Yesterday, a friend asked me the question “Who is A.J. Ellis?” “A.J. Ellis is not a person, he is a movement,” I told him. “A.J. Ellis is a new chapter in American history.”
Biographically speaking, A.J. Ellis is the catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is 31 years old, and after a few scattered cups of coffee, this is his first extended opportunity to play iin the major leagues. All he has done since securing the starting job at the onset of the season is bat .315/.437/.508. By Fangraphs WAR, he has been the ninth best position player in baseball.
But ballplayers, even players with heartwarming stories like A.J. Ellis’, don’t become movements by simply being really good. They become movements by being really interesting, too. The number you should have noticed in the previous paragraph is the .437. That’s his on base percentage. It’s the third-best in baseball, and better even than Josh Hamilton’s. Ellis is walking 17 percent of the time, which when you consider his inherent lack of power, is an even more absurd rate.
So the movement has begun. The Dodger blogosphere, led by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, turned a sort of speculative half-joke into a completely earnest, unironic, and yes, frivolous, All-Star campaign.There is a website, AJEllis2KC.com, and an associated hashtag #AJ2KC. There is AJ Ellis Facts, the best Dodger-related Tumblr since Emo Juan Uribe, and there will soon be t-shirts for sale with AJ Ellis’ likeness that simply say OBP.
The risk, of course, is that the bottom can fall out any moment. Even the biggest supporters of A.J. Ellis going into the season (I count myself among them) know that while he is good, he can’t possibly be this good. And yet, Ellis seems to not only be sustaining the magic, he seems to be improving on it.
On May 18, with Matt Kemp on the DL, Ellis drew a walkoff walk to lead the Dodgers over the Cardinals 6-5.
This was his signature moment until on May 26, with Kemp still on the DL, Ellis hit a walkoff home run to lead the Dodgers over the Astros.
This was his signature moment until the very next day, he released an actually quite funny parody of Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns called Between Two Palm Trees, and unloaded legitimate humor at the expense of an unsuspecting Clayton Kershaw.
At this point, it doesn't matter much if A.J. Ellis makes it to Kansas City, or whether A.J. Ellis is able to sustain anywhere near this level of play for an entire season, much less into next season or the season after. He has become a sort of human shorthand for everything Dodger fans craved during, and still crave after the Frank McCourt era: an appreciation for under-valued skillsets (walks, in the Dodger's front office, are still undervalued); a willingness to give home-grown prospects, even non-traditional ones, a shot; and above all, the kind of good-natured, unaffected perseverance that makes baseball what it's supposed to be, which is something fun.