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40 in 40: Sam Haggerty believes in America

But he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do

Sam Haggerty waves to the crowd during a game against Atlanta
A friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Godfather opens with the line, “I believe in America.” Then the next eight hours and 59 minutes of the trilogy explore the unsaid “but” at the end of that sentence. Like me, you might be turned off by stories that glorify the mafia, violence, and toxic notions of masculinity. But bear with me because The Godfather isn’t that. Like Julio Rodríguez, it’s one of those rare things in life that actually lives up to its reputation. Rather than focus on the simplicity of good guys and bad guys, G-Men and thugs with guns, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola turned the traditional gangster story on its head, fascinated by why someone would turn to power structures that lie outside legitimate society. And they tell you the answer at the very beginning.

That first scene opens on the face of Amerigo Bonasera. We learn that he has come to Don Corleone to ask for a favor. His daughter was mercilessly beaten by her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s friend for “keeping her honor” when they tried to force themselves on her.

He begins his story saying “I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion.” He tells the Don that after his daughter’s attack, “I went to the police, like a good American.” But the judge sentenced the men to three years in prison and suspended their sentence, meaning that “they went free that same day.” “I stood in the courtroom like a fool,” Bonasera continues. “I said to my wife, ‘For justice, we must go to Don Corleone.’”

In just the first monologue, we’re given a central theme: when legitimate institutions betray people, they’ll take matters into their own hands. We eventually learn that this is how Don Corleone came to power in the first place, and we see that idea refracted and reflected in his sons, especially Michael and Fredo. In that way, it’s an underdog story. Which brings me to Sam Haggerty.

Sam Haggerty against a night sky Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Cleveland’s 24th-round pick out of UNM in 2015, Sam Haggerty was slated to become organizational filler. FanGraphs’ last prospect report on him, from 2019, gives him a 30 hit and 20 game power. If Covering the Corner even bothered to give him a post-draft write-up, I can’t find it. In the minors, he did manage to routinely put up passable offensive numbers while being a little old for each level. The two things he’s always had going for him have been his eye for the strike zone and his speed, which propped up his BABIP and helped him steal 113 bases in 408 minor-league games through 2019.

All that stealing is what eventually got him a call up: Nine of his first ten MLB appearances came as a pinch-runner. Like Bonasera or the Corleones, he had to resort to crime to get what he wanted.

So it’s appropriate that Haggerty uses the theme music from The Godfather as his walkup music. Nino Rota’s score, which somehow charted at number 66 on the Billboard Hot 100, is always jarring to hear after the Daddy Yankee and Jason Aldean that usually blast over the PA, but it makes perfect sense for Haggerty.

He may have clawed his way onto the roster without the conventional hitters’ resume, but once he got his foot in the door, he pivoted to staying on the roster through more socially acceptable means than theft. In 2020, he put up a league-average 101 wRC+ (along with inspiring our own Anders Jorstad’s biggest contribution to society). In his injury-shortened follow-up in 2021, Haggerty proved he had more power than the reports suggested, becoming just the second Mariner to hit a ball onto Eutaw Street.

But the Corleones repeatedly tried to pivot to more socially acceptable success too. Their family motto should be Michael’s famous line “In five years, the Corleone family is going to be completely legitimate.” Legitimacy is always right around the next corner. And just like the Corleones, Haggerty’s attempt to go straight couldn’t last either. Legitimate institutions wouldn’t have it, as MLB deadened the ball. So if Rob Manfred’s arbitrary authority over the baseballs was going to deny Haggerty his power, then when an opportunity appeared, he had to take it for himself.

Haggerty’s effort has made him a good earner for the Mariners. On July 16th, for example, the wining streak was in danger of stopping at 12 when the game went to extras. But Sam Haggerty told Scott Servais that he could take a base off Rangers reliever Brett Martin, so Servais put him in as a pinch runner, and Haggerty stole third without even drawing a throw. He eventually scored the winning run.

Stealing may have benefited Haggerty’s career, but once you turn to a life of crime, you take on new risks. Puzo and Coppola may understand the Corleones’ choices, but they don’t glorify them. Yes, feeling like you can’t count on the law might explain your decision to turn outside it, but doing so unleashes cycles of violence over which you have little control. Michael Corleone learns this the hard way. After settling the Corleone Family’s score with a rival Family, those rivals only upped the ante, tracking him down in Sicily and murdering his new wife in a car explosion that was meant for him. Haggerty learned the hard way too.

With just two days left in the regular season, Haggerty strained his groin trying to steal. Trying to take a base that wasn’t rightfully his wound up robbing the Mariners of their best baserunner right before the playoffs, where a pinch runner can make the biggest difference.

It wasn’t the first time Haggerty learned The Godfather’s lessons the hard way. On July 30, he seemed to forget what happened to Sonny, the Don’s oldest son. Impulsive and eager to vent his rage, Sonny walks right into a trap that gets him killed. Similarly, Haggerty also allowed a hotheaded impulse to blow up in his face. Unable to get a bunt down in a key situation, he threw his helmet on the ground in the dugout, only for it to bounce right back into his forehead, leading to his exit from the game to receive stitches.

Haggerty is fully healed now and expected to play a key role again this year as a super utility player, second off the bench after Dylan Moore. One hopes that the months of waiting to get back in the game have inspired him. After all, Don Corleone also teaches that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Now in reality, Haggerty doesn’t use the theme music from The Godfather because he maps his playing career onto the trilogy’s themes. Instead, he’s told ESPN’s Marly Rivera that he uses the song because he “grew up in a traditional Italian family,” watching movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Casino, so he uses the song as a way to honor his mom.

But that’s just an homage to a different one of The Godfather’s central themes: obligation to family. Haggerty has even passed that dogma down to the next generation, his new puppy Manicotti.

Yet as appropriate as The Godfather theme music is for Haggerty, I can’t get over the dissonance between its slow, contemplative sound and the atmosphere of an MLB stadium. So I have an idea. There’s a way to still use a pop culture theme that honors an Italian story about crime, family, institutions, and power while better serving the traditional hype function of a walk-up-song. So Sam, may I humbly I suggest: