A very special gift from my buddy, Dylan.
Some time ago, probably about a year ago, I proposed to my fellow NotGraphs contributors that we do a NotGraphs Franchise Player Draft. It’s something in which there was at least mild interest, and I’d still like to see it done, despite my laziness in following up on my original inquiry.
And though I haven’t followed up on that inquiry, I’d say that the idea of a NotGraphs Franchise Player is something that I ponder almost daily — either directly or by way of considering (1) what makes NotGraphs NotGraphs, or (2) why, precisely, I am drawn to certain baseball players more than others.
Addressing those questions would be central to the NotGraphs Franchise Player Draft. Each participant in the draft would select one baseball player — living or dead, considering that death is such a strong theme in these immortal electronic pages — that he believes most embodies l’Esprit NotGraphs. Among the things that will be considered, I’m sure, are a player’s personal aesthetic (e.g. hair and facial hair); his extracurricular habits; his on-field antics; possibly his NERD Score; whether/in what ways he is photogenic; myths surrounding him; his sabremetric standing and/or statistical oddities.
So, what sort of player makes for NotGraphs Franchise Player™ material?
Kent Hrbek is a good example, I think. (If this draft does happen, and if I get the opportunity, I have to draft Rickey Henderson. There’s just too much heresay, too many good stories, too many mind-boggling stats, too much nostalgia surrounding Rickey for me to draft any other player.)
In addition to the image above, there are copious examples of Hrbek’s photogenic nature that display a range of human emotions and conditions. In the June 1989 article (depicted above and linked below) of Twins Rally: The Official Publication of the Minnesota Twins, Hrbek cracks modest jokes, reveals himself to be down to earth, and admits that it took him a full year to get up the nerve to ask a woman (now his wife) out on a date. He’s kinda pudgy, which, in Hrbek’s case, mostly makes him charming. The nerdy stats are there: 11.7% career walk rate vs. 11.2% career K rate, .198 career ISO, 18.0 RAA career fielding, .371 career wOBA. A career cut short by injuries and the 1994 player strike. A Twin Cities area native, he played his whole career with the Twins. He seemed to love playing in one of the shittiest ballparks ever. There’s a lot to attach to, especially if you’re from the Midwest.
But I do wonder: Are these common criteria for liking a player by those who contribute to and frequent NotGraphs? And, what do these criteria suggest about me as a baseball fan, as a person?
The fact that I attach to “sabermetrics” probably means about me what it means about many people who abide them: (1) that I am an outsider to baseball proper, and want to find a baseballéd niche wherein I can be accepted; (2) that I am interested in challenging common ways of thinking and gaining in-depth knowledge about baseball that I can’t obtain otherwise; and (3) that I want to gain an edge in my copious fantasy baseball leagues.
That I am concerned with images (baseball cards and otherwise) of Hrbek and other players — well, I like ephemera, stuff that can be organized, reorganized, forgotten, found, thrown away, and missed. You think you have it contained, but then you lose it. A sort of microcosm of human experience. And when that same stuff captures our heroes in moments of vulnerability, it’s even more special to collect it, admire it, have it sold at a rummage sale behind your back.
That I appreciate pudginess means that I appreciate tenderness, or a weakness for the delicious things of the world.
That I like modesty (via Midwestern-ness), well, that probably means that I’d like to be more modest myself. Look, here I have written several hundred words toward no end (or towards many ends, none of which will be reached). Would Kent Hrbek have done the same? His responses in the article were efficient and not indicative of an introverted mind, so probably not. He’s just a dude who’s trying to be happy, and he’s doing a pretty good job of it, it seems.
So yeah, I think Kent Hrbek would make a good selection in this hypothetical NotGraphs Franchise Player Draft. He can be a silly figure in the ephemera, but he was a very good player in his time. He has a story that fans can borrow as a plotline for their own dreams. For fans of my generation, his name instantly creates an atmosphere of nostalgia. He provides the perfect escape, like baseball should.
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