To the Dirtbags, Go the Spoils
By Kristoffer Pedlar
As far as terms of endearment go "dirtbag" isn't high on the average joe's list of compliments. You won't hear it during a wedding toast by the best man or at your next office retirement party (at least I hope you don't). However, in the hunt for postseason baseball supremacy, a "dirtbag" is exactly what you want on your team. It will be the "dirtbags" that have the biggest impact on which team ultimately wins it all.
So what exactly is a "dirtbag"? You could probably describe a dirtbag as that player you love to cheer for on your own team or love to hate when they're on an opposing one.
Dirtbags turn ground ball outs into base hits, they take an extra base any and every chance they get, run out every fly ball, steal bases, dive for balls in the field and their uniform is almost never clean. You likely hate seeing them in the batter's box during a tight ball game. Their filthy dirt filled uniforms, pine tar-stained hands or smudged eye black are the badges of honour they wear during every game.
When I first started watching baseball there was a player I loved to watch play more than any other: Lenny Dykstra. He was tiny but fast. He stole bases, turned singles into doubles, and always looked like he'd just spent the day working at a pig farm. I loved watching him play and I wanted to play just like him. In my opinion, he was the epitome of a "dirtbag". He beat out ground balls, he stole bases, wasn't afraid to bunt or take the ball the other way. He hustled around the basepaths and did what he had to to get on base. Dykstra did so many little things well throughout his career and in the 1986 playoffs that helped propel the Mets to the World Series title.
And what Blue Jays fan could honestly say they enjoyed any of his at-bats in 1993 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, probably one of the all-time 'dirtbaggiest' teams to ever play the game complete with mullets, shaggy beards and tobacco stains on their pants.
Aside from looking the part, all Dykstra did in '93 was hit .305 with 194 hits, 19 home runs, and 66 RBIs. More importantly, as a leadoff hitter, he led his team in walks with 129. He did everything he could to get on-base and score. For his efforts, he was runner-up to Barry Bonds for MVP that season.
Every postseason there are players built in the mold of Lenny Dykstra, players who do a little bit of this and a little bit of that to help the team win. In playoff games, the scores are usually pretty tight and every run is a big one. Players like Dykstra tend to be the difference in these close games.
This year there are a lot of Dirtbags that will try to propel their team to victory and become the next Lenny Dykstra.
Some dirtbags are classic ones that have been doing this work for their entire career. In Boston, there is Dustin Pedroia. If his pine tar smeared face isn't proof enough, the way he plays the game is. He's scrappy. He hustles on every play, doesn't miss an opportunity to make opposing teams pay on the basepaths and seems to always come up with a needed ground ball to advance a runner, a sac fly that scores a runner from third or he’d leg out an infield hit at a crucial point in a ball game. In Boston, the spotlight will certainly be on players like Mookie Betts and Chris Sale but don't be surprised if it isn't the wily veteran Pedroia that has the biggest impact on the Red Sox chase for another World Series crown.
In New York, Another veteran that could make a difference in the playoffs is none other than Brett Gardner. He's another longtime "dirtbag". What he lacks in power and finesse he makes up for in hustle and baseball IQ. He's always doing the little things to win ball games. He'll steal a base, bunt for a hit, take an extra base he has no business taking, and almost always comes through with a big hit all with a big wad of something in his mouth and a uniform stained with his effort.
Then there are newer dirtbags. Guys like Francisco Lindor in Cleveland or Charlie Blackmon in Colorado that can change a game with their blazing speed and precision in the field or clutch hitting. Lindor is consistently turning singles into doubles and hustling around the basepaths, while Blackmon is a hitting machine, doing whatever he can to advance runners and drive home runs. They're the guys that'll be on base the entire game and will undoubtedly end up all over the scorecard.
Though the "dirtbag" label is often reserved for players of lesser status; the bench players, or guys at the bottom of a lineup, on occasion, a 'dirtbag' can be a star player too.
Exhibit A is Bryce Harper. He is a dirtbag through and through. Despite his hipster hairstyle and mega-million dollar contract, he is the epitome of a dirtbag. He's everything Lenny Dykstra was for the Mets and Phillies in 1986 and 1993, but with better statistics and trendier clothes. He hits for average, hits a tonne of dingers and is arguably one of the top 3 baseball players in the game today, but he's also a dirtbag.
He gets his uniform dirty every chance he gets, he legs out ground balls, steals bases and takes an extra one when he can. He also exudes the attitude of a "dirtbag". He's out there to win games by any means necessary, risking bodily harm along the way. His leg injury this year that landed him on the DL for an extended period was a direct result of his hustle, trying to leg out a ground ball. This style of play is not something we often see from top stars. Bryce Harper is the exception to the rule. Harper is one of the best in baseball largely because of his style of play.
If your team is facing Washington in the playoffs, there isn't a player you're going to hate more than Bryce Harper
Here in Toronto, we have Josh Donaldson. While it might be hard for us to think of him as a 'dirtbag', that's exactly what he is. Yes, he hits dingers and gets clutch hits, but he also gets dirty. The quintessential Josh Donaldson moment is probably his gutsy slide into home to score the winning run in the 2016 division series against the Rangers. Plays like that show hustle and grit and are at the heart of what a dirtbag is.
In a game against Cleveland in 2015 Donaldson hit a ball into the outfield for a single but read the hesitation by the OF and turned it into a double on a headfirst slide. His teammate at the time R.A. Dickey told John Lott of The Athletic, “He’s just a dirtbag, and it’s fun to be on a team with guys like that,” Dickey said.
That's what Dirtbags do, they make the game fun.
The World Series Champions will likely be decided by dirtbags. Will it be Pedroia and his defense, Harper and his bravado, or Gardner and his hustle? Someone is going to be the 2017 Lenny Dykstra. They're going to make you love the game of baseball more than you already do or they'll anger you to no end as they help to eliminate your team.
Ladies and Gentlemen enjoy! It's dirtbag season.