In baseball, we’ve become accustomed to a generational player looking a certain way. Whether it’s a fire breathing pitcher mowing down batters or an outfielder or corner infielder who hits the ball a quarter mile and strikes fear into the opposing team just by his presence, his very aura, the center of it all is power.
Power always plays -- it’s why Bryce Harper was the number one pick as a 17-year-old. It’s why Aroldis Chapman was so coveted. It’s power, not a slick glove and a sometimes weird, grating personality that has given Alex Rodriguez more than half a billion dollars in career earnings. It makes sense, but it’s just so boring after a while, isn’t it? Finesse is almost a lost art in the world of baseball. Doing all the things that make baseball fun, that's what we need more of. We need a reason to clap, to cheer, to grin and shake our heads. That’s what makes Francisco Lindor so great, so special. That’s what makes Francisco Lindor the truth.
What does that even mean, though? How can a man be a truth? It’s a thing, not a person. Pish posh. It’s simple: Francisco Lindor is just that -- he's our answer to why we watch. He's what's fun about baseball. What he does on the field every day is why we’re drawn to this silly ball and stick game. He’s just joy, in shortstop form. He does things on the field that amaze, astonish, that pull a chuckle of joy from inside. Like when he got his first hit as a major leaguer, he tripped going around first on what would have been a sure double, and with no hesitation turned and pointed to the best player in baseball, Miguel Cabrera, playfully ribbing him that he’d tripped him. If that’s not how you set a tone, I don’t know what is.
He’s the truth because I have lost all reason to question his game. He hits, slashing .313/.377/.450 as of this writing. He catches everything, even when it literally knocks him on his ass, and makes a heave to first from shallow left field look like a flip to second. He hits for power too, already 10 homers on the year, making all the worries that his bat wouldn’t play well in the majors funnier with each bomb. And he is in the middle of everything too, even as the youngest player on the field most days. When the Cleveland Indians are rallying, Lindor is either starting, keeping it cooking, or putting a pretty capstone on the whole thing. He’s the solution to all the woes the Indians have had defensively, offensively, he’s the answer. He’s what we’ve all been seeking, even if we didn’t know it.
There’s an article over on FanGraphs right now about the Francisco Lindor Effect. Basically, he’s made everyone on the infield better. The man is a marvel, able to do anything he wants to grounders, making Jason Kipnis and the third baseman du jour have an easier day of it, and making Mike Napoli not have to stretch too much, so he can save his legs for more dingers. That’s the hidden part of it all too, he’s one of the reasons, along with a dope beard and a raw hatred for rawhide, for Nap’s bomb parties. How can a player have this kind of impact, unless he's just given more confidence to his own teammates? They know better what they can do, what's needed of them. It's because of him.
I’m beginning to think that comparing Lindor to Omar Vizquel, while the highest compliment to his defense and a daring thing to say for any Indians fan with the loftiness they hold Omar to, comparing Lindor to him is underselling the young Tribesman. Even in a highly inflated offensive era, Vizquel only once hit more than .300, only once had an OPS over .800, and only once hit double-digit home runs. That was all done in his early 30's. Right now we’re watching a guy who is still growing into himself be the best player, best hitter, best fielder and a leader on a team that just won 11 games in a row, and looked damn good doing it. Lindor does all those things Vizquel could with the same flash and verve of that 90’s legend. But Omar was just a piece in a greater machine, perhaps the fifth or sixth best player at times. There’s no doubt of where Lindor stands on this team, at only 22 years old.
Back in 2001, Shaquille O’Neal played a game against the Boston Celtics and their young small forward, Paul Pierce. After the game, Shaq took a reporter aside and said this:
"Take this down. My name is Shaquille O’Neal, and Paul Pierce is the (very long expletive) truth. Quote me on that, and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth."
This is how I feel about Lindor, though I probably don’t have the gravitas Shaq does. Coming up to his debut last June, we all knew the kid could play. We knew he’d be a boost to the team sooner or later, but not like this, not so quickly. Without Michael Brantley the season looked sunk. But now Lindor is producing like Brantley did in 2014, and playing some of the best defense we’ve seen since a certain center fielder patrolled Progressive Field some nine years ago. He’s everything you’d want in a franchise player, a do everything ball of effervescent excitement that makes you demand more grounders up the middle. Make him dance, time and again you say, but then you feel bad because the kid needs a breather.
As an Indians fan, as a baseball fan, I like watching the game be played no matter the place, team or situation. I’ve sat through more rain soaked division three baseball games than I can count at this point. I watched the 100-loss Chicago Cubs battle the 110 loss Houston Astros in the Worst Baseball Game Ever.
But Lindor, man. He is everything all baseball players should be. Sure, he might not be the best at his position, that's likely Xander Boegarts in Boston, who is getting the love a Bostonian baseballer is due. If Lindor were in New York or somewhere the cameras burned brighter, he’d be every bit as known as anyone in baseball. So he took it into his own hands, and with his team is putting on a spectacular streak and stomping into first place. He'll get his due because he is undeniable. Watching the team play every night and win so consistently, it doesn’t seem too amazing. They don't seem to be doing any thing too outsize, save for a few lucky hits now and again. Until you look at the whole body of work and sit back, blown away. At the middle of it all is one truth, one fact of life. Frankie Lindor, whirling and throwing to gun down another desperate runner dashing down the line, or lashing another double in the gap. A player can't be much better than him, and baseball can’t get much better than this.