D.J. LeMahieu: The Delegitimized National League Batting Champion
I don't know if its a Boston thing or a North East perspective on the world but I have always felt that how you did something mattered. Winning or succeeding is the goal but how you win, how you go about your business directly effects the legacy and satisfaction of the accomplishment.
It isn't ALL about the end result. I had friends in college from Pennsylvania that were football players and while they were honorable guys in their day to day lives, when it came to football, winning was all that mattered. That meant "ball grabbing" at the bottom of a pile after a fumble and jabs during blocks were fair game, "just win baby." Those are much smaller indiscretions than what we saw this last week with D.J. LeMahieu, but as "Jules the hitman" said in Pulp Fiction, "it's in the ballpark."
I can't help but think of the stories my Dad told me as a kid about Ted Williams and the year he batted .406. My Dad grew up watching Ted Williams and he told me more than once about the final day of the 1941 regular season when Teddy Ballgame had the opportunity to sit out the final two games of the season to guarantee he hit the historic .400.
There was one problem for Ted Williams and one that would eat at me today if he had done it differently. If Williams took the final day of the season off and went fishing his batting average would have finished at .39955. It would have been rounded up and he would have still finished the season at an amazing .400.
But let me ask you this. Wouldn't that tarnish the accomplishment? Wouldn't there always be a "but" attached to that story? "Ted Williams batted .400 but he sat out that double-header to protect it." It delegitimizes the accomplishment. I would prefer he played and batted .397 than sat on it and hit .400. .400 is a historic number but going out and earning it or falling just short on the final day is the snapshot that encapsulates the essence of the accomplishment and the significance of the season. How you do something matters. Accomplishments are as much about the journey as the result and when the result is historic the journey makes it that much more impressive or possibly less legitimate.
D.J. LeMahieu won the National League Batting Title hitting .348 to Daniel Murphy's .347 and he did it by sitting on the bench rather than appearing in the batters box. LeMahieu didn't have a single at bat in the final two games of the regular season; he sat out four of the final six games and in one of the two games he actually graced us with his presence in the final week he was removed after only two at bats. He only batted six times in the final six games of the season.
Michael Fulmer was three innings shy of qualifying for the American League ERA title. You didn't see him pitching for the Detroit Tigers in long relief or starting on short rest Sunday so that he could win it did you? LeMahieu wasn't injured. The Rockies weren't resting him for the playoffs (the Rockies lost 85 games this season). How can anyone respect a player that runs from a challenge in order to win something as insignificant as a batting crown? The way he and the Rockies handled the final six games says so much more about D.J. LeMahieu than the award winning season and the prior 156 games.
D.J. LeMahieu's 2016 batting title is illegitimate and he should have known that it would be the moment Walt Weiss started benching him to save it. Its his fault and he has nobody else but himself to blame. I think less now of what was an extremely unexpected season and what would have been one of the better stories of the 2016 season.
While he will technically take possession of the batting title and his name will be etched in the record books, Daniel Murphy was the best batter in the National League this season. D.J. LeMahieu did a lot in 156 games and because he did essentially nothing in six his season is tainted... tainted with a batting title wrangled around his neck like a Scarlett Red A. Like Hank Aaron is still Major League Baseballs home run champion in my mind, not Barry Bonds, LeMahieu will be champion in name only. In baseball lore LeMahieu will be kicked for his sad finish rather than praised for how impressive a season he actually had.
Sorry D.J., but I'm not actually, because you did it to yourself. You ruined what would have been a great season and a great story all because you wanted some relatively meaningless award. Now, its a bad story and a delegitimized title. Put these stories side by side. Jose Fernandez and his love for the game and D.J. LeMahieu sitting to protect a batting title. It looks even more disgusting the more ways you look at it.
By running scared LeMahieu delegitimized the winning of the award. Forget the weakness of the behavior, the cowardice of it. How can you respect the winner when they back into it? He won the award more by default. He would have had a great season regardless of whether he won some award or not and because of the way he finished it, he cheapened it and tarnished an otherwise fantastic year. D.J. LeMahieu isn't going to be a Hall of Famer and he is lucky for that because this would be his legacy.
Regardless of what he does the rest of his career he will always be the guy that was benched because he wasn't good enough to actually earn a batting crown. He will be remembered as the guy that didn't have the integrity or the backbone to go out and earn it. He was the guy that chose to sit on the bench and let Major League Baseball perform an act of charity rather than the underdog that had a fantastic year that resulted in a batting crown. He could have elevated the accomplishment and instead he flattened it into a statement about his lack of.
What does he lack? Lots of terms could be used but when you are performing at the highest level shouldn't you be a competitor? What does it say about his competitive fire that he was willing to accept a benching to ensure he wins some relatively insignificant award? By sitting it says something entirely different and that statement is loud and it is not a good one. Its bad enough that he felt like it was alright to do it. Its bad enough that he was alright with tarnishing how impressive his season had been in order to win a crown that officially enshrines an accomplishment but doesn't actually legitimize the impressiveness of his season.
Nobody, including LeMahieu, would have predicted a .348 season and a potential batting crown. His accomplishment was significant and his season was an incredible story before the final week and without the batting title. And he ruined it all with one meek, pathetic week of sitting on his ass. LeMahieu ruined a great 156 game season with four benchings and six at bats in six games.
I will say one thing and its a sad commentary on what sports have become but it is a mitigating factor and a reality of the culture of greed that we live in today. If, officially being awarded the batting title has significant financial repercussions connected to it then I still don't like it, but I understand it and my disgust for LeMahieu while still being there, would be redirected to some degree at us as a culture. This wouldn't change the fact that by sitting out he completely delegitimized his winning of the award, but his compromise would becomes more understandable.
I like to believe in the best of things and the purity of things and that deep down people do the right thing most of the time, but compromise for significant financial gain is the way of this world and I accept that reality if it in fact applies here. It still saddens me, but mitigates the disappointment slightly. To be honest, it should disgust me even more, but that also is the reality of the world. Greed may not be good, but it has become understandable.
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