’t even know his name until the Justin Upton deal went down. As for Gibson and Gonzales, I have only the most superficial memories of their careers. In fact, I’d say both of their national reputations rest on a single moment. For Gibson, it was that home run in the 1988 World Series and for Gonzales it was the walk off single against the Yankees to win the 2001 series. These were undeniably great moments and each deserves to be remembered and celebrated for these accomplishments.

There are things that I do not abide and cannot stand as a human being. I do not like to see people belittled for imagined shortcomings. I do not like to see people robbed of their humanity. I do not like the unsaid message that lies behind the statements. If you just look at what has been said on the surface, without a knowledge of the history of the game and our nation, you might not see it.

Here’s what Kevin Towers said about Upton in a conference call after the deal:

That’s the way Gibby played the game … That’s how we won in 2011 … Justin was a part of that team. We kind of like that gritty, hard-nosed player. I’m not saying Justin isn’t that type …

Here’s Luis Gonzales on the Diamondbacks off-season moves:

What we’ve gained now, is a couple of blue collar guys that are going to play the D-back way … Which means they’ll go out there and play hard, give everything they’ve got.

As far as Gibson goes, one of his players, speaking off the record of course, said the following:

he has a quiet intensity that doesn’t fit the mold of what KT and Gibby seem to want. He plays hard, but has to look suave doing it. Slamming into walls isn’t his thing, and they will accept nothing short of all-out sacrifice for the team

There’s so much to parse here. I’m not sure where to start but we’ll go with “KT”, the genius who would rather have Cody Ross than J-Up. There’s the implication that Upton isn’t a winner like Gibby. First, that’s a startlingly stupid nickname for a manager. I get that it’s a holdover from his playing days, but can we act like he’s a grown up now? Second, the obvious implication is that Upton isn’t a winner like Gibson. It’s a tired conceit based on the notion that some players are winners and others aren’t. Gibson had three great years, three good ones, and was pretty much mediocre the rest. Gibson has two World Series rings because he played on two really good baseball teams. No one player wins anything in baseball. There’s also the implication that Gibson is a winner because he’s clutch. Here’s how you know someone has no clue about baseball: they call someone clutch. Gibson’s post-season performance was excellent, as was his performance in the years where his teams made the playoffs. It wasn’t because he was some special, gritty, clutch performer bestowed with a special gift from the gods. It was because he was good. Otherwise, it’s far to small a sample size to say otherwise. (For the record that magical home run against the A’s was no more important than Mickey Hatcher’s two run blast in the first. In a 5–4 victory, every run scored is the winning run. Take any of them away, and the Dodgers didn’t win. The home run was amazing and memorable because of the timing and because of his injury.)

My biggest problem with the statement is what “KT” says at the end. I beg to differ Mr. GM Genius sir. You are, in fact, saying that Justin Upton is not a “gritty, hard-nosed player”. That’s the entire point of your “explanation”. It is a cowardly attack on a player you dealt away to deflect criticism of a deal you yourself made.

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Luis Gonzales wasn’t any more direct with his criticism. Now, while Gonzales was a darn good player for a number of years, I’m not sure he’s someone who was generally thought of as a “blue collar” guy, but I have no issues with his ability or his career. He was very, very good for a long time. My issue is that we have another D-Bag executive criticizing the player they dealt away and cowardly couching that criticism in praise for the new guys. Essentially, Gonzales is saying that a guy who went out and played 150 games last season while injured wasn’t giving his all. Again, on the very face of it, it is, as the great Vin Scully would say, “fertilizer”.

The funny thing about the anonymous comments from the player is the picture that gondeee included with the original Grit-Gate article. It’s a picture of Justin Upton leaping a catching a ball against the wall in his Diamondback uniform. Guess what, he really does look suave doing it too. How many guys can pull that off? So here’s the thing, if Upton plays hard, who cares how he looks doing it? Plus, the “all-out sacrifice” thing is just a ridiculous comment. Guys who dive after every ball hit in front of them and run full speed into walls are guys whose bodies wear down faster over the course of the season. They are guys who spend week after week on the disabled list. How does that help the team? Plus, when I first read that Gonzales said the “D-back way” I couldn’t stop laughing.

I’m not going to accuse the Diamondbacks of overt racism in their comments about Justin Upton, but I do think it would be ridiculous to say that race doesn’t play a role in how we perceive players. When you hear gritty hard nosed player, do you picture a guy who looks like Justin Upton? There are two other players that I can think of who have been accused of not giving it their all that might be of interest to Braves fans. Those two guys are Hank Aaron and Jason Heyward. What obvious factor do Aaron, Heyward and Upton have in common? I’ll leave you this link for more discussion on this topic.

Ultimately, I don’t think racism, either overt or subtle, is the predominant reason the Diamondbacks have raked Upton over the coals. I think they are bitter and upset that Upton blocked the trade the team wanted to make with the Mariners. Long term, I think that would have been a deal viewed as being positive long-term for the Diamondbacks. Instead, they put themselves into a position where they pretty much had to make the Atlanta deal. Frank Wren took Kevin Towers to the cleaners and now KT and his cronies are spinning hard to protect themselves. In doing it, they are belittling a player who gave their team everything. Frankly, it’s disgusting and all involved in running him down should be ashamed.

When I watch Justin Upton, I watch a guy giving it his all. I watch a guy who takes the extra base. You know what else I see? I see a superstar. I don’t want anyone to mistake the following as me being critical of Martin Prado. I love Martin Prado. Every team needs a guy like Martin Prado. I love that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. I love everything about the way he plays a baseball game. The thing is that Martin Prado does so many things well that I think some people lose track of the fact that he doesn’t really do anything great. Prado will be an All-Star again I think. He’s going to have a great career. I will always cheer for him. He’ll always be valuable to whatever team puts him on a lineup card. He’ll never be a superstar though, and if he’s the best player on your Major League team, your team isn’t going to be playing in October.

Here’s the truth. Do you know what a team with eight Kirk Gibson-s or eight Martin Prado-s or eight Cody Ross-es would be? Mediocre. At best. You know what a team with eight Justin Upton-s would be? World Champion contenders.

I’m collecting Justin Upton.

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