From musclebound wannabe Jose Canseco to half-a-bantamweight Eddie Gaedel, there's never been a baseball player who could stand upright with a professional fighter for even as long as it used to take Sal Maglie to throw a knockdown pitch. Toughness disparity aside, the great majority of ballplayers simply are not on the same level, athletically, to hang with even the fighters who compete in those little local MMA shows you find in towns that have Single A baseball clubs. (You ever show up at spring training and watch the players run the outfield? It's not exactly an NFL training camp, much less an easy day at Greg Jackson's gym.) To make a baseball player's bout with a UFC fighter even mildly competitive, we'd have to allow the ballplayer to bring his Louisville Slugger into the octagon with him.
But there are traits inherent to baseball players that would come in handy inside the cage. Such as:
A five-tool player: Mike Trout
The days of being a specialist in the UFC are long gone. It's mixed martial arts, man, and unless you have the skills to mix it up with clenched fists and bony shins while dueling on your feet, and with both a wrestler's positional control and a jiu-jitsu player's offense or defense (or both) while on the ground, you're going to look awful mixed up in the cage.
You need to be able to do it all, and Trout can. The Angels centerfielder was a unanimous choice as American League Rookie of the Year last season after becoming the first major leaguer ever to reach 30 home runs, 45 stolen bases and 125 runs in a season. (He finished with 30, 129 and 149, batting .326.) So we know the 21-year-old can hit for average, hit for power and run the bases.
His defensive tools? Well, his get-to-everything mitt and strong arm didn't win him the Gold Glove, but frankly, that casts the managers and coaches who vote for that award in the same light as what-are-they-looking-at? MMA judges. Trout did get the statistically based Fielding Bible Award.
The kid might even have a little pugilist in him. After all, he grew up in a small city in New Jersey that's about halfway between the fight towns of Atlantic City and Philadelphia.
A slugger: Albert Pujols
Sure, Alex Rodriguez is the all-time leader among active players in both home runs (647) and runs batted in (1,950). But so as not to risk having some other element of the abominable A-Rod leak into the winning fighter we're trying to build, we'll look elsewhere for someone who can bring the power.
Pujols is the man for the job. He's actually behind Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez on the home run list among active players, and trails that elder pair as well as Vladimir Guerrero in RBIs. But a more accurate way to refer to those three -- free agents all, and at 42, 40 and 37, with limited prospects for being signed again -- would be as "barely active." Sure, Randy Couture kept going until he was 47, but "The Natural" was more the Nolan Ryan type, with a so-so winning percentage (Ryan 324-292, Couture 19-11) but throwing no-hitters into his 40s.
The 32-year-old Angels first baseman is at the height of his power. Pujols started his career by batting at least .300 with 30 or more homers and 100-plus RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons, making him the only major leaguer ever to do so. In 12 years in the bigs, he has 475 homers and 1,434 RBIs. Albert has not lost a bit of bat speed, which means fast, powerful hands, which means knockout ability. And in MMA, a big punch is the great equalizer.
A closer: Mariano Rivera
You can dominate the fight (or game) for eight innings (or 4½ rounds), but that's not enough. Unless, of course, you're content with being the 1951 Dodgers or '86 Red Sox. Or Chael Sonnen.
You've got to fight to the finish. And no one does it better -- or ever has -- than Mariano Rivera. The Yankees closer owns the major league records for saves (608) and games finished (892), has a career earned-run average of 2.21 (it was below 2.00 in eight of his last nine full seasons) and has been at his best when his performance counts most. He has a 0.70 playoff ERA, the best ever, and also the major league record for postseason saves, with 42. The championship rounds are all Mo. If Chael had Mariano in his bullpen, he'd be middleweight champ.
At 42, Rivera will be coming back from a knee injury next season, but that's just one more way in which the 12-time All-Star is like seemingly half of the fighters in the UFC.