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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Yankees' DJ LeMahieu proving his value on the field and in the clubhouse

DJ LeMahieu #26 of the Yankees is congratulated

DJ LeMahieu #26 of the Yankees is congratulated by his teammates after his fourth inning home run against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, April 20, 2019.  Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

DJ LeMahieu would get plenty of votes among Yankees players as the MVP — Most Valuable Personality. It’s just that you would not quite know it by talking to him.

Aaron Boone smiled when he was asked what he has learned about the American League’s leading batter that was not known before LeMahieu got here from the Rockies. “He’s got a little better personality than he lets on, albeit dry and low-key,” the manager said, adding that you have to “cut through there a little bit.”

“I expected him to be a good player for us and he has obviously more than delivered on that front. He has been so valuable behind the scenes in the clubhouse and what he has brought,” Boone said. “His personality is a little more exciting than what might meet the eye.”

When that scouting report was relayed to LeMahieu, and the player was asked if it was accurate, he grinned and said, “I don’t know. Probably.”

That is like the story about a woman who is known as a great conversationalist. When a guest meets her at a dinner party and asked if that is true, she says, “Yes.” And leaves it at that.

The fact is, LeMahieu has shown all season how dynamic he is on the field and because of him, the Yankees season is loaded with personality. What’s more, he deserves lots of consideration for the real MVP — Most Valuable Player.

It will be hard to knock off Mike Trout for the top honor in the American League. But if you really want to go by the technical meaning of the title, LeMahieu has to be in the conversation. He has been beyond valuable in helping the Yankees have the best record in the league.

Largely because of him, the club has not only survived but thrived despite the long absences of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius. The three-time Gold Glove winner has played an excellent second base, and has been solid at third since Gregorius returned, moving Gleyber Torres back to second. He is reliable at first, too.

His adaptable swing covers so much of the plate that Boone says the bat seems like a wide boat oar. He leads the team with 65 runs batted in and has shown his share of power. His 13th home run of the season Tuesday night was typically important. It occurred in the sixth inning, right after CC Sabathia’s ruckus with Tampa Bay’s Avisail Garcia. The Yankees’ offense had been as flat as an oar panel before that as they trailed 3-1. Then LeMahieu’s blast boosted momentum toward an 8-3 win.

The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, a group composed of guys who know a ballplayer when they see one, named him the winner of the 2019 Yankees Heart and Hustle Award and made him a candidate for the overall major league Heart and Hustle honor.

“It’s cool to be recognized. It’s definitely an honor, especially from former players,” said the man who has fit into the Bronx like a hand into a glove. “I just think it’s the guys in this locker room: CC, Gardy [Brett Gardner], Judgie. From Day One, I’ve felt comfortable here.”

LeMahieu has the unassuming nature of the hockey players he so admires. He grew up on skates in Michigan, has season tickets to the Red Wings (“They’re in kind of a transition now”) and used to hold slap shot contests among the Rockies (but chose not to bring his stick to New York). He is looking forward to experiencing a game at Nassau Coliseum.

He didn’t hesitate a second when asked what NHL player would win a Heart and Hustle Award: “My guy Tyson Barrie. I got to know him in Colorado and I’ve followed his career. Now he’s in Toronto and he’ll be good there.”

Funny that when the defenseman was traded to the Maple Leafs on July 1, an NHL scout told the Toronto Sun, “He’s a day-in, day-out kind of player. You’re going to love him.”

It’s funny because a Yankee would say exactly the same about LeMahieu, personality and all.

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