Baseball’s romanticism where fans fall for their team is a bond that’s a bit different than the other professional leagues due to the 162 game length that makes it a marathon; you end up becoming attached to the 35th man on the roster if you follow the team on a day-to-day basis rather than only being invested in the superstars that get to play every game in other professions. It has a different kind of capability that creates cult-following fan favorites for the small moments that only the fans truly understand.
The MLB Postseason is entirely capable of making those characters. It feels as if due to the high-leverage situations, the impossibilities, and the unlikely success stories that make October so magical that more often than not, someone is going to become a legend that is the reason behind a club’s success rather than one of the marquee names that sells all the jerseys at the pro shop. You think about Andrew Miller being a reliever that came in each day to give 3 shutdown innings, getting the moniker “MILLER TIME!” during the Cleveland World Series run in 2016. You think about Howie Kendrick hitting a go-ahead grand slam over the Dodgers in 2019 to send them to the World Series, only to hit the go-ahead home run over the Astros in Game 7 to win it all. What those people mean to those clubs for that particular time is a unique kind of bond.
We’re merely in the DS, but these are your AL and NL Cult Classic Award predictions for who could become the unlikely hero, the fan favorite, and cult classic that will never have to buy a meal in the area for the rest of their life.
American League: Evan Carter, Texas Rangers LF
The Rangers were truly the power-hungry millionaire in a movie that has a tragic downfall, becomes desperate, and makes one final gamble. While they were the hottest team in the American League pre-All Star Break, with a nails rotation and an otherworldly offense that got production from the top of the lineup all the way to the bottom that trailed only the Braves in essentially every statistic, they had one of the largest second half fall-offs in recent memory. The bullpen would collapse as they went 16-25 in one-run games and had more blown saves than wins. They went from almost leading the AL West by seven games to being 2 games back of even making the postseason at all in August and September, with the Astros, Mariners, and Blue Jays all let back into the fight. Going 55-51 since June, the offense was coming back to earth and injuries caught up with them; losing Max Scherzer, Jon Gray, and Eovaldi for some time made their only truly reliable starter to be Jordan Montgomery, and AL ROY favorite Josh Jung underwent a brutal injury that kept him out as the gem that tied the top and the bottom of the lineup in tact.
They’re arguably the most “win-now” team in baseball; desperate to gain momentum to keep that vision alive, they called up 21 year-old outfielder Evan Carter from their Triple-A team in Round Rock on September 8th to see if they could get any hope, prominence, and production from some more youth with Jung out for considerable time. Their 50th overall selection in 2020 was hitting .353, and they took a risk they were willing to take, For the final month of the year.
He’s played 23 games and has been a revelation.
His burst onto the scene in his debut with a single, a stolen base, and a walk, only to hit his first homer that same series several days later. In those final 23 games to end the year, he bat .306/.413/.645 with 5 homers, 12 RBI, and 12 walks as an on-base machine that also flashes the leather in the outfield.
The Rangers are a veteran-oriented team, so Jung’s youth being out felt like a major blow as the cornerstone of the long-term future as a rookie. Calling up Evan Carter out of desperation and him being so hot right from the get-go was the fan’s moment of, “Oh, okay. We’ve got another one.” He’s been the story of the Rangers postseason so far- a web gem catch against Tampa, he’s 5 for 10 with 6 walks these playoffs with a homer and three doubles, and now Jung is back as merely a bonus piece as he recovers and works off the rust.
If the Rangers continue their run this October, it was the gamble that paid off in calling up Mr. Carter, the one they’d been searching for.*
*Mid 2000’s rap fans understand that reference.
National League: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia Phillies 2B
The Philadelphia Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park are different in that the noise level and behavior of the collective crowd feels more comparable to an SEC Football Stadium of inebriated college fans and alumni that know nothing but their city and their team rather than a traditional baseball crowd. That’s exactly how local legends such as Bryson Stott are going to be created this October.
Flashback to last year before the Phillies magic- the narrative surrounding the team was the horrendous defense that would cause them to blow games before Joe Girardi’s firing. Stott was a name that was
floated as a young, everyday player that could be flipped for an upgrade to contend in the infield and rectify their defensive struggles. The held onto Stott made the World Series, and now, in 2023, Stott has a case for a Gold Glove and the entire city of Philadelphia belts out his walk-up song, “A-O-K” by Tai Verdes word-for-word before he hits a go-ahead grand slam in the Wild Card Round. In a city where it’s just as easy for the fans and media to turn on you as it is for them to put a statue of you in front of the stadium, Stott is already a local hero.
That’s October magic.
He’s batting .364 this postseason with the largest home run in Game 2 of the Wild Card round and an RBI single in game 1 against the Braves along with being a part of a legendary double-play to keep the tide of the game in their favor turned by Trea Turner.
Sure, the Philly fans already may have Bryce Harper’s jersey tattooed onto their backs, but Stott may be the face of this 2023 run.