Javier Baez is the greatest tagger in baseball history. This is quite an achievement for a 24-year-old baseball player, but it's obviously true for one simple reason: Nobody even knew that was a thing before he came along.Baseball is a game the naturally leads to greatest ever lists. We can
Javier Baez is the greatest tagger in baseball history. This is quite an achievement for a 24-year-old baseball player, but it's obviously true for one simple reason: Nobody even knew that was a thing before he came along.
Baseball is a game the naturally leads to greatest ever lists. We can make a list out of almost anything in the game. Greatest hitter. Greatest fastball. Greatest home run. Greatest catch. Greatest left-handed swing. Greatest mustache. Greatest home run trot. Greatest home run call. Greatest left-field wall. The lists are endless.
But who ever thought about tags? Catching the ball, slapping down the tag -- sure, everyone knows that it takes skill. But until Baez, it was presumed that there were limits to that skill, like there are limits to, say, stepping on and off a moving sidewalk at the airport or backing your car into a parking space. Some people are unquestionably better than others, but there seems a point where the possibilities top out, where there's no place left to go.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Nobody thought that tagging someone could be an actual art form.
And then … Baez.
The latest Baez work of art came in Puerto Rico's 3-1 win over the Dominican Republic, where he dropped a no-look tag on Nelson Cruz WHILE CELEBRATING THE THROW. There's really no option but to put WHILE CELEBRATING THE THROW in all capital letters because regular letters don't capture the mind-boggling virtuosity and unmitigated gall this play took. Baez started pointing at Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina before he even caught the ball. And then, he caught it and dropped the tag on Cruz without letting any of that interrupt his congratulations to Molina. Baez never once looked at Cruz … or the base … or the slide … or anything but Molina.
"Wizard," my friend and PosCast partner Michael Schur tweeted. "Wizard who has mastered the Dark Arts."
Thing is, as stupefying as that Baez tag was, it probably doesn't even rank in his top three tags. Of course, that's a matter of opinion. But there are options.
Maybe you like the tag Baez slapped on Colorado's Trevor Story, where he casually scooped up a low throw a few feet to the left of second base and in one absurd motion (while never looking back) reached back and planted the glove on Story's hip.
Maybe you like the tag, a different kind, where Baez fielded a grounder, somehow tagged a passing Joey Votto, pirouetted and -- while falling to the ground -- threw out Jay Bruce for a double play.
Maybe you like the time against Milwaukee that Baez caught the ball over his right shoulder and in a split second did a sort of jumping jack and chopped down the tag on Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Or the time Baez tagged his lifelong friend Francisco Lindor with the laces in the World Series.
There are so many more, and that's the absurd part. As great as so many defensive infielders have been -- as great as Ozzie Smith, Robbie Alomar, Frank White, Dave Concepcion and Bill Mazeroski were -- nobody said, "Hey, what do you think was his greatest tag?" Baez has created a whole new genre.
The no-look tag against the Dominican Republic might or might not have been Baez's greatest tag, but it was certainly his cheekiest. The wonderful thing about the World Baseball Classic is that it has allowed players to express their personalities, to project their joy for this game. If Baez had tried that "celebrate good times" tag in, say, the World Series, critics undoubtedly would have called it too risky and too goofy, plus it showed up opponents. Major League Baseball still struggles with individualism and with expressiveness.
But here, it was perfect. The Dominican Republic had not lost a Classic game in eight years. It took out Puerto Rico in the final four years ago. The Dominicans looked virtually unbeatable this year -- it's hard to imagine any country, other than a fully loaded American team, matching up with them. There were two near-certain Hall of Famers in the Dominican lineup Tuesday (Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano), two home run champions (Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz) and one of the greatest young talents of his generation (Manny Machado).
And Puerto Rico held them down (helped, it certainly seems, by a generous strike zone). By the eighth inning, Puerto Rico led by two runs. Cruz reached via walk. He tried to steal second to make something happen. And with the ball in mid-air, Baez -- that extraordinary tagger -- knew what he was about to do. He knew that he was about to tag out Cruz and put Puerto Rico on the doorstep of victory.
And so Baez began the celebration before the ball even got there. Who can blame him? If anybody else could do it, they undoubtedly would.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for Pool F games at Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year.