Humble pride: Holliday reaches historic milestone in familiar stoic fashion
ST. LOUIS — For just a little while, it looked like Matt Holliday might not embrace the moment.
The way he stood on first base after lining a low-and-away breaking pitch to center field to drive home Jon Jay in Monday night’s 6-2 victory over the Mets, you wouldn’t have known he had just collected his 1,000th RBI. The scoreboard flashed congratulations and Holliday, business-like as usual, removed his batting gloves and prepared to take his lead.
But when the sellout crowd at Busch Stadium rose in appreciation, Holliday smiled — briefly — and tipped his batting helmet. Yes, he understood the accomplishment.
"It was important to me," Holliday said later in a FOX Sports Midwest TV interview. "I very much appreciate fans taking notice of something like that. A lot of places, it probably wouldn’t be noticed or appreciated as much. But it’s very much appreciated."
Few would have been surprised if Holliday had not made much mention of the milestone. He can be so even-keeled and adept at dodging the media that he can come across as aloof. But he’s not. A tad shy, perhaps. But mostly, Holliday is humble.
I sometimes think he avoids talking about himself so the baseball gods will not frown on him and send him into a slump. As silly as that might be, it’s understandable for anyone who is the least bit superstitious. Why risk it? Holliday’s job is hitting, not talking about hitting. Not everyone can be like Tony Gwynn. Well, there might never be another superstar as approachable and eager to talk about his craft as the late Mr. Padre.
Every time you talk to Holliday about hitting, you can be sure he will point out how difficult it is to barrel up a baseball. You can’t say he’s wrong, either. And yes, he’s very mindful of his numbers. He might not be able to tell you his batting average is .264 or his slugging percentage is a career-low .384, but he is as aware as his haters that he hasn’t hit the way he wants for much of the season.
But to tell the media his swing isn’t where it needs to be can come across as an excuse. If he were to try to break down the mechanics, you would have to be a hitting coach to truly understand. So why bother? Besides, there’s also the very real possibility that Holliday doesn’t know why he is putting up career-low power numbers.
He is seeing the ball well, based on a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (44 Ks to 40 BBs). He says his body feels good, which is evident when you watch how much better he is moving in left field this season. His lower back acted up on him last week, but that didn’t stop him from launching a home run well over the center-field fence at Tropicana Field, where most fly balls died on the warning track in the Cardinals’ two-game series last week.
While the quantity of Holliday homers is down, the quality is up. His five homers have averaged 422.4 feet, the second-longest distance in the majors among those with at least five. He could be considered the leader since anyone from another planet shouldn’t count, and Giancarlo Stanton is having an out-of-this-world season. His 19 homers have gone an average of 426.5 feet, according to the home run tracker on espn.com.
You know Holliday considered No. 1,000 significant because he met with the media on the field and briefly in the clubhouse after his milestone RBI Monday night. By the way, nearly half of his RBI have come since he was traded to the Cardinals nearly five years ago. And the 463 runs he has driven in for the Cardinals are the most in the NL since he arrived. What he said should encourage Cardinals fans.
"I feel like we’re starting to hit our stride and everybody’s starting to swing the bats good," he said. "I feel like our team’s playing well, and it’s fun."
Of 17 other active players with 1,000 RBI, all but Ryan Howard have played longer than Holliday’s 11 seasons. He indeed had reason to be proud of this milestone, and good for him for showing it.
"He’s pretty stoic most of the time, but I mentioned something to him and he had a big smile," manager Mike Matheny said. "He’s a baseball fan. He loves the game and he realizes there’s not a lot of people to reach a milestone like that. I think it took him back a little bit."
For a little while, at least.