05/01/2008 3:01 PM ET
The Bigs List: Scrappy players
Slight of build, these players deliver where it counts
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Everyone has passionate feelings about those tiny, nagging, buzzing little pests.
In the summertime, we build elaborate screens around our back porches so they'll stay away from our Sunday barbecues. We curse at them when one or two slip inside at night, covering us with bites we don't discover until the next morning.
But when it comes to baseball, pests have a different meaning. They're the scrappy little guys, the seemingly-impossible-to-defeat gamers who look like Little Leaguers in the box choking up on their bats, foul off about 73 pitches on every crucial at-bat, and then knock in the game-winner with an opposite-field duck snort.
We honor these men with this week's Bigs List, an around-the-horn All-Star team of the best scrappy little guys in ball:
1. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, CF: Some might think he's too slick to be considered scrappy, but the guy is a slight 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds and somehow he's managed to play in at least 157 of the 162 regular-season games in all seven full years he's been in America. He hasn't been relaxing either. Ichiro has had over 200 hits and scored over 100 runs every season and has stolen at least 30 bases, too. And he's become one of the best center fielders in the game while doing it.
2. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox, 2B: It's tough to say what's more impressive about this guy, who hardly measures his listed 5-9: his offense (batted .317 with a .380 on-base percentage in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2007 and slammed two memorable homers in the playoffs), his defense (always making diving stops) or the competitive scowl he brings to the yard every night. Umpires probably don't love the guy, but to Red Sox fans, he's already an all-time hardball legend, a big reason for Boston's recent World Series win.
3. Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies, RF: The "Flyin' Hawaiian," listed at 5-9 and 160, normally mans center field for the Phils, but we don't think he'd argue with Ichiro there, so we'll move him to right. The Maui native's surprising pop -- 12 homers last year -- makes him a good No. 3 hitter on this club, and his 37 stolen bases in 41 attempts last year, not to mention his 10 hit-by-pitches, makes him a poster child for "scrap."
4. Ray Durham, San Francisco Giants, DH: He slowed down a lot last year, but this 5-foot-8 vet of 13 big-league seasons hit 26 homers and drove in 93 runs as recently as two seasons ago, so he gets the cleanup slot and DH duties on this club. Durham is going to reach the career 2,000-hit mark soon, and he's done it by being a consistent, well-rounded scrapper and run producer in both leagues.
5. Marlon Anderson, New York Mets, 1B: His at-bats have declined over the years, so consider this one a manager's choice. He's already hit over 10 homers in a season twice in his super-sub career, and while students of VORP and PECOTA and other weird multi-letter new-age stats probably wince at his on-base percentage, Anderson always seems to be in the center of good things when he plays. So call it a hunch player, which every manager has to go to from time to time. Can this barely-5-foot-11 baseball lifer play first base every day? Sure. Heck, he's already played three games there this season.
6. Ryan Freel, Cincinnati Reds, LF: He's 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, and all heart. He hurls himself all over the outfield with no regard for his physical well-being, which means you probably can't expect him to play more than 140 games a season. But every team needs a guy to fire up the crowd, and when the only way to do that during the inevitable occasional 10-1 loss is by running into the wall at full speed and suffering whiplash or worse, Freel is happy to be that guy.
7. David Eckstein, Toronto Blue Jays, SS: Everyone knows this story because Eckstein was the starting shortstop and leadoff man for two World Series championship teams -- 2002 Angels and 2006 Cardinals. He won the World Series MVP award for the Cards. He is probably the shortest player in the Major Leagues, listed at 5-7 but more accurately about 5-5 ½. And at the age of 33, he's still making big-league scratch as a big-league scrapper.
8. Marco Scutaro, Toronto Blue Jays, 3B: Does anybody remember his walk-off piece against Mariano Rivera when he was on the Oakland A's? Does anybody remember his sick 2006 American League Division Series performance against the Minnesota Twins? Hopefully, because this 5-10 native of Venezuela has a knack for getting the big hit when nobody's expecting it. He's made a solid career out of filling in for injured starting players, but he seems to shine when the spotlights shine on him.
9. Chone Figgins, Los Angeles Angels, C: No way on earth he's 5-9 as listed, probably more like 5-6. But the guy has worked hard to put a lot of muscle on that little frame, and it's helped him become one of the most versatile players in the Majors. He's started at seven different positions, and in 2005 when Bengie Molina was on the disabled list, Figgins actually was selected as the Angels' emergency catcher by manager Mike Scioscia, a former All-Star backstop himself. Somebody's got to call the games, and we know Chone will be up to the task.
And, on the hill ...
Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves, P: His program listing of 6-foot-1, 165 pounds is laughable. He's more like 5-10, 160 tops, but that hasn't prevented this gamer from consistently pitching way more than 200 innings per year when healthy. Last year, Hudson clocked over 224 innings and won 16 games in his best National League season. He also can swing the pole a bit. A prolific college hitter at Auburn -- .396 average, 18 homers, 95 RBIs his senior year -- Hudson warmed up to NL pitching in 2007, hitting .263 and knocking in nine runs. Plus he's one of the most fiery team leader types in the game, so you get that as part of the small package.
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.