When Eric Hosmer introduced me to his father, I told Eric’s dad he had raised his son right: Eric could talk for 30 minutes and not say a damn thing. Eric’s dad laughed and said: “I told him to keep it vanilla with the media.”
Athletes do not speak in clichés because they’re dumb, athletes speak in clichés because they’re smart.
When a ballplayer is being interviewed by a reporter he doesn’t know or trust, clichés are a safe way to go. Nobody ever got in trouble for saying “we played hard for 27 outs” or “that’s a good team over there.”
Off camera, with a reporter he trusts, Hosmer is open, honest and perceptive, but when the cameras are on and he’s surrounded by reporters he doesn’t know, Hosmer can roll out clichés with the best of them.
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Fortunately for Eric and whatever team he’s playing for, he’s got enough charisma and charm to make those clichés sound fresh and meaningful and that’s a good skill for a pro athlete to have.
And according to a recent column by Sam Mellinger, that’s one of the reasons agent Scott Boras thinks Eric Hosmer is worth $200 million. Hosmer’s numbers speak for themselves, but Boras is arguing that Hosmer’s intangibles make him worth more than his numbers alone.
After games the media need quotes from ballplayers so we trudge into the clubhouse looking for some and almost every night, Eric Hosmer was willing to provide. That took a lot of pressure off his teammates. Not every athlete handles the media well or enjoys dealing with them, so if Hosmer would talk, some of his teammates didn’t have to.
And that was good for the Royals because they knew Hosmer wasn’t going to put his foot in his mouth.
Baseball teams are in the business of selling tickets and as every business knows, it helps to have a good spokesman. If a player is attractive, charismatic and articulate, that helps. It also helps if the player puts up good numbers.
Eric Hosmer checks all the boxes and that’s worth something.
Being a team leader
More than most fans would suspect, big-league teams are run by big-league players. If a coach with a one-year, six-figure contract gets in a dispute with a player with a multi-year, nine-figure contract, the coach might be the one in trouble. That being the case, veteran players are often the ones who need to police their younger teammates.
But being a team leader can be a pain in the neck.
If you tell a teammate to run out ground balls, you better do the same and do it every time. If you tell a teammate to tone down the partying, you better not show up hung over for a day game.
For a lot of veteran players it’s easier to stay in their lane, take care of their own business and stay out of everybody else’s.
When people ask about Eric Hosmer’s leadership, I tell them a story about Yordano Ventura.
One day Ventura got upset about an umpire’s call and worked out his frustration by throwing a billion-mile-an-hour pickoff throw in the general direction of Hosmer at first base. Ventura bounced the throw and Hosmer saved Ventura an error by making a difficult scoop of the ball.
Between innings, Hosmer could be seen talking to Ventura in the dugout.
When I asked Hosmer how that conversation had gone, he said he told Ventura he couldn’t get upset and then take out his frustration by doing dumb things on the field.
Then Hosmer went the extra mile for a teammate: Before I wrote anything too negative about Ventura, Hosmer asked me to consider his background.
Eric talked about his own background: he’d grown up with a dad who would give him a swift quick in the pants if he behaved like that on a baseball field. Ventura grew up having to fight for everything he had and sometimes that pugnacious attitude came out at the wrong time and in the wrong way during a game.
Once again, having a veteran player willing to mentor younger players and defend them to the media is worth something.
When you enter the Royals clubhouse, Eric Hosmer’s locker used to be close to the door, just off to the right. Most of the Latin position players had lockers at the far end of the clubhouse in the right-hand corner.
That’s logical. If you were playing in Japan, life would be easier if you lockered next to the guys who spoke English.
One day I came into the clubhouse and found Hosmer had changed lockers, he was now down in the right-hand corner, smack dab in the middle of the Latin players. When I asked why, Hosmer said the new clubhouse ping-pong table was right behind his old locker and he was getting peppered with errant ping pong balls.
But Hosmer’s choice of a new locker was significant.
As I’ve said before, teams like to present themselves as one, big happy family, but in reality there are divisions within those teams and one of those dividing lines is language. Latin players tend to hang out with other Latin players.
Having a guy who speaks enough Spanish to relate to his Latin teammates and is comfortable moving back and forth between his English-speaking teammates and Latin teammates is helpful and worth something.
But is it worth $200 million?
When fans look at a player, we look at his numbers because that’s all we know about most ballplayers.
When teams look at a player, they look at his numbers, but also want to know something about his personality. Invite the wrong guy into your clubhouse and he can cause more trouble than his numbers are worth.
And in some cases, teams don’t care about a player’s numbers.
In 2014, when the Royals went out and got Raul Ibañez, he wasn’t there for the numbers he was going to put up; he was there to mentor the younger players. Ibañez was a been-there-done-that guy who had been in the postseason and could talk to the Royals players about what that was like and what they were about to experience.
So clearly, baseball teams will pay good money for intangibles.
I’m now getting asked if I think Eric Hosmer is worth $200 million and the answer to this question, like so many others, is I don’t know, but we’re about to find out. If some team thinks Eric Hosmer is worth $200 million then, whether you agree or not, Eric Hosmer is worth $200 million.
But now you know at least some of what that team will be paying for.