Baseball is back, folks. It has been years, decades, since America’s Pastime has been enjoyed in its purest form. The cloud of performance enhancing drugs that has hung over Major League Baseball for years now has finally lifted, and the sun is shining through. With the recent suspensions of Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, and a number of other prominent players, PEDs have finally been eradicated from baseball. At long last, Americans can rest easy. The game they love so dearly is clean once again. The days of shame are over. The days of second-guessing are over. The days of adversity are over.
David Eckstein flourished in the face of adversity. He was so white! He was so short! But there are no “you must be this tall to ride” signs for Major League Baseball, and certainly no height requirement to be the Most Valuable Player on a World Series team. There are countless superlatives that describe Eckstein, but perhaps the most fitting is the superlative that he received in his high school yearbook: most helpful.
From the beginning, David Eckstein was willing to help others any way that he could. The people around him took notice. This makes for a great teammate and, more impressively, a great person. The most helpful baseball players will do anything for their team. David Eckstein would bunt those other guys over from second to third. He didn’t mind recording an out, he wasn’t selfish like the steroid cheats of the day. The stat geeks can have their cheaters, my MVP – Most Valuable Person – from the so-called steroid era was David Eckstein.
Along with this era’s rise came a change in a way the game of baseball is played. Gone were the days of small ball, gritty guys laying it all on the line to win one for the LaRussa. In its place: home runs, showboating, vanity muscles, and worst of all, selfishness. These selfish glory-seekers put the truly great players, the hustlers and grinders out of sight and out mind for most fans, and that’s a darned shame.
An unfortunate side-effect of the steroid era was the rise of sabermetrics, the supposedly in-depth statistical analysis of baseball. While Barry Bonds was shattering records set by the great players of the past, nerdy statisticians were finding new metrics to show how great Barry Bonds was. OBP? OPS? O-please. The greatest legends of baseball respected the game they played, whereas Barry Bonds respected only his own personal gain. Meanwhile, Eckstein quietly embodied all of the qualities of baseball’s true legends: effort, loyalty, whiteness, tact, respect, and being on time. There are no statistics to demonstrate the brilliance of David Eckstein, but anyone with two eyes and a beating heart could see it. The man moved with purpose, to win, to play, to bunt.
The wistfulness and nostalgia that floods the heart when thinking about David Eckstein is indicative of a greater hole left in the sports landscape. Performance enhancing drugs tore the greatest sport in all the world asunder, and left it for dead. But the tiny white hope, David Eckstein, would not let the tradition and spirit of the game die. In his wake, he inspired a renaissance of true baseball hustlers like Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto who carry his legacy forward into a new era. An era full of hope.
This is the game that everyone fell in love with, this is white guys bunting, this is baseball.