For those of you that are regular readers of Fire Joe Morgan, it is apparently impossible for a journalist to write an article about David Eckstein without mentioning that he is only 4’2″ tall. These journalists are also required to mention that despite being so small, Eckstein’s heart is the size of a Winnebago and he has used said heart and grittiness to overcome his dwarfism to will his teams to victory.

Well, if recent articles written by Rays’ journalists are any indication, the Rays may one day have their own “David Eckstein”. That is, a player that is able to overcome a deficiency, beat the odds and become a major league baseball player.

His name is Fernando Perez.

Perez has managed to become one of the Rays’ top prospects, despite being, well, you know…smart. If you are unaware, Perez attended Columbia University, which is enough to automatically label you as one of the smartest people on the planet.

From the St. Pete Times:

For Fernando Perez, the road to pro baseball was paved in an unlikely place.

This is not because there is an absence of smart baseball players. It is because Ivy League universities don’t offer sports scholarships. Not many high school kids and their families are going to turn down a free-ride from other schools which are nearly, if not just as good.

From the Bradenton Herald:

For a seventh-round draft pick with impressive minor league credentials, Perez certainly strayed from the path most taken by minor league prospects while on his way to the Tampa Bay Rays…Columbia is known for churning out American presidents and Supreme Court Justices and Nobel Prize winners. But switch-hitting center fielders?

Maybe not switch-hitting center fielders, but Columbia has just as many hall of fame baseball players (Lou Gehrig, Sandy Koufax) as US Presidents (Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt). Oh yeah, and did you know that Perez strayed from the path most taken by minor league prospects?

From MLB.com:

Labeling Fernando Perez as the Rays’ “erudite outfielder” sounds like stereotyping. Then again, how many players have majored in american cultural studies and creative writing at Columbia University en route to their professional baseball careers?…No, Perez is not your typical ballplayer, or typical person you meet in any walk of life.

Does Bill Chastain stray from the path most taken by other journalists that profile Fernando Perez? Only in the sense that Chastain feels the need to use the word “erudite” to show the readers that his vocabulary is just as big as this stuck-up smart baseball player from an Ivy League school.

That is three articles in the past month for a prospect that has never played a game above AA. If BJ Upton is moved to right field in 2009 or 2010 and Perez becomes the everyday center fielder for the Rays and the Rays are a playoff contender…As Rays fans we need to brace ourselves for what will certainly be 1.6 kazillion million articles telling us how Fernando Perez overcame his abnormally large brain to become a major league baseball player. Hopefully by that time, David Eckstein will have retired and the boys at FJM can refocus their attention to the authors of those journalistic piles of poo.

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8 Comments

  1. Robert Rittner says:

    Koufax was signed by the Dodgers while attending the University of Cincinnati. I can't swear that he never attended Columbia, but I do see any reference to it in Jane Leavy's biography.

    It will get old pretty soon that Perez went to Columbia and is something of an intellectual. I am afraid we will have get used to it if he is promoted.

    I do think he has a chance to make it in the majors, which has nothing to do with his academic pedigree. When I saw him in Montgomery, he seemed to have an idea at the plate and hit the ball hard into the gaps, not at all a punch and judy type hitter.

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  2. The Professor says:

    I agree. I dont want to belittle his intelligence. I am sure he is very smart. But I am also sure he is far from being the only smart player in baseball. I too think he can be a very good major leaguer. I am actually higher on Perez than Desmond Jennings. I guess I would prefer that the focus be on his skills between the white lines.

    As for Koufax. It is a little misleading. Koufax attended night classes at Columbia while he was playing for the Dodgers.

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  3. Robert Rittner says:

    Absolutely. I think it will get very tiresome reading every story marveling at his Columbia pedigree. I think it is being used to emphasize his coachability and intelligence which probably has nothing to do with his academic career.

    I do think there is a difference between the Columbia references with Perez and the size references with Eckstein. The former is essentially simply human interest and has little to do with his value as a player. The FJM objections to the Eckstein stories is that the size issue is raised to mislead readers about his true value as a player. The implication always is that his stats are irrelevant to his worth because he is so tough and gritty, a winner.

    There is a long history of commenting on player's academic careers. Doc Medich (and Bobby Brown), the Columbia references with Gehrig and the stress on Mathewson's attendance at Bucknell and so on.

    In fact, as there are some who assert that most stories stereotype small white players as tough and gritty and Hispanics and Blacks as natural athletes rather than hard-working players, it should please those who think that is the case that a player with an Hispanic name should be identified as an Ivy League intellectual.

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  4. The Professor says:

    But is there a chance that this would be a non-story if Perez was not an african-american with a hispanic name? in other words. like Eckstein (only different parameters) are the writers surprised that a baseball player went to Columbia or that an african-american baseball player with a hispanic name went to Columbia? If Elliot Johnson had gone to Yale, would we see the same stories? That is the same as asking if we would see the Eckstein stories if he weren't white? I hope race is not an issue, so i purposely avoided it in my write-up. but there is at least a possibility that this is subconscious stereotyping.

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  5. Robert Rittner says:

    I do think that is possible. For example, I often wonder what the stories would have looked like had Mantle and Mays switched life styles. Suppose Mays had been the abusive, philandering husband who deserted his children, then contributed later to the addictions of at least one of them, spent his career out of shape, playing games hung over or drunk and regularly engaged in drunken brawls and DUIs. Would the story lines have focused on his courage playing through pain, on his down-home charm and boyish enthusiasm for life?

    In the case of Perez, I think it possible that his ethnic/racial background may intensify the interest in his Ivy League experience, but I think there is generally comment about players who graduate from elite schools, especially those not known for their athletic programs. You see it in football where there is almost a desperation to demonstrate that players are scholar-athletes, so that if someone has graduated with a degree in engineering or bio-chemistry, it is highlighted.

    I don't know that the stories were as focused as those about Perez, but I think there was a lot of commentary on Seaver's college career, for example. In any case, I do think the Eckstein comparison is only tangentially legitimate for the reasons I gave. I don't think columnists are using the college angle to prove that he is more than he is as they do with Eckstein's size. It's more along the lines of the constant repetition that Andruw Jones is the first player from Curacao, something to identify him and stir interest in the story itself.

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  6. Jack says:

    Let's be clear -- Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt did not go to Columbia, they went to HARVARD.

    So this article claims that Fernando Perez, Sandy Koufax, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt went to Columbia, but is right only 1 out of 4 times.

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  7. The Professor says:

    actually...they both went to Columbia for law school. but nice try.

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