'Grunts' take nothing for granted

At a time when baseball executives and managers rely heavily on advanced stats, computer printouts and the percentages of probability, the one element of a player that can never be accurately measured is his heart.

Some guys have all the tools, such as Jose Guillen of the Nationals. Some have the fire, like Roger Clemens of the Astros. And others have the natural gift, like Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees and Miguel Tejada of the Orioles.

But those special players are actually anomalies.

While baseball, in particular, coddles the player of physical means and draft elitism, many times the personality and profile of a winning team is defined by that low-rent, hardscrabble, nothing-to-lose dirtbag commonly known as the "grunt."

This type of player succeeds off heart, desire and brimstone. He is usually a low draft choice or amateur free agent; he has subliminal talents or a physical imposition; and he most always has to force himself onto the major-league roster. Grunts are, by nature, survivors who never take their positions on a 25-man roster for granted. They are far too paranoid.

No two grunts are alike. They come in various sizes, emotions and needs. There are ageless grunts (Braves' Julio Franco, 46), diminutive grunts (Cardinals' David Eckstein, 5-7), stubborn grunts (Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez), gritty grunts (Orioles' Brian Roberts), specialty grunts (Astros' Orlando Palmeiro), utility grunts (Tigers' Placido Polanco) and rambunctious grunts (Red Sox' Kevin Millar).

There's even Grunts Synonymous, as the White Sox' Scott Podsednik, the Brewers' Brady Clark and the Twins' Glenn Williams spent long, hard years in the minors before getting their big breaks. Now, they are succeeding in the big leagues.

So ESPN.com decided that grunts are people, too -- and their stories should be told. We chose four grunts of vastly different story lines to give us insight on what they endure physically, mentally and emotionally to stay in the big leagues. Speaking on behalf of grunts everywhere, they all agree: They are blessed to play the game.

Dennis Tuttle is a freelance contributor based in the Washington, D.C., area.