Andrew McCutchen can say more without saying anything at all than any player I’ve dealt with in 35 years of covering baseball.
The old-now-new Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder has a masterful way of conveying messages by his facial expressions.
There is the skeptical look. The surprised look. The annoyed look. The happy look.
My favorite is the one termed the “wise old owl look” by Todd Rosiak, the Brewers’ beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It’s the one where McCutchen sits on a stool in front of his locker and just takes in the clubhouse scene.
McCutchen will flash all those looks at one time or another in his return season with the Pirates this year. They will likely carry as much gravitas in the clubhouse as any words he speaks.
The Pirates insist the primary reason they are bringing McCutchen back at age 36 is they feel he is a good player who can help them win. However, general manager Ben Cherington acknowledges both he and manager Derek Shelton believe McCutchen can add value as a mentor to a young team.
The Pirates have added similar players in free agency this winter in left-hander Rich Hill and first baseman Carlos Santana.
What sets McCutchen apart is he spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Pirates from 2009-17. He helped them reach the postseason for three straight years from 2013-15.
While 2015 might seem like 1915 to a group of players accustomed to only losing big, McCutchen is a living and breathing link to better days for the Pirates.
“I know what it feels like to win here, and I know what it feels like to lose here too,” McCutchen said Friday at his introductory press conference at PNC Park. “So, I think I can be able to be that voice in that clubhouse to those guys, to my teammates and let them know what it feels like, what it is like — and for them to know it wasn’t like 30 years ago. This was something that was recent.
“This was something that I was a part of. And I want to be able to help and instill in them what a place it is, one, what a place it is already to be here, what a place it is when you win here too.”
McCutchen had plenty of veteran players who helped help him acclimate to the major leagues when he got called up in 2009. Those he mentioned Friday put into perspective how long McCutchen has been in the big leagues.
Jack Wilson, Craig Monroe, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Adam La Roche and Ryan Church.
Now, McCutchen wants to impart some of the wisdom he got from those guys, who have long retired.
“I think the biggest thing that you do, for me, is getting people comfortable and relaxed,” McCutchen said. “If you do that, they can be the player they know they can be on the field. Speaking off personal experience, coming up and being a rookie or second-year (player) in the big leagues, whatever it is, it’s hard to come in being yourself or being the player you feel that you can be. It’s the big leagues.
“I was grateful and blessed enough to be around guys who were there before me, who were able to instill in me some of the things that they learned along the way and helped me to perform on the field. I take that, use that, and hopefully have an impact on someone else.”
Some skeptics believe clubhouse chemistry is vastly overrated and on-the-field performance is all that matters. McCutchen knows camaraderie counts after spending 14 seasons in the major leagues and playing in 1,895 games.
“Those guys in the clubhouse, we’re all more than just baseball players,” McCutchen said. “We’re friends. We’re sons. We’re fathers. We’re human beings. That’s what we see each other as. We have the respect of each other.”
The younger players can benefit from McCutchen’s guidance. And the incentive of avoiding the annoyed look from the wise old owl.