What Jim Murray Never Wrote about Yonder Alonso

Yonder Alonso may not look or hit like a big-league first baseman, but that’s what the cigar-shaped kid from Havana is. Most nights, despite possessing the power of a hotel hair dryer, the man who runs with a Steinway on his back can be found in the heart of Bud Black’s lineup.

And oh, what a piano! One year, he knocked 150 hits and scored 47 runs. That’s not a record, but it puts him in the company of Bengie Molina, Terry Kennedy, and a handful of guys nobody ever called “Scooter” or “Wheels.”

Of course, Molina and Kennedy hit one out of the yard once in a while. Alonso doesn’t do that. He’s big and strong, but lets teammates share the burden. He’s no glory hog. You won’t see him launching baseballs into the San Diego night like Adrián González used to do, or Ryan Klesko before him.

Homers are easy. Fascist, like strikeouts. Line-drive hitters don’t need them. Give Alonso a single, maybe a double. In the land of opportunity, he provides his teammates with plenty.

Does he hit .370 like Tony Gwynn? No, that was Gwynn’s shtick. This guy hits .270. Sure, Alonso is struggling now, but before you can say “tickle the ivories,” he’ll be playing a different tune. He’ll be right there with the Eric Aybars and A.J. Pierzynskis of the world.

Everyone loves a good melody, but as Edward Kennedy Ellington once said (after Irving Mills gave him the words), “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

Alonso’s got that swing. Got that doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah and knows it: “For me, it’s always just a matter of time before I’m gonna start hitting, doing the things I want to do. But rhythm goes a long way.”

Forget Ellington, how about Gershwin: Alonso’s got fascinating rhythm, with five multi-hit showings in nine games after two in his first 35. Heck, he even hit one out at cozy Great American Ball Park against the Reds, who drafted him in the first round in 2007.

Think they regret keeping Joey Votto over Alonso? Votto hits .300 every year, knocks 20 bombs, draws 100 walks. Predictable. Exciting as a glass of milk.

Alonso has weapons like the Salvation Army has clothes. He’ll beat you with dribblers to first. He’ll steal second while everyone’s dreaming about the postgame spread.

The great Muhammad Ali had rope-a-dope. Alonso has rinky dink. You’ll beg for death by paper cuts.

He’s got it all. Even the name: Yonder. It conjures images of far-away places: Singapore, Katmandu, over the outfield fence. It’s less a moniker and more a description of where he doesn’t hit baseballs.

It’s poetry, like calling a tall guy “Shorty” or a bald guy “Curly.” Homer is too obvious, too common. But Yonder has rhythm.

Plus he plays for the team of the military. And if Robert MacArthur Crawford’s “wild blue yonder” isn’t quite Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” it’s still got blue in it. Like the Padres’ uniforms.

Alonso may not be the greatest hitter the Padres ever had–there can only be one Gwynn–but I guarantee you he’s in the top 200. And if he never knocks that many hits in a season, at least he can say he’s had 150. That won’t make anyone forget Bill Almon in 1977 or Sean Burroughs in 2004, but it sure beats a hair dryer.

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As penance for the preceding, I implore you to read Jim Murray’s The Great Ones. Murray was a master of words and his subject, a real Gwynn at the typewriter.

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  • Should I have tomatoes thrown at me? I had never heard of Jim Murray.

    But I enjoyed that.

    • No, I don’t think so – but he was a sportswriter of some note for the LA Times.