We’re officially at the MLB All-Star Break! That means we’re halfway through the year. At this bookend of the season, it’s nice to take a look back and see what players, teams, and storylines, good and bad, have particularly stood out at the midway point. But we don’t want to give away your traditional awards like MVP, Rookie of the Year, or Cy Young, because those are conversations that go on all year long until they’re given out at the end of the regular season. So, to properly acknowledge the storylines, these are the Unconventional MLB Mid-Season Awards.
The Amazing Grace Award- Willy Adames, Milwaukee Brewers Shortstop
“Was blind but now I see…”
Willy Adames was the starting shortstop for the reigning American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays before being traded to the Brewers. He was hitting .197 and had a relatively high strikeout rate, and Tampa had two of the best prospects at his position, Taylor Walls and Wander Franco, waiting to be called up in the minor leagues, so they traded him to acquire pitching help. With their history of finding diamonds in the rough through trades, it’s always assumed that Tampa wins every deal and fleeces the other team.
After the trade, Adames said in an interview with Chris Rose that he was looking forward to playing in a different park because Tampa’s ballpark, the domed dumpster known as Tropicana Field, was so blinding that he couldn’t even see the ball.
Since he can now see the ball in Milwaukee, the Brewers have the best record in baseball (31-13), he leads them in OPS, hits, doubles, homers, RBI, and total bases. It’s amazing what you can do when you see the ball (destroy Tropicana Field, Tampa!).
The Grim Reaper Award- Nicholas Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds Outfielder
Last year, in a game between the Royals and the Reds, the Reds play-by-play commentator Thom Brennamen was caught on a hot mic during the game using a homophobic slur when he thought there was a commercial break. He then went on to continue to apologize on-air as the game was going on for what felt like ages to try and recover.
“I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith-”
“…as there’s a swing and a drive into deep left field by Castellanos and that’ll be a home run.”
In the midst of this long-winded failed attempt at an apology, Castellanos just hits a bomb and he continues to announce it casually. It was instantly a meme.
Last week, the Royals and Reds were playing again, and this time the Royals broadcast was taking a moment to eulogize and honor George Gorman, a WWII veteran who had a son working in the Royals organization, when Castellanos hit another drive out to deep left center. Practically in the same spot.
Later, the internet uncovered that Castellanos’s first professional home run came on the night that Osama Bin Laden was shot and killed.
Castellanos: the Grim Reaper in more ways than one, and king of the awkward-timing home run. If an asteroid is ever on its way to Earth, you can guarantee he’ll hit a bomb to left center right before it lands.
The Old Rock Band Reunion Tour Award- The Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs have had a BAD stretch in a time where you shouldn’t be having bad stretches. They went 5-18, including an 11-game losing streak. To start the year, the Cubs were looking to potentially be big sellers, they traded ace Yu Darvish to the Padres and didn’t extend Kyle Schwarber despite him being very affordable, and their 3 biggest stars, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo, are all on expiring contracts and could easily be traded if the season went off the rails. However, the Cubs started off competitive in their division! They were leading before this slump, so maybe shipping everybody off wasn’t the best plan if they could compete!
And now we’re here.
The Cubs’ superstars that are left on the team were so crucial to that beloved 2016 World Series team that broke the curse, but this feels like their one last hurrah that isn’t actually very good, like when a classic rock band goes on a reunion tour but the singer is 70 now and has a gravelly voice that could cough up a lung into the front row at any moment.
The Heimlich “I’m a Beautiful Butterfly” Award- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays First Baseman
In the 1998 Pixar classic A Bug’s Life, undoubtedly the best character, Heimlich, the plump green caterpillar with a German accent, expresses in self-loathing at the beginning of the movie, “One day, I’ll be a butterfly, and everything will be all better.” At the end of the movie, when he does undergo his transformation, all that changes about him is that he gets his wings, yet he still cries out in joy, “I’m a beautiful butterfly!”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in his first two years in the MLB was pretty much just a young, developing, heavy-set power hitter. He hit the bombs but was just middle-of-the-pack when it came to getting on base.
In the offseason heading into the year, he underwent his own transformation, losing 50 pounds, but he never really changed anything when it came to his power, he just got his wings. What those “wings” are you might wonder? Pretty much every other aspect of hitting he was lacking. We’re looking at a completely improved Vladdy that’s 1st in RBI, on-base %, total bases, and batting average, 2nd in home runs, 4th in hits, and 8th in walks. He’s still the home-run hitter we associated him with during his first two years in the league, but now, he’s a beautiful butterfly.
The Alcatraz Award- The Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers are dead. They’re 34-53 and 20 games behind their division leader in the AL West with the 4th-worst record in all of baseball. They also happen to have two of the BEST players in the league as of late- they have all-star starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, who has an ERA of 2.29 with a 6-1 record, and Joey Gallo, the slugging Gold Glove outfielder who is 6th in on-base % and has 23 home runs.
The Rangers are acting as a prison to these two talents that deserve to be on a winning team, and they’re both going to be two of the most-highly sought after trade candidates. Gallo has hit 10 home runs in the last 10 games and each one has felt like a desperate cry for help, whispering, “free me” in the wind to any winning ball club who will listen before the trade deadline.
Free Joey Gallo and Kyle Gibson.
The Ferris Bueller “Righteous Dude” Award- Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Angels Unicorn
“Oh, he’s very popular, Ed. They all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.” This quote from the iconic 80’s classic comes from the secretary describing Ferris Bueller, the high school kid who is admired in every circle and types of people.
The same can be attributed to Shohei Ohtani, the man who might be the greatest athlete on the planet at the moment.
Ohtani is doing what no one has ever done before: the Japanese man is one of the best hitters in baseball while also is one of the best pitchers in baseball and can run about as fast as anyone in the majors all at the same time. His first two seasons he dealt with some injuries, so we questioned whether or not what he could do was sustainable, but we’re halfway through the year now, and it’s real. He leads the league in homers with 33 before the break and also has an 8-4 record pitching and can throw a 100 mph fastball. It’s the most incredible feat we might ever see.
EVERYONE loves Shohei and is rooting for what he’s doing to continue, because we may never see it ever again. He’s also just a joyous, pure individual who came here from Japan and walks with a humble, “happy to be here” demeanor with a sly smile after doing something absolutely incredible. He’s the hottest ticket in town- it’s as if any time he’s at the plate or making a pitching appearance, you need to stop whatever you’re doing immediately with both eyes intently focused on the TV. This All-Star Weekend we’ll get to have plenty of eyes on him. He’ll be competing in the Home Run Derby, hitting in the All-Star Game, and pitching in the All-Star Game.
Shohei is one righteous dude.