Hanging up the cleats.
The 2011 Major League Baseball season is rapidly approaching and I for one am very happy (as usual). In 3 days we will no longer be seeing Baseball played in leagues NOT named the National or American League. In 3 days we will no longer see ugly uniforms with awkward numbers such as #76, #84, or #97 worn by Minor Leaguers who often flash moments of potential greatness but more often than not show their true age & experience as April inches close. In 3 days we will no longer see games with laughable final scores which are often decided in innings 5 through 9 by players who have no chance of making the 25 man roster. And finally, in 3 days we will no longer see irrelevant standings that often give false hope to organizations and fans alike. I for one will never miss these aspects of Spring Training as April quickly approaches. However I will miss 1 part which is always is a little heart breaking.
What I’m going to miss or better yet I should say WHO I am going to miss are the players who said goodbye to the game during Spring Training. This time of the year many players decide to hang up their cleats and leave the game for good and this in turn creates a sad annual tradition. Every Spring many Major Leaguers bid farewell to Baseball as they do not draw interest from any clubs, they are cut from a roster, they succumb to injuries, or they have just come to the end of the road in regards of their professional career for whatever reasons. This post is about saying goodbye to specific players I enjoy(ed) who have officially retired during Spring Training 2011. I like to call them the “Casualties of Spring” and I tip my hat to these guys:
Gregg Zaun- I am just going to say it: I love Gregg Zaun. What’s not to love about a switch hitting back-up Catcher who did not become a starter until he was 33 years old. Zaun played hard and with a lot of heart and this was very apparent when watching him play the game. I was very excited when the Padres invited the 39 year old Catcher to Spring Training. I was hoping that Zaun, who was coming off of major shoulder surgery would make the club as Nick Hundley’s backup. However season number 17 just wasn’t meant to be.
When Zaun announced his retirement this Spring, he immediately signed a 2 year broadcasting contract. So tune into some Blue Jays games and you can catch Zaun providing color commentary in the broadcast booth. I know I will definitely be tuning into some Blue Jays games this season mainly to hear him talk shop. Oh yeah, the day he signed his broadcasting contract he started a Twitter account. Follow him HERE.
Mike Sweeney- The pride and joy of Kansas City for many years, Sweeney had some GREAT seasons as a member of the Royals. The 5 time All-Star retired this Spring after signing a 1 day contract with the Royals therefore wrapping up a 16 year career in which he finished with an admirable .297/.366/.486 batting clip. I hate when long time players leave the team that they have spent their entire careers with and when Sweeney left the Royals in 2007 after 13 seasons it didn’t sit well with me. He should have spent his whole career with the Royals in my opinion. I guess at least he was able to see the Post Season with the Phillies last season.
Oh yeah, the photo above is from when Sweeney fought Jeff Weaver in 2001. For some reason Weaver has always kinda creeped me out and reminded of a dude I would have hated in high school. So needless to say I was stoked when Sweeney got him. For a description of what went down, click HERE. For video if it, click HERE. Disclaimer: I do not approve the Christian preaching in the video. That was always the ONLY thing I disliked about ole’ Sweeney.
Jody Gerut- This one hits home a little as it is no secret that I am life-long Padres fan and when Gerut played on the Padres I fell in love with the way he played the game. For all of 2006 & 2007 Jody was out of the big leagues with a serious knee injury before signing on with the Friars in 2008. In a way, he revitalized his career as a member of the Padres and then was traded to the Brewers for Tony Gwynn Jr in 2009. This was very bitter sweet for myself for obvious reasons. At the end of last season the Padres signed him to a Minor League contract and I was hoping he would once again be a member of the Friars but it didn’t happen.
When Gerut retired this spring as a member of the Mariners camp, I got to admit that his press conference kinda choked me up as it was so brutally honest and heartfelt. Watch it HERE. I have a gut feeling that we will see Jody Gerut involved in Baseball again on some level or another as he is is very smart and obviously loves the game.
Mike Hampton- Ok, where do I start with Hampton? Many people have been extremely critical of the dude for years due to the money he has made and his inability to stay healthy. It’s kind of unfortunate that in many people’s eyes this will be his legacy as a Major League Pitcher. Well, Mike Hampton had a great career and if you can disregard the injuries and his absurd contract he signed in 2000 then it is very easy to admire what he accomplished in the Major Leagues; especially from about 1999 to 2003. Anyone who can stay in the Major Leagues for 16 seasons and compile a 148 and 115 record, strikeout almost 1400 batters and end with a 4.06 ERA after pitching 2268 innings is OK by me.
Negative or positive, everyone seems to have an opinion on Hampton. The numbers I rattled off are nice and all but that’s not even why I liked him so much. The real reason why I liked him and have a positive opinion about him is because he could HIT. I generally fall in love with Pitchers who can handle the bat (ie. Micah Owings, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy) as they are obviously more complete Baseball players. Nothing is worse than a Pitcher who can not swing a bat or even handle a bunt. A great article from back 2001 which tackles the subject of Pitchers and their ability (or inability) to bat can be read HERE. Hampton is definitely discussed. I wonder if Hampton ever thought about changing over to a Pinch Hitter/Utility Infielder when pitching continued to literally tear his body apart? Hell, he probably can hit better than many bench players in the Big Leagues at any given time.
Braden Looper- Now Looper is not a player that I followed extremely close during his career but I always kinda kept an eye on him and enjoyed watching him pitch. The exception to this was when he was a member of the Cardinals in 2006 and they knocked my Padres out of the NLDS. Anyways, I try and keep an eye on player’s careers who play on USA Olympic teams and Looper was a member of the 1996 team that took home the Bronze medal in Atlanta. Well, Looper had not pitched since 2009 as he took last year off before attempting a comeback with the Cubs this Spring. I was really rooting for the guy and was hoping he could crack the Cubbies 25 man roster.
Last week Chicago gave him a heads up he wasn’t going to make the team so Looper announced his retirement on Friday. Looper says goodbye to the Major Leagues after pitching for 12 seasons. So his MLB pension is secure along with his 2 shiny World Series rings that he won in 2003 and 2006. I wish him the best of luck and say thank you for providing fans with great Baseball for over a decade. Oh yeah, the Mets fans who heckled him after he came back as a member of the Cardinals are assholes. Just sayin’.