"Andruw Jones for MVP." It started out as a grassroots rumor. Then it was a buzz. Now it's all the rage. Everywhere you go, every game you tune into, somebody's talking about it.
So what is it that makes Mr. Jones so appealing? And when it gets down to it, should he be the man?
Here now, a brief deconstruction:
Part One: Five reasons Andruw Jones looks like the guy
1. He's surging. Two home runs Sunday against the Nationals. The big 10th-inning walk-off on Sept. 1, on a 1-2 pitch from Luis Ayala after the Braves' pen had given up a late lead. Six home runs and 13 RBI so far in September; 22 home runs and 54 RBI since the All-Star break. We love moments and momentum, and he's delivering both. And many of us are watching more games as the season winds down, so every good thing we see him do seems bathed in the light of glory and sprung from the roots of legend. He's not just a ballplayer to us now. He's a phenomenon.
2. We've been waiting on him. He's only 28, but this is Jones' 10th year in the big leagues. And ever since he went deep twice in Game 1 of the '96 World Series, we've been watching and wanting more. For 10 years, the word has been that this guy is a Hall of Fame talent, not just with the glove (which he has shown all along) but with the bat, too. There have been strong seasons along the way (.303/.366/.541 in 2000; 36 home runs and 116 RBI in 2003), but there also has always been a sense that the best of Andruw Jones was still lurking out there, waiting to come ashore. (Our man Bomani Jones wrote about this just the other day.) And now, with the numbers he has put up so far in 2005, there's a feeling that destiny has been fulfilled, that we're finally witnessing Jones making the jump from very good to great.
3. The numbers are strong, and the traditional numbers are very strong. I know Mr. Gammons is down with OPS these days, but, for a lot of folks, an awards race debate still gravitates toward the old standby measurements. And Jones has a sizable lead over his nearest competitors in both home runs (49, compared with Derrek Lee's 41) and RBI (121, compared with Albert Pujols' 108). Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, whose work I greatly respect, speaks for the masses when he writes things like: "His raw numbers probably make the balloting simple. He's first in the NL in home runs, first in RBIs and third in slugging." And that's the appeal of Jones' candidacy: the simplicity of it. If you deal in the familiar numbers, he seems the obvious choice.
4. He plays a mighty fine center field. Chipper Jones says he's "the best ever." Derrek Lee says "he saves a run or more a game." Hyperbole aside, at one time Jones was a truly spectacular center fielder, capable of the most elegant, graceful sorts of catches on the run. My friend Rob Neyer pointed out Monday that that time has likely come and gone (check the lower stolen base totals the last couple of years and the zone ratings this year). But that's neither here nor there. The thing is, it's center field we're talking about. It's a position where we can see good defense make a difference in dramatic ways. When Jones dived for a dying looper off the bat of the Mets' Jose Reyes on Sept. 5, somehow picking it off the grass like an entomologist holding the wings of a butterfly even as he's tumbling and rolling over like a rhino in the savanna dust -- well, we're blown away. And when he puts up big offensive numbers, we automatically, almost unconsciously, imbue those numbers with our love of what he does with his glove.