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Even Better Than The Real Thing

It's July, which means a few things. High gas prices. Old men modeling the latest in knee-sock and Hawaiian shirt fashions. NFL talk on sports radio. And, yes, baseball trading season.

All of these topics seem germane to a blog post, except it seems Stan already has the Hawaiian shirt angle covered and, seeing as it's been nearly three weeks since I posted anything and it could be eternity until I post again, perhaps it would be best to talk about baseball, which means talking about trading season, especially as applied to Our Washington Nationals. As it is, there seems to be a lot of Nats trade talk going down. I'm way behind the curve when it comes to Natosphering, but it seems much of the discussion focuses on our Husky Triumvirate of Dmitri, Ronnie, and Burger.

I'll simply refer you to the usual sources on such discussions and leave the Fat at that. I appreciate the discussion, but I find it overwrought. This is not to say I don't think Dmitri Young has not reclaimed his trade value, because I really think he has. And it's not that I think Ronnie Belliard can't help a contender, beause I suspect he can. And it's not that I think Ray King could be a useful pitcher, because I don't. That's all fine, but this kind of discussion overlooks our most transactionally-mobile player -- the man, history suggests, who is most likely to change teams out of all of Washington's stars.

Tony Batista.

I'm not really sure Batista's appeal demands much exposition, but just in case, I've prepared a Brandeis brief on the matter. If you haven't realized it before now, you will certainly recognize it now. More than any other commodity, Tony Batista is not long for this team.

The Historical Appeal

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the man who replaced Cal Ripken. Forget your Ryan Minor references; when Cal walked away, he handed the positional torch to Tony Batista.

Upon Ripken's retirement at the conclusion of the 2001 season, the Baltimore Orioles faced the hugest of holes to fill at the hot corner. How would the O's cope? Fortunately, they had one Leocadio Batista on hand. And they didn't miss a beat. Batista bopped thirty-one homers (twice as many as Cal had in his final season!), and he made the transition incredibly seamless. The O's didn't even lose a spot in the standings!

The Professional Appeal

It is no surprise that a player of Batista's historical stature would be such an accomplished professional. One of the hallmarks of professionalism is the ability to adapt to changes in conditions, a trait that enables an individual to thrive in a myriad contexts. Batista has amply demonstrated this skill.

When he first established himself in the major leagues, he found himself in a game typified by power. In 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were captivating our nation with their long ball exploits, Batista was wowing devotees of the expansion Diamondbacks with his potent bat. Batista clubbed eighteen homers in barely a half-season of at-bats, and his power ability was only enhanced when he moved on to Toronto the following season. He bashed seventy-two homers over the next two seasons, including an astounding forty-one in 2000.

The baseball world took notice of Batista's long ball ability, and he soon became known as one of the tactic's finest practitioner. In that monstrous 2000 season, Batista earned an All-Star berth. Two seasons later, when Batista took the positional baton from a legend, Tony whomped thirty-one more homers and earned a second All-Star berth. You can count on one hand the number of American League third sackers from the last decade who have had earned multiple All-Star appearances -- perhaps two hands, but obviously the point stands with just as much force.

But Batista did not rest on his laurels. In the years 2003-04, he averaged just about thirty homers per campaign. He was an elite power hitter.

By 2006, when Batista returned to the States, America's game had changed. Power-hitting was sooooooo 1998 (-2004), and good old-fashioned hittin'-'em-where-they-ain't was back in vogue. Ozzie Guillen's SmartBall reigned supreme, and Tony Batista no doubt realized he needed to change his approach to fit in with the changing times. To everthing there is a season . . .

So Batista adapted. One thing traditional baseball fans tend to like is a nice ribbie-to-homer ratio. If you're an Adam Dunn type and drive in two or three runners per homer, then you're just not a sound baseball player. Tony Batista used to average three ribbies per homer, but guess what? Upon his return to America the Beautiful, he's averaged over five ribbies per homer. His current ribbie/homer ratio is mathematically indistuishable from that of the great Ozzie Smith in 1987!

The man is a professional at this game, no matter how the game is played.

The Aesthetic Appeal

Not only are Batista's career numbers intriguing, but so is his approach at the plate. When you see Tony Batista at the plate, you know Tony Batista is at the plate.

Bill James once commented that you can identify greatness by locating uniqueness. Which players are truly similar to, say, Babe Ruth or Willie Mays or Barry Bonds? Very few, if any. And whose batting stance is similar to Tony Batista's? Indeed.

The stance typifies intelligence. His left foot, flared from the batter's box, resembles that of a jab step in basketball. Truly, the man sets himself in triple-threat position. He might swing. Occasionally, he might make contact. Sometimes -- once in awhile -- he'll let the pitch pass by. The pitcher doesn't know what to expect; the hurler is intimidated.

But we, as fans, appreciate. We realize his approach is designed to strike the ball at an optimum angle, not unlike the winning strategy in Nintendo Golf lo those years ago. In Golf, the successful player did not strike the ball straight-on. No; the experienced player knew the key was to employ an extreme fade. So he positioned Mario well off-center, aligned far to the left of the target. A position, you might have noticed, not at all unlike that adopted by Tony Batista.

Hit 'em high and far, Tony!

The Popular Appeal

Given the many stops that Batista has made throughout his career (see below), and given his abilities noted above, it is no surprise he has attracted legions of fans. Crowds line up to see Tony's batting practice exploits, or just to see him lean against the rail during pre-game warmups. With Tony Batista, it's all good.

One undeniable fact is that he draws throngs of young fans. Our future stars and Svrlugas love him, as attested by this picture I lifted off the internets:

[Young autograph-seekers mob Tony Batista prior to a July home date. (Photo Courtesy M.L.B. Advanced Media.)]

Given Batista's popularity, it's no wonder so many teams have clamored to acquire him. Speaking of which . . .

The Demand Appeal

Not surprisingly, Batista has found his services in significant demand. It seems everyone wants a shot at this premium talent!

Tony started with Oakland way back when. Billy Beane may be a smart guy, but he missed the boat on this one. To be fair, Beane isn't alone in this regard. From Oakland, it was on to Arizona. From Arizona, it was on to Baltimore. Nevertheless, the peak demand for Tony Batista had not yet developed.

By 2004, the demand for Batista's services had reached international proportions. The Montreal club had a third base hole, and they were willing to pay international fares to get a particular third sacker's attention. The move paid off -- too well, as it were. Thirty-two homers and a hundred-ten ribbies speak loudly, and the folks in Japan were listening. By 2005, Batista had become an intercontinental superstar!

Tony returned to the United States the following season, but the club who called him back, the Minnesota Twins, soon learned not even they could not hold on to him forever. From Minnesota, it was on to Washington. Along that journey, Batista even drew the attention of a minor league team, the Columbus Clippers.

Simply put, it seems like everyone wants to employ Tony Batista. It only seems logical to conclude this behavior will continue.

Sorry, Nationals fans. Let us enjoy Tony Batista while we can. A player like him doesn't come along every day.