The fan voting for the All-Star Game has closed, hopefully with George Springer of the Houston Astros as one of the starting outfielders for the American League team. He went into the final day of voting in third place among AL outfielders, behind Aaron Judge and the great Mike Trout, who's still hurt. And there is no intent here, none, to disparage those behind him in the AL vote, starting with Michael Brantley, who was running fourth. But if there is one thing we know for sure about the game at Marlins Park in Miami on July 11, it is that Springer should get the chance to lead off with a home run, the way he has already done nine times this season. We'll find out during Sunday's Selection Show.
Judge is a wonderful home run story in baseball's home run season. Big story, all ways, big as Aaron Judge is, as he keeps hitting balls that try to bust a hole in the ozone. Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers is right behind Judge. But, come on, there is no better home run story right now than Springer, who has hit 24 homers, same as Bellinger has. The nine he has hit to lead off games? It is already a record, because nobody has ever done anything like this before July.
The Astros have Jose Altuve, a huge talent at second base for them, even at 5-foot-6. Over to Altuve's right, they have Carlos Correa. So sometimes it was easy to overlook Springer, out of New Britain, Conn., and the University of Connecticut, too easy to forget what he did when he first hit the big leagues in 2014, hitting 20 home runs in 78 games.
Now, though, he is as close as he is to getting a start in the All-Star Game. And by the way? All credit to the fans who have voted for him already; who clearly are paying attention; who understand what an amazing season Springer is having and what an amazing summer he is likely to have on the best team in baseball. This is a fact of 2017 in baseball even as we have spent so much time talking about the balls Judge has hit out of the park for the Yankees and where he has hit them, and the way he keeps hitting them.
Judge has been something to see so far. But so has George Springer, who is one of the players in the process of redefining what the leadoff position looks like in his sport. On top of everything else he is, at just 27, already one of the solid and wonderful citizens of the game, one who has invested himself in helping kids; maybe he remembers vividly what it was like to once be a kid with a speech impediment.
Three years ago, after he first hit the big leagues, he talked about overcoming his stutter in a story written by Jonathan Mayo for MLB.com:
"My mom and dad always say, 'Slow down before you talk.' That would help me. I'd get excited, it'd get bad. I've always been told since I was a kid, 'Slow yourself down, think before you talk. Slow your train of thought down, your speech down, and just talk.'
"I learned to pause. It might not even be noticeable to the person I'm talking to, but to me it seems like an eternity. If I'm feeling I'm going to stutter over a word, [I pause]. It helped me say what I wanted to say, but in a totally different way. When there are times I feel like I'm going to do it, instead of saying it, I'll switch the word in my own head. Then it will come out fine."
Now he is the one getting Astros fans excited and baseball fans excited because he is clearly so good at baseball. Not only does he sometimes still switch words around inside his head, he has switched the narrative about his own career, and reminded us all that not only is he one of the young stars of a team that came into Thursday with 53 wins, but one of the young stars of the sport. He got three more hits on Wednesday night against the A's. He scored three more runs. Of course he hit another leadoff home run, this one to left at Minute Maid Park. Before we get to July 1, he has his 24 home runs and 52 RBIs and a .289 batting average and a .367 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .585 and an OPS of .952.
So he was where he was in the voting several hours before the polls closed, on merit, because enough baseball fans really have been paying close attention to the season they are seeing, as opposed to the one they thought they might see. When the season started, no one could have known Judge would come this far this fast. At the same time, no one could have predicted that Bellinger and George Springer, the Connecticut kid, would be right behind him in home runs.
He hit eight leadoff home runs last season, tying the Astros record of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. Now he breaks the team record against the A's on Wednesday. The all-time record in baseball for leadoff home runs belongs to Alfonso Soriano, who once hit 13. If Springer stays healthy, it is hard to see how he doesn't make a big run at Soriano across the baseball summer.
Yeah. You vote for a young guy like this. For now, he's got six more home runs than Bryce Harper does in Washington, and almost as many RBIs, even leading off. Without question, Springer has not just been one of the most exciting players in his sport this season, he has been one of the most valuable, even with Altuve playing right in front of him. He has done this on the most exciting team, and the one with the best record.
"It's a little early," Springer's manager, A.J. Hinch said last December during the Winter Meetings, "but I kind of like George in the leadoff spot."
You think, Skip?
Altuve is a legit wonder. Correa, who doesn't turn 23 until September, is a bit of a wonder himself at shortstop, and is hitting over .300, and has hit 16 home runs himself after going deep twice in Thursday afternoon's game in Houston against the A's. But in this home run season, Springer keeps coming up in the top of the first or the bottom of the first and hitting balls out of the ballpark. Judge, whom his manager calls a "defensive end" because of his size, came out of Wednesday's games with 27 home runs, and has been the talk of baseball since he started hitting them. And George Springer was three behind. From the leadoff spot.
Thursday night ended voting that doesn't make your head want to explode the way voting for our politicians so often does these days. This is an election that is supposed to be about merit, always. But it is also supposed to be fun. Maybe George Springer will hit another one today.