CINCINNATI -- Do you know the "Back of the Baseball Card Theory"?
It’s the baseball notion that has long been used to dismiss hot weeks, months or even half-seasons. If a .250 hitter is at .300 at the All-Star break, old-timers will remind you to look at the back of his baseball card, i.e., the 162-game schedule eventually turns hot flashes cold.
You can’t expect a player with career highs of 16 home runs and 56 RBI to jump up and be a 28-home run, 97-RBI guy.
But that’s exactly what Scooter Gennett is projected to do this season. Gennett set career highs last year at 16 homers and 56 RBI. Going into Thursday, he’s sitting on 22 home runs and 75 RBI in 343 at-bats. He set those career marks in 498 at-bats last year.
That’s just not supposed to happen.
“It’s unusual, and it’s sensational,” Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Gennett has done his share of sensational things. He became the first Red to hit four home runs in a game. He has tied the team record for grand slams in a season with three.
He’s also put up very good every-day numbers. He is first in home runs and second in RBI and on-base plus slugging among National League second basemen.
Gennett is the feel-good story of a feel-awful Reds season. He’s a guy the Milwaukee Brewers let go via waivers rather than pay $2.52 million this year.
It’s safe to say the Brewers weren’t the only ones who did not see this coming. Who did?
“I always thought I could (put up big numbers),” he said. “When you’re not in there every day, when you’re battling for spot, it’s easy to add more pressure. Sometimes things don’t work out when you are trying too hard to prove what you can do instead of going out there and playing and let things happen naturally.
“That’s all I’ve done this year.”
When you see a guy do what Gennett has done this year, you wonder why he hasn’t done it sooner. Gennett has never been a can’t-miss prospect. He’s undersized at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. He was a 16th-round draft choice in 2009.
But he overachieved, getting to the big leagues just after his 23th birthday. He went from platooning with Rickie Weeks to becoming a solid everyday player for the Brewers, but nothing close to All-Star caliber he’s been this year.
“Sometimes the stars don’t line up for you,” he said. “You get hurt, or somebody comes in on a trade and you have to take a back seat. But I knew if I kept working hard and getting better each year that ultimately I would be in the position I am in now.
“When you work hard, when you believe something good will happen, when you are willing to put in the work that is necessary, it has to come back to you. The world has to give it back to you.”
Well, actually, it doesn’t.
But Gennett deserves all the credit here. It had to be the low point of his professional career when he arrived to the Reds. The only team he had even played for gave up on him. His role with the Reds would be limited. He had never played anywhere but second base. Now he was a utility guy.
Gennett embraced it. From the day he arrived, he fit in and he was happy for the chance he got.
“I got a fresh opportunity with the Reds,” he said. “I put myself into position with the Reds where they had to put me in there.”
Gennett was referring to the decision to play him over Jose Peraza.
Again, the Reds weren’t expecting this. Gennett is under team control for two more seasons after this, so he’s gone from late-spring pickup to second baseman of the immediate future.
“He had enough of a history to give an indication of what he’s capable of doing,” Price said. “However, he came into the season at 26 years old. So he’s certainly not to the point where you can’t expect him to improve on what he’s done in three-plus years of his career."
Gennett is among the most outgoing and friendly players in the Reds clubhouse. But you get the feeling that he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
“When I was growing up I always heard, ‘You’re too small, you better think about doing something else,’” he said. “But those things just fueled me to work that much harder and prove people wrong. I was hitting home runs with a wood bat in high school, so I knew I had the power to hit home runs. It was a matter of letting it happen naturally.”
People are starting to be convinced.
“The type of season he’s had is extraordinary,” Price said. “But it’s turning into the norm.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org