The Most Unlikely of Heroes

If you pressed me to name the two Cardinals I’d least like to see at the plate during a critical at-bat, I would say Nick Punto and Gerald Laird. Punto is a perennial joke. If not for Cesar Izturis, he’d probably be the worst major league hitter who has somehow continued to be a major league hitter. Gerald Laird is almost as bad, with a worse batting eye. Their value is entirely on the bench, as backups, and they should be as far from critical situations as possible.

But in the last two games, both Punto and Laird have come to bat in those critical situations. And they have both hit go-ahead triples and led the Cardinals to victory. It’s almost enough to make me wax poetic about the magic of baseball.

These are both guys I like to make fun of. Watching Nick Punto hit is like watching Orlando Bloom act. He’s terrible, but he tries really hard.

Announcers say this all the time. We hear all the time about the hustle of Ryan Theriot or Skip Schumaker or Aaron Miles. But I’m inclined to believe it with Nick Punto. Maybe I’m buying into the act. Maybe it’s just that, unlike most gritty terrible players, Punto has developed a good batting eye. Given how awful he is, it’s amazing how many walks he takes. When he gets lucky, and BAbip treats him well (see 2006, 2008) he’s almost decent. He really seems to do all he can with the talent he has. It’s just he doesn’t have much talent, relative to other major leaguers.

I don’t think that’s a good reason to give him a lot of playing time. I think he’s an ideal 25th man because he can, in theory, play every position. It’s helpful to have one player on the team who can fill that role. He can make double switches work smoothly, he can be a buffer against mid-game injury, and he can pinch run/fill in for the terrible defensive players the Cards have in the infield in the late innings.

Gerald Laird, on the other hand, is only on the team because he is a member of the Backup Catchers Club.

The Backup Catchers Club is a mysterious organization. I have never been to one of their meetings. I have never seen one of their membership cards. I have never even heard one of their members acknowledge their existence. But I know they are real. There are certain players who have, through age or some other black magic, become members of an exclusive organization that vouches for their ability as major league catchers. And that is all teams need to know, damn the stats.

How else would Gerald Laird still have a job? Why was Jason La Rue employed past 2006? Is there any other possible explanation for Henry Blanco?

Anyway, because of his membership in the Backup Catchers Club, Gerald Laird is on the Cardinals. And he occasionally starts games because Yadier Molina needs a break and because Bryan Anderson has not yet completed the twenty-six rundowns required to achieve total freedom on all dynamics and become Backstoperating Thetan V and an official member of the Club. Until then, he’ll never be a backup catcher.

So yeah, I kind of resent the amount of playing time that Nick Punto and Gerald Laird get. But that doesn’t mean I don’t cheer for them. In a strange way, a huge hit from an unlikely source is even more exciting. I might hate on Laird and Punto, but was still thrilled by their unexpected triples.

What will happen next? Ryan Franklin triples home the winning run tomorrow?

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