DJ LeMahieu won a Batting Title as a player in the National League. He’d like to win another one – who wouldn’t? But he’s not in it for that.
As play begins today, DJ LeMahieu leads the American League in batting (.365), On Base Percentage (.420), OPS (1.032), and OPS+ (182) as the Yankee’s first baseman, second or third baseman, depending on where the Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone needs him.
Those numbers are worthy of recognition as the AL MVP, but they fall by the wayside whenever DJ LeMahieu talks (if you can get him to talk) about the 2020 season he has labored through, coronavirus, and all, to get where he is today.
DJ LeMahieu: The Yankees Answer To Don Mattingly
But to get to and appreciate the mindset of a player like LeMahieu, we need to recall from Yankees history a player like Don Mattingly, who quietly carried his lunchpail to work every day to put in a full eight hours of work.
DJ LeMahieu is from the same womb. His answer, when asked about this year’s Batting Title, is not surprising at all:
That’s not even where we’re playing. So, I think if I get caught up in that, or if anyone gets caught up in that, I feel like it usually ends up going backward. “So, I just want to finish strong. I want our team to finish strong and finish on top,” LeMahieu said, “like we set out to do.” Kristie Ackert, New York Daily News
The team first, me second – and unlike the soundbites ever so present on ESPN and other outlets, DJ LeMahieu means it, and more importantly, you know he means it.
Last year, LeMahieu was the hands-down MVP on the Yankees. Writers picked up on his value when the AL MVP voting took place and placed him fourth in the vote.
This year, DJ LeMahieu started late when he was afflicted with symptoms related to COVID-19. For the longest time, he was battling to stay afloat to qualify for the batting title, per rules established long ago by MLB.
Today, he is there once again, but his team is engaged in an epic struggle to fend off the Minnesota Twins in a battle to secure the fourth spot in this year’s expanded postseason.
If the Yankees can accomplish it, it guarantees the team of playing at Yankee Stadium for the best-of-three Wild Card series.
Some ask, what’s the big deal since there are no fans in the stands, and no “Bleacher Creatures” to bash the opposition into ear-splitting submission?
DJ LeMahieu – The Comsummate Professional Ballplayer
No, it’s big, and DJ LeMahieu knows it is. For one thing, he’s in a setting he’s familiar with, dressing at his Yankee Stadium locker, with the short right-field porch to aim at when the situation calls for it.
LeMahieu’s teammates know the same, and that’s what these final games are all about.
It’s drama at a high level before the curtain even opens on the postseason.
Three games against the Blue Jays, then three more at Yankee Stadium with the Miami Marlins – and that’s it – the regular season is over, and DJ LeMahieu. Along with his brethren, he becomes a captive of MLB’s imposed quarantine rules for the remainder of the playoffs.
It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the only “situation” that leads to a World Series trophy.
DJ LeMahieu – Brian Cashman’s 2021 “White Whale”
For DJ LeMahieu, he could be looking at his last days of wearing the pinstripes. The Yankees (hopefully) have tagged him as Brian Cashman’s “White Whale”, a la Gerrit Cole, as a must sign a free agent for the 2021 season.
But, you never know in these situations, and LeMaheiu can easily find himself in a situation similar to Didi Gregorius (.288. 9 HR, 35 RBI), who was remarkably shunned by the Yankees as a free agent and forced to sign a one-year deal with the Phillies.
This we do know, though. DJ LeMahieu may or may not win the AL Batting Title, but he has the ammunition surrounding him to not only win that title but a championship ring as well.
Luke Voit is a catalyst and MVP vote-getter on his own to challenge LeMahieu’s efforts to beat out the Twins.
It works in the same vein as when Don Mattingly had four hits in five at-bats to capture the American League batting title over teammate Dave Winfield in 1984.
Either way, batting title or not, it makes no difference to DJ LeMahieu because, like Mattingly, there’s something missing from his collection of awards and honors.
Lunchpail ballplayers understand this. Derek Jeter harped on it to no end, but to players like LeMahieu and Mattingly, personal achievements mean nothing when weighed against that ring.
As a fan from a distance, DJ LeMahieu, a soft-spoken Yankee who carries a big bat, deserves both.