They say heroes come and go, but legends are forever. Not referenced in that well-worn quotation is the longevity of us mere morals. How long can one subsist on a diet of pure grit? How long can a man who’s powered solely by unfiltered moxie sustain? How long may a fan base’s chosen Scrap Prince hold dominion over his flawed subjects before the copious sweat produced by being the first guy in the door and last guy out coalesces with his unending reserves of elbow grease, and his untold arsenal of intangibles to corrode the true gamer’s gritty scrap iron throne? Apparently, the answer to all those questions is about 450 games.
Tuesday, Scooter Gennett was claimed off waivers by the Reds, which effectively ended the fan favorite’s Milwaukee Brewers career after just over three seasons of service time and well before the infielder could even close-to make good on the unrealistic expectations, unwarranted praise, and infinitely long leash his blind worshipers placed on him since day one. To some, what should’ve been another quiet late-Spring Training transaction signals the end of an era.
What exactly did that era bring his followers? A .279/.318/.420 “career” line produced by a likeable little guy with a folksy nickname. When factoring in his .187 batting average against lefties and his complete aversion to drawing walks (82 total, or one every 5.5 games) and his penchant for fielding errors, casual fans were left with little more than a nearly-league-average dude about to turn 27 and whose spot on the bench isn’t worth $2.5M to a rebuilding organization. He was Baseball John Kuhn.
Many of the same fans who shouted Kuhn’s name into the Wisconsin air as the undrafted fullback from Shippensburg fell for a 0.4-yard gain also championed this sprite-like second baseman when the 16th round selection worked his way through the Brewers farm system—baseball’s weakest minor league system at the time—to eventually usurp the starting spot previously held by former No. 2 overall draft selection and Rickie Weeks. To many, a feel-good story of an undersized and undervalued guy with a nickname was favorable to the reminder of a fallen star fans had dared to put hope and expectation behind with Weeks.
Scooter was, no, is loved because fans of an organization that has never won a World Series and who proudly displays a pennant celebrating its only Wild Card berth thought he was the type of player they deserved. Up until now, maybe that was true. However, the tale of the identifiable everyman who once went on the DL after cutting his hand on a shower rack (just like us normal people!) earning the right to play meaningless baseball in the company of gods on the weight of his pure gumption is over. At least it is in Milwaukee.
Gennett’s second base spot now belongs to Jonathan Villar, who clubbed 19 homers and led Major League Baseball with 62 steals last year. Villar’s backup looks to be Hernan Perez, who bounced around the diamond in Milwaukee last year, yet still managed to match Gennett’s RBI total and steal 24 more bases in 138 fewer at-bats. The shift that’s sending Villar to second is the advent of minor league hot-shot, 22-year-old shortstop Orlando Arcia, starting the season with Milwaukee.
On paper, this looks to be another losing season during the franchise’s long-overdue rebuilding process. Yet in a direct reversal of the mentality that brought Scooter to the Brewers in the first place, it no longer makes sense to take innings and plate appearances from promising and proven young talent in favor of a scrappy player who looks like a guy you work with. The man some laud for playing the game “the right way” shared the National League lead in fielding errors for second basemen last year. The gamer “who left it all on the bases” rarely reached those bases due to his abysmal plate discipline and apparent allergy to left-handed pitching. The “first guy in and last guy out” is nothing more than a part-time player.
The tides are changing in Milwaukee, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately for those of you who need to identify with a player to enjoy the ride, Scooter Gennett is a casualty of an organization that’s finally placing production and analysis over heart and gut. Don’t mourn the Scrap Prince, though. He’s returning to his hometown of Cincinnati just as he was born: a guy named Ryan who might be a good baseball player someday.