Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports
September 3, 2014
Aug 29, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison (5) fields a line drive against the Cincinnati Reds during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
ST. LOUIS - Really, he's an everyday utility player, perhaps the finest in all of baseball.
He has played five positions on the field this year, hit in six spots, and has done everything but warm up pitchers in the bullpen.
Certainly, no one would say he's the best player on his team.
Yet, Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates just might be the Most Valuable Player in the National League.
Oh sure, it's the longest of longshots, considering he plays on the same team as Andrew McCutchen, and in the same league as Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
Still, Harrison epitomizes the true definition of the MVP award.
Certainly, he deserves to be in the conversation.
"When you look at the MVP and assess the definition what it means,'' McCutchen, the defending NL MVP, told USA TODAY Sports, "he's definitely been the most valuable player for us this year. You look past the numbers, you don't have to hit the most home runs or have the most RBI to consider yourself an MVP.
"If we don't have J-Hay here, how would we be doing? You take him away from this team, and that would answer your question.
"He really is the most valuable player for me.''
As it stands, Kershaw should win the National League MVP award. Considering his 16-3 record and 1.73 ERA entering Tuesday's start for the first-place Dodgers, the election might be an absolute runaway.
If you want to search for other MVP candidates, no one has greater numbers than Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, with his 34 homers and 99 RBI.
No one has carried a team more these past few weeks more than Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals, who has driven in 36 runs since the All-Star break. No one carried a team more in the first half than Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. And no one is more consistent than McCutchen, hitting .308 with 21 homers and 72 RBI.
Yet, this award isn't based solely on numbers. It's not rewarding the best player in the league. If this were the case, Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout would have at least one MVP trophy, Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks would have won it last year, and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers two years ago.
This award signifies just what a player means to his team - yes, a contender - and with the Pirates hanging in the NL Central and wild card races, Harrison's versatility and production makes him at least worthy to at least be in the conversation.
"What he's done offensively, and defensively from all of the positions he's played,'' says Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, "is just incredible. He's been an absolute sparkplug. We're not in this position without him.''
Harrison leads the National League with a .311 batting average, and since the All-Star-break, is leading the major leagues with 103 total bases and 27 extra-base hits. He owned the month of August, batting .347 and scoring 21 runs, leading the league in slugging percentage (.602), hits (41), extra-base hits (19) and total bases (71).
"There have been times where he's played like he's invented the game of baseball,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle says. "He's just playing a wonderful game of baseball.
"He's always got his tail wagging. A dog wags his tail with his heart. When Josh is out there, he's playing with his heart.''
This is a guy who wasn't even a lock to make the opening-day roster and pegged to play perhaps four days a week.
In five months, he's established himself as an everyday player at third base, become the Pirates' leadoff hitter, earned a trip to the All-Star game, led the Pirates back into the NL Central title hunt, and gets an MVP nod from a teammate holding the crown.
So how's your dream going?
"I wouldn't look at this as being surreal,'' Harrison tells USA TODAY Sports. "Obviously, coming into the season, I wasn't playing that much. But I always knew that given the opportunity to play everyday, these are the things that I'm capable of.
"I just wanted to show what I can do.''
His new phone number is proof he succeeded.
"I had to change my phone number, it was going crazy,'' says Harrison, married with a 6-month-old daughter. "I was just getting all of these random texts from people. A random text once is OK, but then when it's every two or three days from people I haven't talked to in forever, it's like, hey, I've got to change my number.
"I can control now,'' Harrison says, "who has my number.''
It sure appears that he can control his own fate, too.
"I don't like to brag or toot my own horn,'' Harrison says, "but every level I was at, I was an All-Star. It wasn't like, 'Oh, wow, look at what I'm doing.' I know it was the minor leagues, and stuff, and the major leagues are different, but when I played every day, I've always been a guy who's performed.
"I knew I was fully capable of doing the things that I am.
"It was just getting that chance.''
It took six years, and two organizations, before getting that everyday chance, traded away by the Cubs in July 2009, and not knowing a soul left in that organization but shortstop Starlin Castro.
"You never know how things are going to work out,'' Harrison says, "but I'm just blessed the way things have worked out the way they did because there's a lot of people out there who don't get the opportunity.
"Everybody gets frustrated, but I knew at some point I was going to play. You just never know when you're going to get that chance.''
And no matter how high he finishes in the MVP race, he's not about to let it go.