Baseball, as presented in its Major League format, has made considerable inroads toward progress over the last several years. The game itself has changed, in terms of the on-field product and front office operations. Along with it, the culture has evolved. Led by the likes of Jazz Chisholm Jr. and others, we at least have a path toward the best possible version of the game. There’s some nuance to be explored and established, but it’s progressing. That’s the optimist in me.
No matter the movement or the player serving as the focus, though, there’s always the ever-lingering pushback against any evolution. That resistance maintains its origins in the fact that baseball is still a sport largely ruled by the old guard. Regardless of which facet of the game we’re discussing, there’s a rigidness to it. Analytics, business operations, or the injection of youth & international talent. It doesn’t matter. When it’s discussed in the abstract, there’s an older, more conservative portion of the fanbase adamantly opposed to these concepts.
So it’s no wonder that seemingly every year, we’re having a conversation about the culture of baseball. The question of “Who plays the game the right way?” is a plague that constantly permeates the infield grass. As if the beauty of baseball is rooted in a correct manner of performance and showmanship. Ultimately, the “right way” idea is rooted in archaic thinking that, at best, is a general resistance to growth and progress in favor of an ill-conceived concept of nostalgia. At worst, it tends to fall into a more racist manner of thinking, whether on its face or more subconscious. Regardless, the conversation is sparked by a mindset that falls somewhere on that spectrum.
Javier Báez, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Tim Anderson have each garnered criticism in recent years for their approach to the game. Pitchers of more recent vintage, such as Pedro Strop or Fernando Rodney, have been subject to such negative attention as well. Even someone like Bryce Harper isn’t immune to it. The “right way” conversation claims its targets each year when it’s inevitably resurrected.
This year’s subject? Miami Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr.
A year after Jonathan India rode an NL Rookie of the Year campaign toward the potential title of MLB’s Best Second Baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr. might have seized the moniker three months into the year.
Chisholm is largely performing at the same level he demonstrated last year. He has a slash of .246/.301/.535/.836. The average and on-base figures are almost identical to his 2021 outputs. He sits roughly within a single percent of his strikeout and walk rates from last year. It’s the power game, though, where Jazz has really managed to elevate.
After an ISO of .177 in 2021, Chisholm is at a .289 mark thus far in 2022. His Barrel% (17.3) is almost twice what it was last year and sits 97th percentile. His HardHit% (46.6) is up about four percent and sits in the 81st. Those have certainly helped to drive his wRC+ from 98 last year to 132 so far this year. While the on-base skills aren’t necessarily where you want them to be, his bump in the mashing-the-baseball categories, along with 95th percentile sprint speed, leave him as one of baseball’s most exciting players.
The performance itself is undeniable. But where Jazz tends to draw the ire of that old guard is, as we so often see, the way in which he plays the game. As it turns out, this ire is not only coming from those we typically associate with this group. He could be his own teammates.
In a recent players meeting, Chisholm was a heavy focus of his Miami compatriots. Drawing comparisons to Dennis Rodman, rumors trickled out of the clubhouse that the style and the flare are not necessarily playing well with teammates. Details are sparse, and we aren’t privy to the workings of a Major League team’s inner dynamics, but those are the most prominent details to emerge.
Maybe it’s the blue hair. Perhaps it’s the Euro step. Or it could be the dipped ice cream glove. Regardless of what sparked it, it’s clear that something from Jazz Chisholm Jr. isn’t jiving with some of his comrades in Miami. You can imagine the line of questioning that followed. Our favorite group leaped at the opportunity to discuss whether Jazz needed to tone it down and if he is playing their game in the way that it should be played.
This is my shocked face.
In a vacuum, the occurrence itself underscores the lingering issues with baseball from a cultural standpoint. It’s those issues that make Jazz a lightning rod for criticism. The Rodman comparison especially seems a lazy one. Is it the hair? Is it the style? If it’s one of those details that we’re aloof to, due to lack of access, that’s another issue. But given how accessible Chisholm seems to be via his own social media, the comparison likely comes from the very perception and problem I’m referring to here.
To his credit, Chisholm went out and hit two home runs after news of that meeting broke. The Bahamian knows. He knows he’s going to draw that attention, for better or for worse. Luckily, much of that progress that has been made from a cultural standpoint has seen a tidal wave of support delivered his way following the story breaking. But it shouldn’t even reach that point. Too often that sect of baseball spends so much time telling us what’s wrong with a person or a thing, that they warp the perception of that person or thing for the most impressionable. They then force the rest of us to defend that person or thing. Which saps what should be a universal enjoyment for everyone.
There is only one frame of reference in which Jazz Chisholm Jr. should be evaluated: he’s an innovator. Whether it’s the on-field style, the off-field style, or the energy he injects into everything he does during those nine innings, Jazz is good for the game. A player like Prince Jazz is how you grow the game. It gets eyeballs onto a sport that needs those eyeballs. He generates a buzz. It’s not even a question. Jazz Chisholm Jr. is great for Major League Baseball.
And Major League Baseball needs Jazz Chisholm Jr.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)