Proven winner, DeRosa may be Blue Jays' unsung hero
At best, the supposedly mighty Toronto Blue Jays have been a bit less than that this season. Still, when it comes to progressing from their current state of mediocrity to something beyond goodness, they have hope.
You heard correctly. Not R.A. Dickey, last year's National League Cy Young Award winner, whom the Blue Jays acquired in the offseason to join Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a revamped starting rotation.
Not Jose Reyes, the fancy shortstop who also became a new Blue Jays player, along with slugger Melky Cabrera.
Not John Gibbons, starting his second stint as Blue Jays manager.
Neither is that hope simply this: The promise of the Blue Jays' collection of solid holdovers such as Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion.
That hope is DeRosa, 38, who has played more than 100 games during a season only six times in his 16-year career. His lifetime batting average is .269. He hasn't made an All-Star team.
Even so, DeRosa is the ultimate utility man, with the ability to play anywhere on the field -- literally. He is also a renaissance man. He is a former Ivy League quarterback from Penn with a wife who once was a model, and he ranks among the most likeable players in baseball.
The main thing, though, is DeRosa flat out wins. He wins big.
Well, his team generally does.
So after the Blue Jays enticed DeRosa in January to sign a free-agent deal worth $775,000 -- with a club option in 2014 for the same amount -- you pretty much knew Toronto was returning to the playoffs this season for the first time in 20 years.
I mean, DeRosa played for the Washington Nationals last season, and they became the first Major League baseball team in the District of Columbia to reach the playoffs since 1933.
Before that, DeRosa was with the San Francisco Giants for two seasons through 2011. During his first year in town, the Giants won a World Series championship for the first time since they moved west from New York during the Eisenhower Administration.
Before that, DeRosa began the 2009 season with the struggling Cleveland Indians, but he ended with the surging St. Louis Cardinals, eventual winners of the NL Central.
Before that, DeRosa was with the Chicago Cubs for the 2007-08 seasons, when they reached the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 1907-08.
Then there were DeRosa's Texas Rangers teams of 2005-06 that couldn't survive controversy and shoddy pitching.
Those were fluke years for DeRosa, because before that, he spent his first seven seasons in the Majors with Atlanta Braves teams constructed around tranquility and pitching. They never missed the playoffs during his stay on their rosters.
There must be a secret here.
"My father taught me at a very young age that you follow the pitching," DeRosa said, reflecting on his days as an all-state baseball and football player in Oradell, N.J. "I was very lucky to be drafted by the Braves and to come up in a time when they were so strong with the pitching staff, and I just saw how they were able to help the offense.
"That pitching always gave the offense a chance, even if they sputtered a little bit. It kept us in the game, and it gave us chance for one, maybe two hits that would be the deciding factor."
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were among the Braves' pitchers back then.
If you add those Cy Young Award winners to some splendid defense, timely hitting and DeRosa in the clubhouse, it contributed to the Braves' record string of 14 consecutive division titles.
"I remember getting called up to play for the Braves and buttoning up my jersey and just knowing we were going to win," DeRosa said. "Even when we lost, it was put aside real quick. Nobody thought too deeply about it. It was like, 'OK, it happens. It's part of the game. We'll get them tomorrow.' It was just like a machine."
Not so much in Texas, where the Rangers were in a transitional period before their current run of success.
Between opposing hitters back then rushing to the plate to face Texas pitchers, there was another lowlight: Kenny Rogers, one of the few decent throwers on that Rangers' staff, receiving a lengthy suspension for attacking a photographer.
"Personally, that was a great place for me at that point in my career," DeRosa said. "[Former Rangers hitting coach] Rudy Jaramillo put his fingerprints on what I was doing, and I took off after that. But, overall, that was a perfect example of why I sought pitching.
"Sitting there for two years watching an offense score five to seven, eight, 10 runs per game and losing, I don't know. That was sort of the antithesis of what I just came from in Atlanta."
Then it was off to Chicago.
"Chicago is when I went for the money, because it was first time in my career I had a chance to do that," he said, before moving to his short time with the Indians. "I was devastated when they traded me [to St. Louis in the middle of the season], because I finally felt I had gotten entrenched. The family liked the city. I was playing well. To have it taken away, I was kind of disappointed."
DeRosa's Cardinals won the division, though. Then his Giants took the World Series the year after that.
"I wish I had been healthy in San Francisco, but what an experience to watch all of that happen and to get a ring," said DeRosa, who spent much of that season battling a bad wrist.
An oblique injury hindered DeRosa's stay with the Nationals, but his influence on his teammates was huge.
"Power arms and young, talented position players. That's what I saw with the Nationals," DeRosa said of a Washington team that lost in the NL Division Series last year. "Their guys are sitting at 94, 95 mph most of the game. That's tough on hitters, which means it's back to pitching."
Speaking of pitching, the Blue Jays are struggling at the moment with the fourth-worst ERA in baseball at 4.77, but they still have DeRosa.