The Rundown: Javy Puts Himself on Map, Epstein Talks Childlike Wonderment

Who’da thunk a dude who was touted for his light-tower power would rise to international prominence on the strength of his glove. And not even necessarily general defensive prowess, but an overlooked and underappreciated facet of an infielder’s job that he perfected in a way no one has ever seen.

I’m talking, of course, about Ednel Javier Baez, the speed of whose swipe tags is matched only by that of his bat. While his obscure skill garnered something of a cult following among Cubs fans who watched him every day, it was only a matter of time before the superlative specialty reached a wider audience.

FanGraphs’ August Fagerstrom even attempted to quantify the value of Javy’s tags (hey, I recognize one of the videos in there), though stats like DRS and wGDP don’t come close to telling the whole story. Baez is easily one of the best defensive second baseman in the game, but it’s the flair with which he does it that has made him nothing short of appointment viewing.

“Everyone wants to tag like Javy now,” Joe Maddon said Wednesday. “So in a strange way, in a very short period of time, he’s put himself on the map through his ability to tag someone out at second base. It’s crazy.”

It is crazy, right? In a way it’s kind of like watching Steph Curry pull up from 35 feet with plenty of time left on the shot clock and draining a three. The basket would have counted the same had he been 12 feet closer, but that’s not how a showman works. The difference in Javy’s case is that many of his tags take away baserunners — in scoring position, no less — who otherwise would have been safe.

We joke a lot about finding the next market inefficiency, that strategic advantage that no one else has yet seen fit to exploit. Baez appears to have discovered one, though it may be something of a cottage industry that he’s got a mafioso monopoly over. Unless, you know, this leads to a crop of middle infielders who can similarly pair freakish athleticism with preternatural aptitude for the game.

The other half of the most exciting double-play combo in baseball said pretty much the same thing, but was more succinct in his assessment of his teammate’s no-look tag in Puerto Rico’s WBC win over the Dominican Republic.

“That’s gangster,” Addison Russell declared.

Epstein on falling in love with the game and your team

Though he shared quite a bit more, I really enjoyed the opening segment of Theo Epstein’s recent interview with’s Joe Posnanski. Some of the text has been removed to leave you with just a few quotes regarding childlike fascination with the game and your favorite team.

“Eight is the perfect age to fall in love with baseball. It’s the age of complete wonderment with the game.

“Interestingly though, I think 12 is the age when you fully connect with your team. That’s the age when, in this weird way, you really get what baseball is, you begin to understand team dynamics, you follow the game closely and that shapes your adulthood a little bit. I think that happens at 12.

“But 8 is the age when you understand enough, but there’s still the full wonder of the ballpark and the colors and the smells and everything else.”

As the father of an 8-year-old, I see this in living color every day. Earlier in the week, Ryne (that’s my son) started yelling for me when he saw that Javy Baez was batting in that evening’s WBC matchup. And when I showed him the video of Javy’s tag as he was getting ready for school, his awe was apparent.

My son is being indoctrinated into his Cubs fandom in a very different manner from that which those of my generation and earlier experienced. Wrigley didn’t have lights when I was 8, and all the games were on WGN, both television and radio. That’s neither indictment nor endorsement of the current state of broadcast media or game schedules, merely a statement of fact.

But those are all details, none of which matter when we’re talking about the joy we can all share in the game itself. Thanks in large part to Epstein, it’s a little easier to have fun and fall in love with the Cubs these days.

More news and notes

  • If you’re reading this before noon, there’s still time to help Joe Maddon’s HIP and have a shot at winning Cubs tickets and field passes
  • My hopes of seeing Shohei Otani in Mesa Saturday were dashed when he tweaked his ankle, but the two-way star is looking good back in Japan

  • MRIs on Salvador Perez’s knee have come back clean and the Royal is only expected to miss a week after a scary-looking injury in WBC play
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