NEW YORK – He doesn’t hit many home runs, doesn’t hit for an extremely high average, hasn’t posted a .400 slugging percentage since 2012 and doesn’t show a lot of emotion on the field. Scratch that. He rarely shows any emotion on the field.
These are reasons that Nick Markakis’ jersey isn’t a top-seller and why he’s not been fully embraced in Atlanta, not the way he was in Baltimore, somewhat ironic since he’s a graduate of Woodstock High School in the Atlanta ‘burbs. But not totally surprising, given how times have changed and the steady, blue-collar ballplayer is less celebrated than ever in a sports landscape where highlight reels are more about home runs and celebrations of “me.”
But here’s what 33-year-old Markakis is: Steady as they come, quiet but effective leader, perfect example for young players to follow if they want to know how to be a good teammate and play the game for a long time.
He has one year left on his contract with the Braves at a reasonable $11 million, which makes him far more tradeable than Matt Kemp, who’s owed $18 million by the Braves each of the next two seasons and has been plagued this season by hamstring issues that have made him a non-factor for much of the season after a torrid first couple of months. And since the Braves need to create a spot for uber prospect Ronald Acuna, preferably before spring training, it only seems logical to assume that Markakis could be traded this winter.
It’s that or eat most if not all of the remaining money owed to Kemp, which the Braves seem less than inclined to do.
So for the last five games of the season, you might want to watch Markakis and appreciate him for what he does and instead of being like those who’ve always seem obsessed with pointing out only what he doesn’t do (i.e., hit a lot of home runs).
He had an RBI double in the first inning Tuesday to give the Braves a 1-0 lead against the Mets in a game that they led 3-0 through six innings but lost, 4-3. That double was the 39th of the season for Markakis, who ranks fifth in the National League in that category, one fewer than Odubel Herrera has and one more than Kris Bryant.
His average is down to .276 this season, from .296 each of the previous two seasons, but Markakis has hit .296 (42-for-142) with runners in scoring position – third on the team behind Freddie Freeman (.355) and Ender Inciarte (.312) — with a .408 OBP, .852 OPS and 15 extra-base in those situations.
The NL doubles leaders are Nolan Arenado (43) and Daniel Murphy (42), who also are the only other NL players besides Markakis to have at least 35 doubles in each of the past three seasons. Markakis has 38, 38 and 39 doubles in those three seasons with the Braves after signing with them following a nine-year career with the Orioles, where he was beloved by owner Peter Angelos – they share Greek heritage – and the fan base that loved the no-BS way he went about things, the utter lack of any prima-donna tendencies and the way he never missed games for anything less than a significant injury.
Markakis has hit .280 with a .357 OBP and .387 slugging percentage (.744 OPS) in three seasons with the Braves, after slashing .290/.358/.435 (.793 OPS) in nine seasons with the Orioles.
“Being on this team we’ve got great hitters like Markakis, (Matt) Kemp, Freddie (Freeman) obviously — you can learn a lot from those guys, watching them hit,” said Kurt Suzuki, who credits those guys and especially hitting coach Kevin Seitzer with helping him made adjustments this year and hit a career-high 18 homers. “No matter how many years you play baseball, when you’re around good hitters, you can learn stuff.”
Markakis played 157 or more games six times in an eight-year span for the Orioles despite some increasing aches and pains including a ruptured disc that required neck surgery in December 2014 after he signed with the Braves, robbing him of some of his power in the last year before the procedure and the next couple of seasons, though he did bounce back from a career-low three homers in 2015 to hit 13 in 2016. (He has eight this season.)
He has averaged nearly 36 doubles per season for 12 years and had at least 38 in each of his three seasons with the Braves, his highest three totals since collecting 43 or more for four consecutive seasons from 2007-10, including 48 in 2008. Earlier this season, Markakis became the eighth active player with at least 400 doubles, and in May he got his 2,000th career hit, one of a dozen active players in that club including only four outfielders.
His nine years with the Orioles were the essence of consistency: Markakis hit between .284 and .306 in the first seven seasons; totaled at least 10 home runs nine consecutive seasons and between 12 and 20 homers in seven of those; and posted an OPS between .799 and .897 in seven of nine seasons. The numbers have dipped a little since, but he still provides a lot of things that managers love, including consistency and reliability.
“He just kind of quietly just does it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s out there, it’s dependable, it’s professional, just a steady, reliable guy. He shows up to work every day and gives you everything he has. Prepares, studies, you don’t go by the video room where he’s not preparing, studying for something every day. It’s just such a pleasure to manage a guy like that.
“You don’t appreciate a guy like that until you get the opportunity, the fortune to manage a player like that. And you just have even more respect for him.”
• I’ll close with a little Wednesday Waylon today, though any day is a great day for Waymore.
“SLOW ROLLIN’ LOW” by Waylon Jennings
I got a slow rollin’ low
Ain’t a mother would want me
Done got me so down bent out of round
Don’t know my head from my toes.
Ain’t a hand here to hold
Ain’t a shoulder to cry on
Ain’t a lesson to learn or a corner to turn
Twixt the dyin’ and me.
Lord, I wanted to be
Something you could depend on
Lawdy, Lawd, woe is me
Ain’t a body would care.
I got a slow rollin’ low
Forgot the words to my song
Ain’t that just like a fool to want a ride
On them trains when the train is all gone.