Ben Zobrist, Baseball’s Unlikeliest Rebel, Thinks Batting Average Should Be Eliminated
He thinks “aw shucks” is tantamount to an expletive and he wears all-black New Balance cleats without a trace of irony. He listens his wife’s music as he walks to the plate and is the only man ever to go toe-to-toe with Hunter Pence in a sanctioned awkward-off. His DNA is comprised almost entirely of grit and he’s the resident old man on one of baseball’s youngest teams.
But while Javy Baez and Willson Contreras are triggering red-assed old-school types with the way the play the game, Ben Zobrist is flat-out telling the establishment that it sucks. Well, he’s probably using more respectful language than that, but still.
Even though his New Balance and PF Flyer cleats are a throwback to the game’s golden age, Zobrist is anything but adherent to baseball’s tired tropes. As was the case with the legendary Air Jordan 1, Zorilla’s black kicks were actually against league uniform policy. So while wearing them sure as hell didn’t make Benny run like The Jet, they did earn Zobrist a written reprimand and the threat of fines for future violations.
Zo clapped back with surprising good rhythm via an Instagram post that read, in part:
Dear @mlb, I still like you but this is rediculous [sic]. For the last two years, I have worn black spikes exclusively at Wrigley Field for Day games to pay homage to the history of our great game, and now I am being told I will be fined and disciplined if I continue to wear them. When I was a kid, I was inspired by highlights of the greats such as Ernie Banks and Stan Musial in the 1950s-60s and was captured by the old uniforms and all black cleats with flaps. I am curious as to why @mlb is spending time and money enforcing this now when they haven’t done it previously in the last year and beyond. I have heard nothing but compliments from fans that enjoy the “old school” look. Maybe there is some kid out there that will be inspired to look more into the history of the game by the “flexibility” that I prefer in the color of my shoes. Sincerely, Ben Zobrist
Then there was the beef with home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi that led to Zobrist’s first career ejection. After being rung up on a questionable called third strike earlier in the game, Zo — who had aleady been removed from the game — approached Cuzzi to discuss the call in greater detail. Upon getting a response that clearly wasn’t to his liking, the mild-mannered Zobrist went full Macho Man.
“I basically said, ‘that’s why we want an electronic strike zone,’” Zobrist explained at the time. “That’s what obviously got me tossed. I’m not going to lie, I think he was going toss me anyway, before I said that, just because I wouldn’t go away.”
The bearded batsman’s latest act of rebellion isn’t nearly as public or as brazen, though it is a targeted attack at the game’s accepted standards and practices.
“[H]onestly I think batting average is an outdated stat,” Zobrist told the Tribune’s Mark Gonzales. “I think we need to get rid of it at some point. The other stats we have are more telling about how your offensive season has been.”
It’d be one thing if we were hearing this from someone like Joey Gallo or Ian Happ, but the reanimated Zobrist enters Saturday’s action with a .310 average that sits fourth in the NL. If he keeps it up, it’ll be the first time he’s ever maintained an average at or above .300 for an entire season.
“[O]f course it’s nice to see that number look the way you’ve always wanted that number to look like at some point, but it really doesn’t tell the whole tale, I think,” Zobrist admitted.
“OPS, to me, is a way more telling stat,” Zobrist said. “I like that. (Miller Park) puts that up on the scoreboard because it’s a more telling stat of how you’ve produced overall as an offensive player. But average is outdated.”
I am fond of referring to Zobrist as a “professional striker of horsehide spheres” when he does something noteworthy at the plate, mainly because he is, by his own admission, a throwback. As his words and actions this season have proven quite clearly, though, he’s anything but staid and stodgy when it comes to his views on the game.
That willingness to embrace new concepts could well be part of what’s got him performing as well as he has been this season. We saw that with former (and future?) Cub Chris Coghlan, who credited a heightened awareness of advanced metrics with fostering his own resurgence back in 2015. Funny what can happen when you stop fighting progress and start using all the new tools at your disposal to your benefit.
Zobrist also acknowledged that additional rest has played a big role in his improved play, allowing him to remain sharp and strong in his age-37 season. It may also be contributing to the IDGAF attitude he’s flashing like an old grandpa who’s seen it all and sees no reason to bite his tongue at his advanced age.
Though he’s probably the last guy you’d name if asked who from among the Cubs would be leading a baseball revolution, Zobrist may indeed be doing just that. So let’s follow him and make some of these changes happen. Lace up those black cleats, write out those “Robo Umps Now!” signs, and stop citing batting average when discussing a player’s value.
And don’t let anyone give you guff about that unnaturally choppy, upright running motion.