The Odd Man Out

March 5, 2012

I always feel kind of bad for Shelley Duncan. It seems like he can never catch a break. He’s a second-generation MLB player (son of former catcher and pitching coach Dave Duncan) and also has a younger brother, Chris, who is a former MLB first baseman and outfielder. The game is in his blood, and he’s been at it a long time.

Duncan was drafted and signed by the Yankees in 2001. He spent years slowly moving through the Yankees’ system, finally making his major league debut on July 20, 2007. He bounced back and forth between AAA and The Show, and played 34 games at the major league level, including 3 games in the 2007 ALDS, in which he went 2-4. That wasn’t enough. More bouncing back and forth in 2008, playing 23 games in the majors, then only 11 in 2009. He was granted free agency at the end of the 2009 season and we picked him up in January 2010. And he’s done the same dance between AAA and the majors with the Indians.

Over the last two seasons, he’s started to grow on me. I like his work ethic. And I admire persistence. With all the injuries the Indians sustained near the end of the season, Duncan had a chance to play pretty much every day from August 23 through the end of the season. And he stepped up his game, hitting 7 home runs in September with 23 RBI. I thought/hoped that might be enough to get him off the bench this year. After all, we need a big right-handed bat. Maybe he could even platoon with Hafner as DH. Things looked hopeful.

Then we signed Grady Sizemore to a one-year contract, putting him in center (theoretically) and Michael Brantley in left, and got Casey Kotchman for first base, and it looked like Duncan would go back to the bench.

When I heard this week that Sizemore injured his back and will be out for the foreseeable future, I thought maybe Duncan would be the logical choice to start at left. But the 40-man roster is full of potential outfielders all looking for a job–not only Duncan but Aaron Cunningham, Nick Weglarz, Thomas Neal, and Ezequiel Carrera. Duncan is older than any of them. He has three years on Sizemore, almost three years on Choo, and seven or eight years on every other guy on the roster with whom he’s competing for a spot in the outfield.

And he keeps plugging along.

Shelley Duncan was one of the players who participated in the Tribe on Tour event last month, along with Vinnie Pestano, Jason Kipnis, Jason Donald, Jack Hannahan, and Josh Tomlin. One of the things that struck me was that Shelley Duncan seemed a lot bigger and beefier than most of his teammates. Not ‘roid big, just muscular. The guy works hard.

I know that baseball is not a Horatio Alger story, where hard work and determination always win out. You have to produce at a certain level and produce consistently (okay, produce consistently or at least have consistently produced at one time with the potential to consistently produce in the future). Duncan slammed a huge three-run homer in yesterday’s loss to the Reds. Perhaps the hard work and determination will pay off for him. I hope so. I’d like to see him off the bench and playing more.


  • Mike says:

    Shelly can only hit a high fastball as Justin Verlander pointed out last year. I’d say give him a start against the power pitchers and bench him against the rest.

  • steve says:

    I don’t feel bad for anyone in the major leagues. I only feel jealousy.

  • jigboy says:

    I remember not liking him a whole lot when he was with the Yankees the year we played them in the ALDS. Tough hitter and the quintessential teammate who always had your back. I agree that he’s a solid fastball hitter but if he can show improvement on his batters eye I’d be happy to have his pop in our lineup. You can’t dismiss what he did at the end of last season.

  • chuck kristy says:

    Whats it take for the indians to open their eyes. I knew he was capable of performing when given the chance, like towards the end of last year. All he needed was a chance to play and we saw what he could do but that doesn’t seem good enough. He is my favorite player and I hope he is given an opportunity to help this team out. Wake up Indians.

  • Steven Samaco says:

    He seems like a really nice person as well. Before a weekday makeup game late last year vs the Mariners I took my 4 year old daughter down to get autographs before the game. Not only did he take the time to sign her ball, he said hello to her as he looked her in the eyes. Of course in her shyness she just stared at him, so he kept looking at her and made a funny face. Everyone started laughing, it was a really cool moment. It’s moments like these that really make you want to pull for these guys. I remember I couldn’t stand him with the Yankees, but he’s really grown on me and has become one of my favorite players as well. (Incidentally right after this Fukudome ran by and tossed my daughter a ball).

  • Susan Petrone says:

    Yeah, I’ve gotten the impression that he’s a really decent person. At the Tribe on Tour event, someone in the audience asked a question about drugs and alcohol. Duncan answered with what, at first, sounded like the stock “Hey kids, stay in school and don’t do drugs,” line. But I realized he was genuinely sincere in a way you don’t often hear when an athlete talks about vices. He said basically that you can’t get to this level of play if you’re abusing drugs and alcohol. He was just very conscious that when you make your living with your body, you must keep it as healthy as possible.

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