Not every player on a baseball team is a star.
Heck, not every player on a baseball team is good, unless you’re the Astros or something. But the length of the season, the weird quirks and platoons and unfortunate oopsies that fill the game, these all make a team have to roll out a player that makes even the most die-hard fan scratch their heads, wondering “who the hell is this guy?” For the Indians, that guy is Mike Freeman.
Journeyman would be a compliment to the longtime minor leaguer, he’s a hot streak away from average as a hitter. It seems weird to think, but I have to believe the Indians wouldn’t be where they are today without Freeman on this team.
This isn’t to say Freeman is some key cog, a vital platoon bat like Jordan Luplow or a superstar like Francisco Lindor. Halfway through the season he’s only amassed 119 plate appearances — he’s basically the warm body the Indians have when someone else is exhausted and needs a day or two. it’s a vital role in a way though. Look at his work over the weekend, when he batted third in the lineup. It was strange, sure, definitely a valid point of criticism for fans. But it let other players not have to change their so vital routines, and he also drove in a couple runs on Saturday. He’s not a cleanup hitter, not by a long shot, but he’s been around the game enough, he can get it done now and again.
More than just his ability to fill in and be something less than terrible, it’s hard to not be impressed with Freeman’s tenacity. Playing 909 minor league games across six franchises and at every level over the last nine years is something approaching insane. That’s the drive/madness of only a baseball lifer, someone who doesn’t know anything else in life and has found their unique happiness. Even if that happiness is riding bad buses from Fresno to Sacramento or Jackson to Chattanooga. This experience doesn’t make Freeman any better a player at all, except maybe all the practice he got against minor league pitching, but it at least is aspirational. It’s hard to find happiness. Freeman chased it, and found it. Even if his real dream — be a superstar like his teammate Lindor, the same dream every player has — isn’t coming true, he at least gets to play consistently in a playoff race for a major league team. It’s something to strive for.
The natural connection is that he’s the Indians’ 2019 version of Michael Martínez. Which naturally brings up only bad memories, like it’s some kind of curse the Indians will always have a banjo-hitting utility guy that gets an outsize number of offensive opportunities. But that’s baseball anywhere — just because we don’t watch doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in Houston. Aledmys Díaz isn’t that much better at the plate than Freeman. This is something that exists across baseball. Freeman is the Indians example of that. And when he gets his chance, it at least isn’t miserable.
Again, Freeman gives a bit of freedom to Francona, allowing guys to take a rest without losing much. Like any flawed player, he’s going to get exposed. But these days, as teams get younger and younger and peaks happen earlier and earlier, old man wile has a bit of value,doesn’t it? It’s low, basically the league minimum, but it’s still a value. He’s the everyman of the Cleveland Indians, giving the fan an avatar on the field and doing what he can to help. It’s not flashy, but it helps. That’s a big deal.