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Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox

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For the Love of the Game

Some players have it and show it

Even Billy Hamilton’s spirit can fly
| Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Baseball is supposed to be fun. Millions of people play baseball and softball every year for sheer enjoyment. Of course, it's a lot more fun if you're winning or personally playing well, but those millions keep playing just for the love of the game.

Major league players, not so much. Naturally, they must be serious because there's so much at stake. Still, few outwardly show that they're enjoying themselves except on a walk-off or something similar, which is too bad because their enjoyment adds to fan enjoyment.

Fans may like the vicarious thrill of being associated with winning more than anything — the scream is always "We won! We won!" not "They won! They won!" — and they may admire balls hit 450 feet or snagged out of the air, but it's significantly more gratifying to watch players who themselves get pleasure from baseball.

Fortunately, some are willing to show they're having fun, often even when stuff isn't going well. Since having things not go well is a White Sox mainstay, it takes a special player to stay happy about the fact he's playing baseball.

How do you tell if a player's enjoying the game? Plenty of ways. Smiles, of course, leaps of joy now and then. Bat flips that are happy instead of an in-your-face to the opposing pitcher, etc ...

This being the year of the maxi-dour, let's have some fun for a change with White Sox players of recent years. This list is entirely subjective since there is no FanGraphs "best grins" stat, Baseball-Reference "having the most fun" rating, or Statcast page of tiny little smile emojis by players' names. You'll no doubt have names to add or maybe even subtract. Heck, so will I, having no doubt forgotten several of my own favorites.


In a category all by himself

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins
Billy’s smile is contagious
David Berding/Getty Images

Sure, there were times when you dreaded the idea of Billy Hamilton batting with a game on the line. But you don't like baseball if you don’t love watching Hamilton play the field, run the bases, or just be himself. Heck, you probably don't even enjoy life.

Billy has not only incredible defensive talent and speed, but he has that unique characteristic shared by many of the players on this list — the ability to amaze himself when he does something spectacular, to let the world know he has no idea how he just did what he did.


Current players

Chicago White Sox v Texas Rangers
Touki Toussaint looks like he’s waiting for the punch line
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

When a season is disastrous, having fun is hard, and showing that you're having fun is even more challenging. Still, a few players manage it well.

Showing fun is harder for pitchers than position players since they must concentrate on every throw, but some manage it. Touki Toussaint is one of those. When he snaps off an excellent curveball and a batter flails at it, a great big grin appears — not in the batter's face, showing him up, but turned back toward the field. The man loves what he's doing, and so should you.

Another pitcher who obviously loves the game deeply, though he shows it in other ways besides laughing, is one we hope will be back in a White Sox uniform one day.

Miami Marlins v Chicago White Sox
No, he didn’t just step on a nail
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Liam Hendriks is as into the game as any player who ever played, and it shows how good he is at it and how hard he's trying to come back. Hendriks may demonstrate his love for baseball through a walkabout instead of a smile, but then, a walkabout is an Aussie thing.

Cleveland Guardians v Chicago White Sox
The Burgermeister has a happy time
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Okay, Jake Burger isn't a current player anymore. But until the trade deadline, he was one of the few jovial faces on the team. And, of course, it's understandable that when he played his first game for the Marlins, he said he hadn't had that much fun in a baseball game in a long time.

What about Eloy Jiménez? There couldn't be a cheerier guy. But with Eloy, it's hard to tell if it's for the love of baseball or the love of breathing. You get the feeling he'd be elated even if he was flipping burgers.

As for the rest of the team? Well, it's easiest for outstanding defensive players to show their spirit, and the Sox only have one of those these days, which puts Luis Robert Jr. in the spotlight. The thing is, Luis is basically a quiet, shy guy, so you have to take his love for the game from the way he plays, as opposed to, say, the way he played much of last season when he often acted disgusted with having to play the entire outfield because of the stiffs on either side of him.

Another competent and formerly excellent fielder is Elvis Andrus, and he will, indeed, sometimes show that incredible amazement at some play he just pulled off. But he's very part-time these days.

Tim Anderson isn't a good defender, but he occasionally makes great plays. With Tim, though, it regularly seems he's on some dark mission instead of having any fun. His performance this year, of course, makes any sort of amusement pretty tricky and the mission darker than ever.

The rest? Some are just stoic, in the spirit of Paul Konerko or José Abreu. And some don't look like they really want to be playing baseball anymore. Often even those weird hand signals batters give if they get on base are done in a way that just looks like compliance with some small-print provision in the union agreement.


Recent players

Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox
Not Yolmer Sánchez’s day job, but he liked that, too
Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Of recent vintage White Sox, no one exemplified the spirit of having fun playing baseball more than Yolmer Sánchez. And that's why he was beloved by Sox fans, even though he was a journeyman hitter (.660 OPS) and satisfactory, but not great, defender. You had to love Yolmer; you just had to. And he would love the fans back, more so than any other team member in recent memory. Josh Harrison also managed to show his love for playing baseball even in the first two months of last year, when he was awful, and the rest of the season, when he was good offensively and the best defender on the team (until Elvis entered the building) and got no credit for it.

Oakland Athletics v Chicago White Sox
Alexei Ramírez always seemed to be grinning
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Alexei Ramírez wasn't just a fine player; he was a fine-spirited player (except in those periods when he was disturbed by a death close to him). And Alexei had that quality that stands out so well, the ability to be amazed at something he'd just managed to accomplish.

Going back to reasonably recent shortstops, Ozzie Guilén also had a lot of fun playing. And managing. And commentating. Big mouth at times? Sure. Big laughs? Much more often.

You can cross the bag to Ray Durham, and the love of the game is so thorough that if you Google "Ray Durham fun," the first page has a piece on Ray stopping by to watch a Little League game.

It's hard to show a big smiley face if you're a catcher — leaving the Sox, Adley Rutschman carries it off — but there are other ways to show how much you love what you're doing. With A.J. Pierzynski, that often took the form of some truly creative way to legally bamboozle the other team, which he absolutely loved doing. Okay, not always totally legally, but close, right?

Most love of the game shown on the mound? It has to have been Mark Buehrle. It helps to be pretty great, too, of course.


And more?

For sure, but this piece is already way too long. Please add your own.


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