Rozner: Chicago Cubs' Baez need not stump for MVP votes

As it stands right now in a very tight race with several candidates, Javy Baez is the front-runner for the National League MVP award.

So is there something more he should be doing off the field? Self-promotion? Politicking? Interviews?

Some players in the race will do precisely that, but it's not exactly a wheelhouse for Baez.

“His focus is on the team and winning,” said Ryne Sandberg, the 1984 MVP. “His approach is consistent in that way, and there's no reason to change anything now.”

If anyone should understand what the 25-year-old Baez is going through in a breakout year it's Sandberg, who burst onto the scene as a 24-year-old after his pair of home runs off Bruce Sutter in a June 1984 game against the Cardinals on national TV.

Baez is similarly shy in front of the cameras and seems to prefer allowing his play on the field to talk for him.

“I was never comfortable with all that, and in 1984 I got thrown into it with no training and no idea what I was doing,” Sandberg said. “I was just keeping my fingers crossed that I could get the job done on that particular day.

“There's always an 0-for-20 waiting for you somewhere and everyone knows that, so your focus is on being prepared to play.

“I wasn't worried about taking care of media obligations. I wasn't good at it anyway.

“Javy does fine with that, but it's not easy when you haven't done a lot of it. He's doing great on the field. He doesn't have to worry about the rest of it.”

In the last 50 years, the only Cubs MVPs have been Sandberg, Andre Dawson (1987), Sammy Sosa (1998) and Kris Bryant (2016). Since Ernie Banks went back-to-back in 1958-59, Sandberg is the only Cubs middle infielder to take home the hardware.

“Javy just wants another parade,” Sandberg said. “He's a team player. He's playing the game the right way. His effort, leadership and numbers say MVP.”

Baez has an admirer in Reds manager Jim Riggleman, who's been in pro ball for more than 40 years, and he believes Baez is the MVP with two weeks remaining in the season.

“I don't generally give a lot of thought to individual awards, but with what he's done and the versatility he gives Joe Maddon, the options he gives them, I would say he is the MVP,” Riggleman said. “He plays every position and plays them better than anyone.

“It's kind of like back in the day if you had Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs and you say, ‘He's my best leadoff hitter. He's my best second hitter. He's my best third hitter. If I want to protect my cleanup hitter, he's my best fifth hitter.'

“That's the way Baez is defensively.”

Riggleman was forced to see Baez 19 times this season and he's well versed in what the Cubs' magician is able to do in all facets of the game.

“No matter where you put him on the field, he'll do something to win a game,” Riggleman said. “On the bases, he'll do something to win the game. At the plate, he does something to win the game.

“If you look at every game we've played the Cubs, if they won the game then he had something to do with it. He has so many ways to influence the game.

“I was thinking about it last night and again today. The unbelievable plays the guy made Friday.

“He threw a runner out at home playing back at short. He made the double play look so easy. He went to his left, scooped it up on an in-between hop, touched the bag and threw to first.

“There's some guys you hear about and then you see them and they don't do much against you.

“Baez has really hurt us. He's a dynamic talent.”

As for how he should handle these final two weeks, Sandberg said Baez need not alter his off-the-field approach.

“My advice to Javy is just continue with your routine and help bring home another championship. Don't mess with something that's very good,” Sandberg said. “He sells a lot of tickets just by being himself. People want to watch him play. I'd say that's a brand. I'd say don't change anything.”

That's from one Cubs MVP to — perhaps — another.

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