It all started on March 15, 1979. The legend we refer to as “Youk,” Kevin Youkilis, was born. Some say he was swinging a bat before he learned to walk — you wonder what was in those baby bottles, not that I suggest Major League Baseball should begin testing infants for PED use. You get what I’m saying: Youkilis had a gift for baseball, and it just took the baseball world a little longer to find out about him.
Youkilis’ path to the Major Leagues begin at the University of Cincinnati, where his father went to school. He played all four years, being named a second-team All-American in his junior year. That year, scouts finally started to pay attention, even though not all were convinced due to his body type. When his college career was over, he held many school records, including most walks, of course (206).
“At first glance, not a lot. He was unorthodox. He had an extreme crouch — his thighs were almost parallel to the ground. And he was heavier than he is now. But the more I watched him, the more I just thought, ‘Throw the tools out the window. This guy can play baseball.'”
— Former Red Sox scout Matt Haas
Most likely due to his strange antics in the batters box and questionable “athletic look,” he slipped through the cracks all the way to the eighth round (243rd overall) in the 2001 draft. Youkilis probably didn’t care where he was taken; he just wanted to play baseball.
“Kevin would have played for a six-pack of beer.”
— Mike Youkilis (his father)
Youkilis made a name for himself in the minor leagues, as he drew walks and got on base on a high rate, never swinging at a bad pitch, a skill that usually isn’t mastered until much later (or never — see Chris Carter of the Houston Astros). He didn’t have much power, but he always seemed to get the job done, whether it was moving the base runner forward or just making the pitcher work.
The year was 2004: the time where Boston Red Sox fans were waiting for, although they didn’t know it yet. In just his second Major League at-bat, Youkilis homered. That is probably not when the “YOOOOUUUK” chant began, but it was a huge moment for him. He did not remain on the team the whole year, but he was named rookie of the year for his club, which is still a nice honor. He played one game in the playoffs that year, earning a World Series ring, which is pretty lucky for his first year in the league, as some guys never win a ring during their whole career.
As the years went on, Youkilis became a huge asset for the Red Sox, one of the most consistent players on the field. He brought 100 percent every day, and his unique batting stance really made him stand out to the rest of the league. But that wasn’t the only thing; along with having a great eye for the strike zone, the guy could really field his position at first base, even though he had been primarily a third baseman in the minors. He took off as a first baseman and never looked back. By the time 2007 came along, he had played 120 games in a row without committing an error at first base, breaking a club record set in 1921. That defense helped his Red Sox win their second title in four years, a year in which he also drove in 83 runs. He also won his first Gold Glove that year.
The man, the myth, the magician — this guy was unstoppable. In 2008, Youkilis really put it all together and had a HUGE year. He hit 29 home runs and drove in 115 runs while boasting a OBP near .400. Although he did not win the MVP that year like he should have, he took home the Hank Aaron Award, which is also a huge honor. Over the next few years he put up very consistent numbers, averaging about 18 home runs and around 65-80 RBIs.
In 2012, the day came that no Red Sox fan was ready for: the departure of Kevin Youkilis, aka the “Greek God of Walks.” He was traded to the Chicago White Sox, a trade that I — I mean the Red Sox — still have not recovered from. I think the Red Sox have realized how important he was to the team’s defense in the years he has been gone. In 2013, he signed a $12 million deal with the New York Yankees, the last place I wanted to see him finish out his career. Sadly, he dealt with numerous back injuries and could only play 28 games in his final season in the big leagues. I won’t get into his Japan playing career; instead lets just appreciate what Kevin Youkilis was able to accomplish in his 10-year career. He may have never looked liked the most athletic guy on the field, but his effort and fire for the game was miles above the rest. He was the true definition of a ball player.
Now sit here and enjoy this five-minute montage of Kevin Youkilis.