Didi Gregorius is going to be fun to have around. That much about the Phillies’ new shortstop can be guaranteed. Signed for one year and $14 million, Gregorius comes advertised as a leader who likes to laugh and win while maintaining a high level of professionalism.
He was beloved in New York, no small task considering he replaced Derek Jeter, the most recent legend from baseball’s most legendary franchise. Gregorius, who will turn 30 in February, could not measure up to Jeter’s level of play on the field, but he did manage to become the leader of the Yankees during his half decade in New York and he played well enough to twice finish 20th in the American League MVP voting.
Gregorius knows how to play, he knows how to win and he insists on having fun.
“Being a good leader to me is just about being yourself,” Gregorius said Monday during his introductory news conference at Citizens Bank Park. “There is no reason for me to fake being this guy and when I’m off the field I’m going to be a completely different guy. I’m just myself and I try to help other players because it’s a team and you want the whole team to be good. This is not a one-man sport.”
The Yankees went to the playoffs in four of Gregorius’ five seasons and fell one game short of reaching the World Series when they lost the American League championship series to Houston in seven games in 2017. That year, Gregorius started making Yankees victories a little more fun one character and one emoji at a time. After wins, he would use his Twitter account -- @DidiG18 – to identify the key players in the game by emojis. The tradition has continued since.
If you think you finally figured out all the Phillies’ handshakes last season, you may now have a new homework assignment trying to figure out which player connects to which Gregorius emoji. One Yankees-related web site – bronxpinstripes.com – provided a Didi Gregorius emoji guide, but that obviously will not help in Philadelphia.
“I want everybody to feel comfortable,” Gregorius said. “That’s the way I’ve always been taught to play the game. You help your teammate get better. It could just be a little thing like saying hi. Maybe the guy just got called up and he’s not comfortable and if you talk to him, it helps him get ready in spring training.”
One of the coolest things about Gregorius is that he has the ability to speak four languages – English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamentu. The Netherlands native who was raised on the Dutch island of Curacao has also been knighted and uses the name Sir Didi Gregorius as his Twitter handle. His best Tweet ever might be the one he uses at the top of his account: Im actually knighted.... if u have the power to make ppl smile use it cuz the world need more ppl like u... light the spark they need.... IG: Sirdidig18
Gregorius is clearly a character with great character and he figures to be an immediate leader in Philadelphia for the simple reason he will be the man in the spring-training clubhouse who knows new manager Joe Girardi the best.
In fact, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto already consulted Gregorius about what to expect from Girardi when the two were together for a recent Nike promotional event down in Mexico.
“I told him, ‘Joe is going to fight for you no matter what situation you’re in,’ ” Gregorius said. “He’s always going to be there for you and he’s always going to back you up. That’s the guy you want on your side. J.T. said, ‘Yeah, I think we’re ready to go.’ ”
Gregorius’ proof of Girardi’s undying support came in 2015, the shortstop’s first season in New York after he was acquired from Arizona to replace Jeter at shortstop. He hit .206 with two extra-base hits in his first month and felt the wrath of Yankees fans yearning for the days of Jeter.
“ ‘No matter what happens, you’re going to be my shortstop every day,’ ” Gregorius said Girardi told him. “ ‘Once you get comfortable, you’ll get going.’ He pushed me.”
Gregorius hit .273 with 20 doubles and nine home runs over the final five months and the Yankees made the playoffs as a wild card team.
Over the next four seasons, he averaged 22 home runs per year. Despite missing the first 61 games following Tommy John surgery, he still hit 16 homers in 2019. He expects a lot more from himself in 2020 and his next contract will depend on it.
“I wasn’t at my peak all the way, but I showed I could still play the game,” Gregorius said. “The more I played, the stronger I got. Now I’m going to play this year fully healthy and go from there. We’ll see what more I have in store.”
Girardi was asked at one point how often he talked to Gregorius during the free-agent recruiting process.
“Didi, I talked to him the day he signed,” Girardi said. “I didn’t need to talk to Didi. He knows how I feel about him and how much I’d love to have him, so (general manager) Matt (Klentak) probably kept me away from Didi so the price didn’t keep going up. The most important thing for me about Didi is that he gets comfortable and he just does his thing because when he does that, he’s special.”