Don't you even dare think about calling Leury García a utility player.
The term seemed accurate enough, if using it to describe someone who plays all over the field, like García does for this Chicago White Sox team. But the part of the connotation that has to deal with a utility man being a backup, a reserve, someone less than an everyday player, well the White Sox don't think that applies to García at all.
And so, preparing to write a story about how much García deserves to be appreciated, about how much he means to these White Sox, well, I stepped in it a bit.
"OK, so I'm trying to say this very respectfully," Tony La Russa started his answer to my question, in which I called García a utility guy. "I could dislike you the rest of the time here if you refer to García as a utility player."
Oops. My bad.
But in fouling up, I guess I still got what I was looking for, insight into how the White Sox appreciate the franchise's longest tenured player.
García smacked a walk-off home run to beat the Boston Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, a two-strike, two-out laser over the center-field wall that washed away the disappointment of Craig Kimbrel coughing up a one-run lead for the second time in as many days.
García might not be at the top of the list of reasons folks are crowding into Guaranteed Rate Field these days. But he's held in incredibly high regard by his teammates and his manager, a suggestion to fans and any reporters who might be a little too loose with their phrasing that he's just as important as anyone sitting at the top of the depth chart.
"We call him The Legend," starting pitcher Lance Lynn said. "You're looking at the guy that (has) the longest tenure around here. Great human being. Every day, he comes in here with a smile on his face, works hard no matter if he's in the lineup or not. Day in, day out, he's doing the same thing, getting himself ready no matter what the situation is. Whenever we call on him, no matter what position, where in the lineup or whatever we need from him, he's there to do it with a smile on his face. You've got to have those guys if you want to beat a playoff-caliber team."
"He's really grounded," La Russa said. "He doesn't have big ups and downs. He doesn't hide when he's had a tough out or tough day. He doesn't go crazy. He's really one of the most popular teammates in the clubhouse because he's got a sense of humor. He's really solid. You look at his arm, switch-hitting and playing every position. He can pitch, too. He's a really talented star player."
García got off to a rocky start this season, batting under .200 as late as the end of May's first week, and ended up the target of plenty of fans' frustration in the early going. Since, things have gone much better, and his .278 batting average and .361 on-base percentage over his last 85 games show he figured things out quite nicely. He's been particularly hot of late while filling in for injured shortstop Tim Anderson, slashing .365/.407/.519 in the 14 games leading into Sunday.
Then, with Anderson set to return from the injured list Tuesday, García blasted a dramatic home run.
The thing you probably know about García is that he's the White Sox' longest tenured player, coming over in the Alex Ríos trade in 2013 and predating even José Abreu's South Side tenure. He's stuck around because of his super positive clubhouse presence and incredible versatility. He's been through it all, the slide into rebuilding mode, the rebuilding years and the ascent to contender status.
Like Abreu, and the others who have been involved in long stretches of this process, 2021 has been a fun year, the reward for everything that came before it.
"It's great," García said. "We all know that we've been, the last couple years, not good like right now. We still had a pretty good team, even in the past, but we didn't have the result that we wanted.
"I think this team, we all go to the same goal. Everybody wants to win, everybody wants the best for the team. I think that's one of the keys that helps."
García will undoubtedly be there as the White Sox transition from September into October and start their quest for a championship. And whether you heed La Russa's words or not, García has been part of what the White Sox have been able to do this year in making up for the absence of their injured stars. He logged plenty of outfield time when Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert were on the mend, and he stepped up to play an impressive shortstop in Anderson's absence, as well.
The White Sox want to win it all, and they'll need all the help they can get to do it, from up and down the roster. García's no 26th man, might not be a utility guy, depending on your definition. But he's another part of the equation, something a team needs besides a collection of big boppers.
Of course, he had the biggest bop on Sunday, showing his value to this White Sox team and that he's fully capable of saving the day in the season's most important games.
"We had the last hero," La Russa said.