His manager describes him as a gritty guy, a guy who brings a certain swagger of an attitude, a guy who knows character is a big part of his game.
When Skip Schumaker was told that Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price used those words to describe him, he broke into a broad smile and said, “Perfect. I’ll absolutely take those attributes.”
Schumaker, 34, is the biggest name the Reds added to their roster this winter and because he is a role player, a bench player, he knows he must bring something else to the dugout every day.
He is a guy fans can embrace, even though he spent eight years with the much-despised St. Louis Cardinals and more than once during his career helped snatch games away from the Reds.
“I understand the player that I am and I never try to be somebody else,” he said. “I know my role, my position on this team. Bench players and role players are huge in championship runs. I take pride in that.”
“Playing for the Cardinals, I’m used to winning and I’m used to going deep in the playoffs,” he said. “Nobody in this clubhouse expects to do anything different than that. I learned a lot in St. Louis and if the guys need it I’ll be that sounding board.”
He was born and raised in Southern California and last year he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And yet…
“I lived in L.A. and it was an hour commute every day,” he said. “I played all those years in St. Louis and enjoyed the Midwest. I enjoyed the National League Central (Division), I enjoyed the lifestyle, the morals and the values of the Midwest. That’s important to me, so I was very OK with coming back to this part of the country.”
He is listed as an outfielder but also plays infield and is working out at second base. And anybody who knows the Reds-Cardinals history knows of the 2010 fight, a fight ignited when Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips aimed some nasty and pointed remarks at the Cardinals, many of them unprintable.
Schumaker either has a short memory or a forgiving mentality.
“I understand that, in my opinion, the best second baseman in the big leagues is Brandon Phillips and we have him here,” said Schumaker. “If he needs a day off, that’s fine. But in order for us to win he needs to be out there. I get that.
“The reason Phillips is not looked at as THE best is because we haven’t won a championship,” he added. “If we win a championship here, Brandon Phillips will be known as the best second baseman, top to bottom — offensively, defensively. I have so much respect for him from playing against him in St. Louis for so long.
“We just need to get deeper into the playoffs for him to get the recognition he deserves,” said Schumaker. “I’m excited about the new manager, everybody seems to be.”
Schumaker brought up the fact that so many fans and media talk about the Reds not making a big and bold move this winter but he sees enough in the clubhouse to achieve the ultimate goal.
“Hey, last year they didn’t have Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton and Johnny Cueto and Ryan Ludwik the whole year,” he said. “Those are four enormous additions, four horses. And with his experience I think Todd Frazier can hit 30 home runs a year. The lineup, top to bottom, can be pretty special if everybody stays healthy.”
And those words from Price about Schumaker?
“He brings great energy to the game and he is a very good situational player,” Price said. “He understands how he can affect a game in a positive way.
“We love those under-appreciated guys that are just really good baseball players,” he added. “He gets on base, has a feel for the strike zone, works extremely hard on his defense and his base-running. He is a very gritty type player and brings a certain attitude. There is no laissez-faire with him. He is a guy who understands that one of his tools as a baseball player is character.”
Schumaker, 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, owns a .285 career average from the left side of the plate. He won’t provide much punch — only 25 home runs in 935 major-league games — but more often than not, it is the little things that count big.