When Alex Rodriguez left the game in 2016, the shortstop-turned-third baseman was the last of the mid-90’s run of prototypical, slugging shortstops. Now, the New York Yankees’ Didi Gregorius and company are poised to take the torch.
After New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius‘s historic Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday—4-for-4 with two home runs and eight RBI, the most by any player in a home opener in the game’s history—Aaron Judge had this to say about his dynamo infielder, via NJ.com’s Randy Miller:
“He’s probably the best shortstop in the game on both sides of it; defensively and offensively. With what he can do at the plate, the versatility he gives you on defense making plays and diving around, it’s impressive.”
The comment triggered a Twitter uproar.
What about Carlos Correa of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros? Despite a nagging left toe injury, Correa went 2-for-2 on Tuesday night in a victory over the Baltimore Orioles, hitting an inside-the-park home run while amassing three runs and three RBI on the evening. On the season, he has sustained a .474/.522/.947 triple slash line, numbers that rival his reigning MVP teammate, Jose Altuve.
Or Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, an instrumental piece to the club’s 2016 World Series run? And Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, equally decisive in their own shortchanged title run last season? How about the newly minted shortstop of the Baltimore Orioles and headliner of the 2019 MLB free agent class, Manny Machado?
Given the prominence of those five, Major League Baseball is enjoying a new era of top-flight shortstops not realized since Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, and Rey Ordoñez collectively went shirtless for a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1997 (not among the group pictured, but still brilliant for a spell, was Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra).
This famous shirtless shortstops photo, including A-Rod & Jeter, was taken this week, 20 years ago (? by Walter Iooss/SI) pic.twitter.com/IL2gABi4Sw
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 13, 2017
For what it’s worth, this group may be better holistically, though no singular player will rival A-Rod’s power numbers or three regular-season MVPs (two in pinstripes as a third baseman) or Jeter’s five World Series titles and sterling postseason resume.
Even so, Gregorius holds several distinctions the others of his era do not:
- At the age of 25, he was asked to fill the shoes of a recently departed Derek Jeter, a Yankee legend with no doubt of being cast as a first ballot Hall of Famer, perhaps the first to be voted in unanimously when the time comes in 2020.
- He is the focal piece to arguably the greatest trade of general manager Brian Cashman’s career: he was offloaded from Arizona for journeyman pitcher Shane Greene.
- In a current-day lineup of unprecedented power, Gregorius is often forgotten amidst the likes of Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez.
- In a lineup heavy on righties, Didi is undoubtedly the Yankees’ best lefty bat, a nightmarish prospect for opponents when one considers he is often slated to bat sixth. At 28, he is only just entering his prime and possibly realizing his 30-homer potential (he struck a career-high 25 last season).
Didi, now an October hero of sorts, enters 2018 fresh off salvaging Luis Severino‘s poor performance in New York’s one-game Wild Card matchup with the Minnesota Twins and slaying Corey Kluber to advance past the Indians in last year’s ALDS.
While a rabid fanbase jeered Stanton’s 0-for-5 Stadium debut on Tuesday, every at-bat yielding a strikeout, the most he has ever compiled in a single game, Gregorius all but erased the lowlights with his monster day at the plate.
“He picked me up today. That’s what a cleanup hitter does – cleans up the garbage in front of him.” – Giancarlo Stanton, on Didi Gregorius’ big day
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 4, 2018
Even on a day when he deserved plaudits, Didi didn’t credit himself in his viral tradition of postgame tweets, instead, boasting of the efforts from Jordan Montgomery and the bullpen behind him.
#StartSpreadingTheNews yankees win good start by #?? going 5strong … and offense ?? bullpen ?? All around great game …
— Sir Didi Gregorius (@DidiG18) April 4, 2018
Whenever the Yankees need a calming presence in the clubhouse, Didi is there.
Whenever the Yankees are looking to get loose and just enjoy the game, Didi is there, glowing like a kid on Christmas in the dugout.
Whenever Yankee fans are simply looking to have fun either at the ballgame or tuning in to one, Didi is there, beaming his million-dollar smile for all cameras to capture.
If this young season has proven anything, with Didi leading the club in a litany of offensive categories while Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez have relatively scuffled at the plate, Gregorius has shed the label of “most underappreciated Yankee,” perhaps even vying with Judge for the title of the face of this franchise.
And while Didi is not the game’s best shortstop—even the most optimistic of Yankee diehards would be hard-pressed to place him in the top three at the position—he has quietly become one of the team’s most indispensable assets.
Have a day, Didi!
4-4, 2 HR, 8 RBI pic.twitter.com/f31c9YmAQk
— Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) April 4, 2018
This notion is astonishing considering his early pinstriped struggles inspired “Der-ek Jet-er” chants throughout the Stadium in 2015. Only Didi now has earned chants of his own and accomplished something very few Yankees have ever mustered: multiple curtain-calls in a single game, as he received Tuesday afternoon.
As only John Sterling could put it, “Yes, in-Didi!”