THE ARRIVAL OF JOSH DONALDSON, A STAR IN THE MAKING
How can one of the leading American League MVP candidates not be considered a favorite to land a spot on the All-Star team this year? By all means, chew on that for a minute.
We talk of Josh Donaldson, arguably the heart and soul of an Oakland A’s team that has chiseled out the best record in the majors since June 1 of last season. Batting .324 with 18 doubles, nine home runs and 42 RBI thus far, he ranks among the league’s Top 10 in virtually every important offensive category. And if you want to talk about being clutch, consider that 10 of his 42 RBI have been game-winning RBIs. That’s the most in the American League and second most in the majors.
What has always baffled me about All-Star voting is it seems to be only based on a player’s offensive statistics, as though that’s the only aspect of the game that matters. In the context of winning, defense might be even more valuable. Only a couple of days ago, Bob Melvin said that he considered Josh Reddick gunning down a White Sox runner at home plate the equivalent of Josh hitting a home run. Third base has always been a challenging position to fill in baseball, as defensively it requires someone with extremely quick reflexes, soft hands and a strong arm. Not since Gold Glove winner Eric Chavez patrolled the hot corner back in the early 2000’s have the A’s featured someone who brings the whole package until JD arrived as a converted catcher last season. And the strides he has taken in such a short time span is truly remarkable. His athleticism, range and decisiveness, along with a howitzer of an arm that rarely misfires, makes Donaldson one of the best fielding third baseman in either league. For two reasons, I know that may sound insane to many of you.
First, how can someone who never played the position professionally until a little over a year ago possibly master it and be compared with the game’s best? Well, watch the nightly highlights on MLB Network or ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and the proof is unquestionably there. Secondly, the American League’s cup runneth over when it comes to elite all-around third basemen this season. It almost reminds me of those days a decade ago, when the stable of shortstops included such megastars as Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Omar Vizquel. Start with last year’s AL MVP Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, who may not only repeat as the Triple Crown Winner, but may challenge Hack Wilson’s long-held single season RBI record of 190. Then there’s Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria, already regarded as one of the majors finest and a consummate team leader, and Texas’ slugger and Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre. Then add Donaldson and Baltimore’s phenom Manny Machado, and you can see why a very deserving third sacker may not make the team.
As we know, large market teams tend to get the most media exposure, which can also impact the vote, as can those teams who play in newer venues that attract capacity crowds. That said, I would hope that a club’s position in the standings carries extra weight and could serve as the wild card when determining who makes the All-Star team, or for that matter, who receives the most votes at the end of the year for the league MVP award. Certainly there is still plenty of baseball left to play, so the subject might still be a bit premature. However, if you’re a baseball fan in the Bay Area—or really anywhere in the world—I would hope you would take a closer look at what Josh Donaldson has become, and what he means to the team that has won more games than any other Major League club over the past seven months of baseball, dating back to last season. He deserves your All-Star vote. Come out to the Coliseum for the Yankees series this week and cast your ballot. And welcome home your A’s, who come off a 4-3 road trip that saw them gain 2 ½ games on the first place Rangers last week.