It’s good to be Ben Zobrist. After leaving Tampa, where he put in nine productive seasons, he’s now a back-to-back World Series champion, helping bring championships to both the Royals and the Cubs, two midwestern teams with disparate, but notable droughts. Oh, and he delivered the decisive hit to make the Cubs World Series winners, finally, and he’s got a World Series MVP trophy to boot.
Zobrist lives in Tennessee with his wife and daughter, which just so happens to be where baseball’s winter meetings were held last December. The Zobrists rolled into the media room, one-month-old Blaise Royal in tow, and Ben took his place at the podium next to his longtime manager in Tampa, Joe Maddon. The Cubs had given up Starlin Castro to the Yankees to make room for Zobrist, who had signed at a heavily discounted rate. He was brought in to be a veteran amongst a team newly defined by its youth, his once-again skipper said.
Such displays of an “aw shucks!” persona make it easy to mistake Zobrist as some sort of hardworkin’ super role player who’s just there to impart some wisdom to the youngsters and try his damn best. It’s enough to elicit dumbass thoughts such as this from a professional sportswriter:
The truth is that when he’s on the field, Zobrist is a destroyer. This is a guy who has accrued over 42 WAR in 11 seasons, a career .358 OPB, and the ability to fill just about any spot in the lineup and the field.
The Cubs now have some of the most notable up-and-comers in the league, anchored by sparkly eyed Rookie of the Year and imminent NL MVP Kris Bryant and chubby cheeked Anthony Rizzo. Bryzzo brought the flair, the dingers, the smiles, and the Anchorman references. Zobrist was understandably overshadowed by the Cubs’ younger stars, and he faded out of the NLCS with while in a miserable slump.
But Zobrist came alive in the World Series, and his numbers from the series reflect his place within the team dynamic: Not on top, not with pizzazz, but with a steady, anchored presence in the heart of the lineup and out in left field.
When the Cubs were up 6-3 before the eighth inning of Game 7, we at Deadspin realized we hadn’t even discussed who would win World Series MVP. Rizzo, right? He’d led the team in batting average, OBP, slugging, and OPS in the World Series. It had to be Rizzo. Or maybe Bryant? He’d hit those memorable home runs. How about Jon Lester? Zobrist never came up.
Zobrist didn’t bring the power in the World Series; he hit for extra bases only thrice. But he hit .357 against the Indians, second only to Rizzo amongst qualified hitters (and Schwarber went 7-for-17, unbelievably). He went 3-for-4 in Game 1, and hit the go-ahead double in the 10th inning of Game 7 to put the Indians up against a wall.
Ben Zobrist is the first Cubs player to win World Series MVP, an award created 10 years after the franchise’s second-most recent World Series appearance.
Postgame, Maddon was asked why his longtime guy deserved the award: “Oh, I mean, who sets a better example of how to work an at-bat? And who sets a better example of just being a professional than he does?”
“He’s just a different cat,” Maddon said. “Everybody would like to have one of those on their team. We’re just very fortunate to have him. He just probably exemplifies exactly how we want to play the game.”
Zobrist is an accomplished and obscenely talented player, and that wasn’t going to change no matter what happened last night. In the end, though, it was nice to see him grab the spotlight for himself, if only to remind Cubs fans how lucky they are to have him, and to remind the rest of us that he’s been doing this for years.