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Jason Kipnis epitomizes everything great about the Cleveland Indians and baseball in general

The Indians second baseman might not be the best player on the team, but he might be the most important.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Kipnis is simply the best.

I know, it’s an easy conclusion to reach just a couple days after a stupendous walk-off win against the Minnesota Twins, but he’s been pretty much the best thing about the Cleveland Indians for a long time now. No, he doesn’t hit the most home runs, and in real, actual terms he’s not the best player on the team. But screw that. Jason Kipnis might be the most important player on the Cleveland Indians.

It goes without saying he’s having a great year. His best power numbers by a long shot, and according to ESPN he’s on track to hit 25 home runs, maybe more now that he homered last night against the Twins. He’s second on the team to Francisco Lindor in position player WAR on both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, and third on the whole team behind Corey Kluber. The best pitcher and shortstop in a whole league is not bad  company. But that just makes him a great player. There’s something more to it.

It’s taken me a few years to actually figure this out about Kipnis

I lived in Chicago for several years before moving to Washington, DC, and it’s a decided culture shift. I got used to a certain, I don’t know, rollicking Chicagoness. People are a bit rougher around the edges than in other parts of the country. Quicker with a smile, but there’s this almost faux serious stare that just seems natural. They’re not judging, they’re just kind of giving you crap. There’s a natural inclination toward friendliness covered by a gruffness. A dry wit. I think it’s part of why so much comedy royalty has either come out of Chicago or passed through it on their way to greatness. It’s a city of sharp personality.

Jason Kipnis, as you may know from watching him brutalize the Chicago White Sox on the South Side, is from Chicago. More accurately, he’s from Northbrook, which for someone from the city is the suburbs, but for someone from out of state, it’s pretty much Chicago. But it’s a nice place. Kind of like a real life Shermer, IL from John Hughes movies. It’s full of suburbanized Chicagoans, and that winking mentality, the sausage and beer blue collar style of the city have carried out there. That’s what I see in Kipnis, that’s why he’s so great.

Carl Sandburg once called Chicago the City of Big Shoulders. He called it stormy, husky, brawling. He also called it the Hog Butcher To The World, but that’s not important, just cool and a fun image. Those first two lines, though, I feel like they just capture the essence of Jason Kipnis.

He doesn’t play with the coolness of a Derek Jeter. He’s a worker, a grinder. He plays with eagerness, the work he’s putting in is evident on every play. His greatest weakness was once hitting lefties, and by putting the time in, by punching away at it, this year he’s hitting .305/.348/.476 against southpaws. He was a mediocre fielder, and he figured out ways to get better. Part of that was a little help from his shortstop, but that’s not all of it. Unlike Lindor or Jeter, any of those blessed ones, Kip is a little awkward out there, a little rougher, but just as good.

Kipnis grew from essentially nothing, which makes him that much more impressive

He was never a highly-heralded prospect, 54th in Baseball America’s rankings back in 2010. He crested at third in their rankings for the Indians, but in the state the farm system was at the time, that was damning with faint praise. But he was never supposed to be anything more than alright. Fortunately for him and the Indians, it didn't’ work out that way. He’s been one of the best middle infielders in baseball for several years now, and if not for a 2014 where he was sapped by injury, he’d have four straight years of excellence in his belt.

His ability to continually evolve has been a lot of fun, too. His first full year when he notched a 100 wRC+ (exactly an average offensive producer) and swiped 31 bases, he made himself a leadoff hitter. The next year his eye got better and he hit 17 homers. Then 2014, but then last year? That was insane. Just spraying the ball all over the park, improving his walk rate again, hitting .300, it was great. And now he’s gone back to slugging, and still hitting for average. The stolen bases have faded, but even with those, he’s judicious. He’s also a consistently positively rated fielder, occasionally making stupendous plays in the field. It’s rare a player shows so many different sides of themselves so quickly in their career. The only other person I can think of is Mike Trout. But that’s a rude comparison.

Bryce Harper said he wanted to make baseball fun again. Some thought the Indians had their member of that movement in Lindor. But Kipnis had been doing this for years. There's just joy in what Kipnis does in the field. We all saw the clip when he and Rougned Odor met at second base last week. We see his hopping about like a kid with two ice cream bars when his friends Lonnie Chisenhall and Santana do amazing things.

Between him and Lindor, the middle of the Indians’ infield is just this ball of happy

But there’s also focus as to what Kipnis does. I'm sure Lindor will get there too, but he's like 22. That mentality of working hard but having fun while you’re doing it, that’s what this team is doing, it’s why it’s so successful. Yes, having the unbridled excitement of Lindor is nice, but it might grind on a team when they’re not doing well. It happened with Nick Swisher after awhile.

It’s like what I said earlier about Chicago producing such comedic genius. Being funny like Tina Fey or Robin Williams or Bernie Mac, that takes work. Hard work. But the payoff is what makes it worthwhile. Making people laugh is a joy. That’s what Kipnis does on the field. He recognizes that he brings joy, has fun doing it, and is willing to put the work in when nobody’s watching to make it worthwhile.

That’s why I think he’s the most important player on the team, and borderline the face of the franchise. That seems silly, since Lindor is the best player, Kluber is the amazing pitcher, Francona the future Hall of Fame manager, Brantley got MVP votes and Mike Napoli has all the parties. But without Kipnis, I just don’t think it works. A franchise face isn’t always the best player, but he’s usually the tone setter. When Kipnis led off all last year, he literally set the tone, that he’d do whatever it took to win. Now he does it with attitude and with his play.

This team gets it done, but has a blast doing it. That’s that City of Big Shoulders showing through in Kipnis, able to set an example, to grind hard, to make everyone better. He’s put in the work to be a great player at a very difficult game and lets everyone reap the spoils. He’s just awesome, is all it is.

He just better not ever shave his beard again.