The adjective “gritty” seems to be one of the highest complements one can pay to a baseball player. It implies a player who shows up every day, battles through injury, and is willing sacrifice the body to win. The kind of player who runs into walls and is not afraid to get his shirt dirty diving or sliding.
I decided to try to find out who are the “grittiest” players at each position in the game today. To find this out, I used a method vaguely similar to that used in our “Crowdsourcing the Greats” series, whereby I Googled “gritty center fielder,” “gritty second baseman” etc. and totaled up the hits for each player to a number we might call that player’s “grit index.”
The currently active players with the highest grit index at each position made the starting lineup of our “All-Grit” team (number of hits in parentheses):
C Jason Kendall (5)
1B Kevin Youkilis (115)
2B Dustin Pedroia (124)
3B Mike Lowell (46)
SS David Eckstein (54)
LF Brett Gardner (5)
CF Aaron Rowand (105)
RF Jeff Francoeur (6)
Some other players who posted particularly high grit indexes during my search included 2B Chase Utley (53), CF Shane Victorino (87), and RF Trot Nixon (27), who would have easily beat out Jeff Francoeur in right field, but who would first have to come out of retirement in order to make the team.
As you can see, certain positions seem to be more prone to “gritty” performances than others. There obviously aren’t too many “gritty” corner outfielders, and catchers seem not to be labeled “gritty” too often, despite all the hard knocks they receive.
You will also notice that David Eckstein is the shortstop, despite the fact that he mostly plays second base nowadays. But the the fact is that the reputation for grit that Eckstein built up over his years as a shortstop still earn him 54 hits, blowing all other shortstops away, and I have no doubt that the gritty manager of Team Grit (I nominate Arizona’s Kirk Gibson) would not hesitate to shift Eckstein back to short, because grit cares not for range and arm strength.
Lastly, you will notice that this entire team is pretty much of the Caucasian persuasion. It has often been remarked how sportswriters and fans only seem to apply labels like “gritty,” “scrappy,” “gutsy,” and “tenacious” to white players. In fact, the only non-white players who came up in my searches were SS Jimmy Rollins (6), 2B Orlando Hudson (5) and OF Juan Pierre (3), all of whom are African American.
It seems that in the minds of most of the people on the internet, Latino players can never be “gritty.”