We’re all familiar with the image of Ben Franklin standing beneath a storm cloud while flying a kite with a metal key attached to attract lightning. It’s been woven into the fabric of American folklore and, regardless of the veracity of the event, the portly founding father has long been credited with discovering electricity.
I don’t want to detract from such an accomplishment in any way, but if you ask me whether I’d rather prove that lightning is electricity or develop a way to harness said power and put it to use, I’m going with the latter every time. After all, would you be credited with giving yourself a shock to prove a theory or develop the incandescent light bulb?
That’s really the same question we’d been asking of Javy Baez since he initially burst onto the scene with that thunderclap swing and gold-chain swag to match. And I’m not talking about the dog-whistling takes about loafing or not playing the game the right way, but rather the hope that Javy could turn flashes in the pan into lightning in a bottle.
Could he ever find a way to harness that frenetic energy and channel the swing and the bling into a thing that would really sing? And could he do it without cheesy literary devices that serve little purpose other than making the author happy?
By all accounts, it certainly appears as though we’re witnessing the results of a personal metamorphosis for the man they call El Mago. And while it’s too simple to chalk it all up to one offseason, it’s hard to deny the differences that have followed a relatively eventful winter and spring. Not only has Javy announced that he’s going to be a father, but he recently got engaged to his longtime girlfriend.
Responsibilities like that affect everyone differently, but they often have a way of grounding even the most electrifying personalities. Perhaps the reality of being a husband and a father has helped him to channel all of that potential energy that has long been evident yet inefficient.
What’s likely been at least as pivotal in Javy’s growth, though, is the knowledge that he’s got a set role. He is the unquestioned everyday second baseman for the Cubs, which offers him more stability in both the physical and mental aspects of the game. He’s also worked with new hitting coach Chili Davis to make changes to his swing.
The results of Javy’s myriad adjustments in life and at the plate have been evident over the last two games in the form of four home runs that traveled nearly one-third of a mile. Now, we could cast aspersions on the wisdom — or lack thereof — of throwing him anything even near the plate in a 3-1 count, but we’ll leave that alone for the purposes of our discourse here.
No, the play that perhaps best illustrated Javy’s growth was one that most folks will never remember because the tape measure wasn’t necessary. Hell, Javy didn’t even reach first base, popping out to short in the 7th inning. But that’s exactly why he’ll never forget it. Or, more accurately, why his teammates chose to remind him of it.
“You know what I really got out of today,” Javy asked rhetorically after the game (Patrick Mooney Twitter links here and here) You know what I learned? How ugly I looked on that fly ball. I tossed the bat really high. I didn’t run to first base. A lot of teammates came up to me and they said it in a good way. You learn from it.”
“After I hit that fly ball where I tossed the bat really high, I was kind of mad about it. Not because of the fly ball, just the way I looked for the kids and everybody that follows me. That’s not a good look, so I learned that from today.”
Some may choose to look at this as a case of the Cubs Fun Police pulling over a recalcitrant offender of baseball’s unwritten rules and trying to suck the fun from Javy’s game. At the risk of rubbing the wrong way those of you who feel that was at all the case Wednesday night, I’ve got to say that’s an awful take on the situation. Like, it’s just a totally incorrect interpretation of what Javy said.
It’d be one thing if they were getting on him for pimping a homer or celebrating a great play, but this was about him pouting after a pop-up. And it’s not as though this was some kind of all-out raid by the CFP, more like a friendly warning. Hell, maybe all they did was flash their lights at him briefly, just enough to establish an understanding that they’d seen him and that he needed to cool it.
To assume that you know what goes on in that clubhouse between the players when you’re not there is a mistake. And that’s just coming from a fan’s perspective; a writer doing it is flat-out irresponsible. For all we know, Javy has told his teammates to keep him in check and to help him with the growth I described above. Joe Maddon’s management style seems laissez faire from the outside, but the real intent is that his players hold each other accountable from the inside.
Javy is admitting as much with his public mea culpa, crediting the other guys on the team for coming to him and addressing it in a way that could help him to improve. Because you know what’s the most fun at the end of the day? Winning. All the flash and flair means nothing if it doesn’t translate to wins, which is something Javy discussed Wednesday night.
“I’ve been focusing on just me and the pitcher out there,” He told Mooney (Twitter links here and here). “Forget about everything, launch angle, the miles (per hour) off the bat. I was hitting with all this stuff and I cleared my mind.
“It’s all about: Compete. That’s how I’ve been taking it and, obviously, you guys have seen it’s been great for me.”
It’s still early, but the strikeouts are down and the walks are up. He’s still making incredible plays with his legs and his bat, and he’s doing it in a more controlled manner. Anyone care to explain to me how that’s any less fun?
Rather just hoping lightning strikes his kite, Javy has removed the key from it and is using it to unlock a door that to this point has remained closed. It’s still dark in the room beyond, though, which is where the light bulb comes in handy. And given how high his ceiling is, it’ll take a few teammates giving Javy a boost to screw it in. It’s an overwrought analogy, to be sure, but baseball’s a pretty involved sport.
For as much as we celebrate individual exploits like those Javy is so often capable of, being part of a team that is truly invested in helping him to improve will allow him to be more consistently great. And God help his opponents should he figure out how to make that happen.
Ed. note: The author of the piece about the Cubs lecturing the fun out of Javy Baez, Bill Baer, made an apology of his own via Twitter Thursday morning. I’d like to applaud him for taking the time to reflect on what he’d written and the feedback he’d gotten. All too often, we see sportswriters and other talking heads simply double down on awful takes that they never really believed in in the first place.
Re: My Javier Baez article from last night — After chewing on feedback for a while, I think most of the critics are right. I rushed to judgment and didn't have the proper context for the Baez quotes. So, I would like to apologize to Baez, the Cubs, and @PJ_Mooney.
— Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill) April 12, 2018
I do think there's an issue in baseball where players police other players' behavior and try to tamp down fun, but this wasn't such an example. It's sort of like when they say when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
— Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill) April 12, 2018