I swear this is true.
Woke up Monday, and what was in my head? “You - or is that Youk - got what I need.’’ Yes, the walk-to-the-plate melody for Kevin Youkilis.
I think this means I’m going to miss him.
In fact, I’m sure I will. Kevin Youkilis is one of the more fascinating players in my entire Red Sox experience.
Start with the batting stance. The separated hands, the right hand sliding down atop the left as the pitch approaches? Nobody does that, at least not in the last 90 or 100 years. Then there was the body. It surely wasn’t a football, basketball, or hockey body. It could only have been a baseball body.
But though it may have been a baseball body, it came with a football mentality. Kevin Youkilis plays hard, not just some of the time, but all of the time. He never cheated himself out of an at-bat, an extra base, or a legitimate chance to make a fielding play. Perhaps if he had a little more regard for his health and safety he might have been on the field a little more during the past three years, and that is something the White Sox will have to come to grips with as they get to know him.
Throw in the fact that his body sometimes seemed like a baseball magnet. Why does he leave the Red Sox as their all-time hit-by-pitch leader in just 953 games and 3,974 plate appearances? I don’t think it’s because he has bad reflexes. But facts are facts, and he does get hit a lot. Part of his charm, I guess.
Way back when, he entered the majors billed as the “Greek God of Walks.’’ We learned this by reading Michael Lewis’s acclaimed book, “Moneyball,’’ in which the then somewhat pudgy Red Sox farmhand had attracted the attention of the Oakland A’s brass by his affinity for bases on balls, or more specifically, his ability to run up deep counts. This was all well and good, except for the intriguing detail that he wasn’t even Greek.
He was an on-base machine in the minors, reaching base a whopping 72 consecutive games in one combined Portland-Pawtucket run in 2003. It turns out he really didn’t walk as much in the bigs as the boys in Oakland thought he would, but the deep-count thing ran true. I have no doubt he was born at three minutes to 2. I would find it difficult to believe that any player in baseball has had a higher percentage of full counts per plate appearance the past seven years than Kevin Youkilis.
By the way, would you agree that his signature hit was a double into the left-field corner?
It’s not a ridiculous exercise to speculate where he ranks in Red Sox history. If you were assembling a 25-man roster, why wouldn’t he merit serious inclusion as a two-position utilityman? His most serious competition, it seems to me, would come from Billy Goodman, a lifetime .300 hitter and 1950 batting champion (.354) who spent the first 10-plus years of his career with the Red Sox. Goodman played more positions (first, second, third, left, and right), and he was undeniably a pretty good on-base guy (six times over .380 with the Sox), but he had a career total of 19 home runs with a career slugging percentage of .378.
Youk has a career total of 133 homers and counting, (with a high of 29) and a career slugging percentage of .487. He also has a better career OBP (.388-.376). From 2008-10 Youkilis compiled successive OPS totals of .958, .961 and .975. I can’t imagine too many managers choosing Goodman over Youkilis.
Add it all up and Youk had become an established fan favorite even before he became Tom Brady’s brother-in-law. Part of that had to do with the simple fact that he forever will be associated with the two 21st century championship teams, especially the 2007 club. And talk about delivering when it mattered . . . how about a .500 ALCS batting average (14 for 28), to go with three homers and seven ribbies against the Indians? He raked in a similar fashion the following year against the Rays when he hit .333 (10 for 30) with two homers and three doubles.
Speaking of 2008, and I say this with all due respect to the resident second baseman, but were I a voter I would have given Youk my MVP vote. Both men were worthy. I just thought Yooouuuk was a wee bit worthier.
We all know how this year broke down. It did not get off to a good start for him when Bobby Valentine questioned his enthusiasm and commitment level, but whatever that did to rupture that relationship was nowhere near as important as the fact that Will Middlebrooks came along to out-Youk Youk, in a sense.
And there is something to that. For here is what the 25-year-old Kevin Youkilis did on May 30, 2004, his 12th game in the majors: he doubled and scored in the first. He was hit by a pitch and scored from first with a hustling effort on a Manny double in the third. He singled and scored in the seventh. He ripped a single through the box in the eighth. He made two good defensive plays. At that point his 13 hits included four doubles and a homer.
Will Middlebrooks is off to a sizzling start himself. It’s a simple athletic life cycle. Let’s see how it plays out. If Will Middlebrooks winds up as loved and respected by his fans and teammates as the man he is now replacing, he’s going to have a very nice career. And a lot of good memories.