ARLINGTON -- The jersey he once wore isn't the only reason why Texas Rangers players didn't care for Mike Napoli before he became their teammate in January.
The former LA Angels catcher had a way of flipping his bat after a double or home run. The top button of his jersey was always open. He was just a little too cocky for some Rangers players' liking.
Napoli also came to the Rangers -- via a trade with Toronto four days after the Angels had dealt him away -- with the reputation as a catcher who couldn't catch and as a hitter who had power but probably wasn't going to get more than 300 plate appearances.
But 2011 is the Year of the Napoli. The man who coined the phrase, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, just saw Napoli deliver two clutch hits and twice throw out B.J. Upton in key situations in the American League Division Series.
The AL Championship Series is a day away. Napoli's teammates now love him, but they loved him when he was a .187 hitter in late May.
Napoli, though, might be the Rangers' best player as they enter the best-of-seven series against Detroit. At the exceeded expectations in his first season in Texas.
"We knew he was good, but we didn't know he was this good," general manager Jon Daniels said. "The two things we've now seen is, one, that he's gone from being a dangerous hitter to a legitimately good hitter, a tough out.
"The other one is he just hadn't caught that much consistently the way he did in the second half. I think he's a big part of the reason why we've had success up to this point."
But Napoli was wallowing below .200 in May after failing to strike a relationship with hitting coach Thad Bosley. Napoli started trending toward assistant hitting coach Johnny Narron and took off once Scott Coolbaugh took over after Bosley was dismissed in early June.
Napoli became one of the best hitters in the majors after the All-Star break with a .383 average that was second in baseball by only two points to Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera, the AL batting champion.
Napoli hit 18 second-half homers, including two in each of the Rangers' final two games as they locked up home-field advantage for the ALDS. His two-run single tied Game 2 of the ALDS, and his two-run homer put the Rangers in the lead in Game 3.
He finished the regular season with a .320 average, a 1.045 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), 30 homers, 75 RBIs, 25 doubles and 58 walks -- all career-highs -- while logging 432 plate appearances.
"I go out there and try to have a tough at-bat every time and do whatever I can to help us win," Napoli said. "It just kind of clicked for me... just working on my approach and mental part of the game, and really seeing the ball to contact."
The power has always been there for Napoli, but the defense was a question mark. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who has high standards for his catchers, preferred the light-hitting Jeff Mathis and didn't object when Napoli was included in the January trade for outfielder Vernon Wells.
Rangers scouts, though, always had favorable reports on Napoli's defense, and former Angels pitchers Darren Oliver and Darren O'Day also gave a thumbs-up.
Napoli proved them right. The Rangers went 42-17 when he started, his catcher's ERA was 3.11, and he threw out 36 percent (12 of 33) of base stealers.
In his sixth year in the majors, all in the AL, Napoli has developed an extensive mental catalogue for each hitter. Give him a hitter, any hitter, and he can tell a pitcher how to attack.
He also seems to know when to visit the mound and give his pitcher a chance to regroup when an inning starts to unravel.
"We're always on the same page. He knows when I'm getting ahead of myself and getting too amped up," left-hander Derek Holland said. "He knows my pitches really well. Usually what he calls is already what I've got in my mind as what I want to throw."
Napoli caught all four games of the ALDS and figures to get the majority of the time at catcher in the ALCS, ahead of Yorvit Torrealba. Napoli, though, could also find himself at first base.
But he's not going to be out of the lineup, not even after being on the worse end of a home-plate collision Tuesday in Game 4 that left him sore from his abs to his throat Thursday.
After all, as the Rangers have learned, it's the Year of the Napoli.
"We knew that he had huge power," designated hitter Michael Young said. "I think he was this good defensively, but he just had a bad rap. He's been a huge addition. There's no way to understate that."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760