Yankees left fielder Giancarlo Stanton hits a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Oakland Athletics on Oct. 3, 2018, in a wild-card playoff game at Yankee Stadium.

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Keidel: Stanton Feels At Home In Yankees' Outfield

Jason Keidel
March 08, 2019 - 2:03 pm
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When a baseball player signs a bank-breaking deal, he's burdened not only by his newfound wealth, but also the epic expectations that come with it.

From Bryce Harper to Manny Machado to Clayton Kershaw, a team's highest-paid player becomes the club's best player, leader and avatar of a fresh new era of fantastic days ahead. More than anyone on their respective teams, they are the ones who get questioned and chided when things go wrong. 

Unless you're Giancarlo Stanton. Before Harper and Machado signed their monster contracts, Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million deal with Miami in 2014, the first such deal in MLB history. Still, it made sense that Stanton wasn't shackled by irrational projections because he was playing baseball in a football town, in a stadium that was barely freckled with fans and perhaps for the most loathed owner in the sport, who promised he would not sell the team, until he did. 

In comes Derek Jeter, who shipped Stanton to the Bronx for a few MetroCards, and life has never been better for the Yankees' outfielder. Stanton had his best year in 2017, winning NL MVP. Yet no one saw it because it happened in that tropical mausoleum they call a stadium. 

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So Stanton lands on River Ave, and like all the big-ticket players before him, from Reggie Jackson to Dave Winfield to Jason Giambi to A-Rod, Stanton would shoulder the weight of the nation's biggest city. Except it never happened. 

Not only did Stanton become MLB's richest player in 2014, but he also became its luckiest player in 2018. Not only is he not a bulging fish in a country pond, but the Yankees are so stacked that Stanton doesn't get primary, secondary or tertiary blame when the Bronx Bombers bomb. Yankees fans are exponentially more interested in the homegrown studs or younger stars, gawking at Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez. For the first time in a long time, their priciest player is not trembling alone in the media fishbowl (if he's in it at all).

Stanton had a good year in 2018 (.266 BA, 38 HR, 100 RBI). It was nothing like his sublime 2017 season (.281 BA, 59 HR, 132 RBI). Yet we heard nary a negative word about Stanton.. Part of that is because of his low-key modesty. Also, no one can question his fitness, with a physique taken from Greek mythology, his muscular, vascular body the subject and obsession of photographers. Most importantly, he doesn't talk crap or engage in me-first histrionics. He's the rare, rich player not pining to replicate that day when he became the richest athlete in MLB. 

It's easier to overlook your flaws in character or clutch moments when you're just so darn likable, when you don't flex a finger at teammates when games go south. It's also easier when nearly every bat in that lineup is slated for big numbers. He didn't land on River Avenue like a meteor, as Reggie did, calling himself the straw that stirs the drink, while trivializing the team's most popular player, Thurman Munson. 

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He's not here as Winfield was, saddled with salary and Steinbrenner's moods. Even Giambi got booed until that midnight in May, when he whacked that wet, walk-off homer in the 14th inning against the Twins and jogged through the raindrops until he got mobbed at home plate. Every megabuck mercenary has needed a late-game baptism, until now. 

The outfield at Yankee Stadium is often the most daunting, bare-naked patch of grass in sports. It can turn men into monoliths, or make mice of men. For Giancarlo Stanton, it feels like home, if not heaven.    

Twitter: @JasonKeidel