By Peter Zampa
If “Mr. Baseball” is unquestionably Derek Jeter, San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro is worthy of tallying the second most votes for such a title.
With the hindrances of dramatic contracts and poor attitudes like those of Alex Rodriguez and the entire Boston Red Sox organization, baseball isn't just lucky to have a knight in shining armor like Scutaro. The baseball world needs Marco Scutaro.
Flashy? No. MVP candidate? Never. At 36, Scutaro has blessed baseball for 11 years with six teams, rarely making headlines. Scutaro has been in the playoffs once prior to this year, with the Oakland Athletics in 2006, in which they were swept in the American League Championship Series. He has never been selected to an All-Star team. He has hit as poorly as .213 one year to go along with a .216 on-base percentage another. These numbers are unimpressive, to say the least, which begs the questions: how the hell has Marco Scutaro stayed in the league for 11 years? how, in the 11th one, has he been named the most valuable player of the National League Championship Series?
Well, he invented his own type of baseball. Marco Scutaro survives. He plays the game because he knows that it's the best, not because he is the best. He plays for money (only because he has to) that amounts to fractions of many players' salaries. Those players are enjoying his spark-plug performances from the comfort of their couches. Scutaro has accepted minimal playing time for a majority of his career, contributing when called upon.
In 2007, the year following the Athletics' ALCS appearance, the A's were down 4-2 in the ninth inning to the New York Yankees. Two men had reached base, but two outs had been recorded as the best closer of all time looked in to his catcher with Marco Scutaro standing, unfazed, at the plate. Mariano Rivera has pitched in 1,051 games, given up just five walk-off home runs, and has a career ERA of 2.21. Scutaro was 1 for 20 to start that season, and 0 for 5 all-time against the future Hall-of-Fame closer. The game was all but over with two strikes on Scutaro. The fans hadn't left. I looked around the left field bleachers as Mariano gathered to deliver an inevitable third strike, and noticed an absurd amount of hope among the Oakland faithful, none of it false.
Scutaro had instilled a faith in fans and the scrappy group of rag-tag players that were the 2007 Oakland Athletics. Professional sports need David serving Goliath. All too often, Scutaro — against whatever odds — was guilty of such acts. As he swung at the 3-2 offering from Rivera, he sent every fan in the Coliseum into a fairy-tale frenzy. As the ball ricocheted off the left-field foul pole, the Athletics had beaten baseball's best team, and Scutaro had shockingly bested baseball's best pitcher.
That's who Marco Scutaro is. He puts a surreal sense of hope in any team for which he plays. He is one of baseball's few superheroes.
In a sport stricken with illegal drug use and prima-donnas howling at women in the stands, Scutaro is a shining light of humbleness. If you have heard Marco Scutaro complain about being a backup, I would suggest getting your ears checked. If you haven't seen Scutaro in complete dejection after a loss, you haven't seen him lose.
Scutaro has been absent from the spotlight throughout his career until earlier this month, when he won the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award. For those of us who have watched this player since 2002, it is almost the end of an era. Scutaro is no longer the silent man, wreaking havoc on powerhouses. He is now the talk of the league. He hit .306 in 156 games this season. After the Giants went up 2-0 in the Series Thursday, Scutaro is hitting .339 in the postseason with 7 RBI as he inches closer to earning jewelry for his empty fingers.
Scutaro has gotten the job done. When he hit that ball off the foul pole, it wasn't special because a player defeated a baseball giant. It was special because a player had heroically displayed why we love this game. In his silence and hard work, this man gave baseball a champion; the type that keeps the game intriguing, relevant and emotional.
He is what makes baseball unique. Seemingly every October, another Marco Scutaro stuns America. Any given day, a mediocre player can change the tide of a season. Scutaro's current stardom is well-deserved, but almost demeaning. Marco will never be meant to have his name in lights. He was meant to play his game: hard and in the shadows.
About Marcos Hernandez Scutaro, the obvious — “never has there been a more deserving player to reach such a destination” — is cliched, but it needs to be said. It is clear he has put in time and effort. In the NLCS, the Giants looked devoid of chance. Unfortunately for the St. Louis Cardinals, Marco Scutaro bites at the neck when such a situation arises. When hope is lost, a good place to start is looking to the 5 foot 10 inch Venezuelan. As the Giants continue their run, more glances will be shot his way than every before.
I feel his story is not nearly finished. His underrated play will continue turning heads. This won't change “the Scoot,” for baseball — not the limelight — is his passion. When Joe Torre, arguably the best manager of all time, retired, he spoke about the game: "You're borrowing it. Just understand that you get the most out of it because when you're sitting home in 10 or 15 years and saying 'Well, I could have done a better job.' Don't let that happen and never lose respect for the game." Marco Scutaro has given this game everything his heart could manage and then some. When he leaves, a part of baseball will indeed have died. Let us hope he's been given just as much from the game and its fans as he's given them.
Lafayette resident Peter Zampa roots for the San Francisco Giants from a continent away at Boston University, where he studies broadcast journalism.