An Ode to the Non-Derek Jeter MLB Retirees
Derek Jeter's final at-bat at Yankee Stadium was awesome. Not often does one of the legends of the game walk-off in front of his old teammates by re-kindling his skills of yesteryear. It was only a rousing, "Yeah, Jeets!" from perfection.
While I'm a huge fan of moments like this, they also have a downside. Jeter's retirement garnered so much attention that it detracted from some of the other staples of the game that were also hanging up the cleats.
It's time to right that wrong. I present to you an ode to the non-Jeter retirees from 2014. They may not be first-ballot Hall of Famers or present gift baskets to their lady visitors, but they have earned recognition for their accomplishments. So let's give them the dap they have so rightfully earned.
Although Thome hasn't played since 2012, he didn't officially retire until August. He did so by signing a one-day contract with the Cleveland Indians. He did so quietly and without fanfare, the same way he played his entire career.
Thome's career slash line is one that 97 percent of all big-leaguers would consider a career year: .276/.402/.554. Thome never had a slugging percentage below .503 in a season in which he had at least 500 plate appearances. Thome hit 612 bombs, the 7th-most all-time.
Any conversation about the greatest power-hitting seasons of all time must include Thome's final season in Cleveland in 2002. That year, Thome was either first or second in the following categories: bWAR, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging (OPS), home runs, walks, OPS+, runs created, adjusted batting runs, adjusted batting wins, intentional walks, at bats per home run, adjusted runs added, win probability added, situational wins added, and swag. Yet he still finished seventh in MVP voting, despite having a higher bWAR than everyone in the A.L. except for Alex Rodriguez. Give this man the respect he deserves, y'all.
Raise your hand if you don't respect Paul Konerko. I don't see any hands, largely because I can't see you. But also because you can't dislike this dude. I was raised a Twins-loving, White-Sox-shunning little boy, and I still genuflect whenever I gaze upon his testosterone-infused goatee. He hit 50 home runs against the team I adore, yet he is still one of my favorite players of all time. Here's why.
Konerko, for his career, ended up as a .281/.356/.491 hitter with 432 home runs. Konerko's consistently solid yearly numbers were often over-shadowed because his best season coincided with the Steroid Era. But from 2004-2006, Konerko hit .291/.372/.540 with 116 home runs. Those are okay.
The thing that made Konerko so stupidly good was for how long he did this. Konerko hit at least 20 home runs every year from 1999 to 2012 except for 2003, where he missed 25 games and hit 18 bombs. That spanned from the time I was in second grade to when I was a junior in college. This man should never pay for another adult beverage in the Windy City for the rest of his glory-filled retirement days.
While we're on the topic of power-hitting first baseman, let us not forget Adam Dunn. If all Cris Carter did was catch home runs, all Dunn did was hit yackers.
Here's the list of players in MLB history that hit at least 40 home runs in six seasons: Babe Ruth, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Jim Thome, Albert Pujols and Adam Dunn. Dunn was 1 of only 5 to hit 40 home runs in five consecutive seasons.
The shame for Dunn this year was that, once his team finally made the post-season, he couldn't even get an at-bat. I understand why the A's wouldn't use him in that game, but that doesn't make it any less sad. At least he had that one pitching appearance. That was proof that a higher being was a fan of baseball awesomeness.
Beckett's career is defined by events that occurred right at the beginning and right at the end: a World Series title and a no-hitter. Oh, and fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse. All three are chart-toppers.
In 2003, Beckett's second full season, he started five post-season games. He threw a pair of complete-game shutouts and had an ERA of 2.11 and WHIP of 0.77 in 42.2 total innings with 47 strikeouts. And that Derek Jeter guy? He went 0-4 with two strikeouts against Beckett in the deciding Game 6. Game, set, match, homie.
While Beckett had plenty of solid years in between, he actually had the lowest ERA of his career in his final season in a year in which he threw at least 100 innings. Sure, it was unsustainably low based on his 4.33 FIP, but don't kill our vibe. Josh Beckett just George Costanza'd the entire league.
We've got the lumbering first baseman thing down pat here. Time to add the speed. Waddup, Alfonso??
Remember Thome's 2002 season? Soriano was adequate that year, as well. His list of top-two categories included at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, and stolen bases. He finished third in MVP voting that year.
Overall, Soriano stole 30 bases 5 times. He had a slugging percentage greater than .510 in 6 separate seasons. He hit 30 home runs 7 times. And how many guys can say they hit 30 home runs for 4 different teams? (This is not rhetorical - I legitimately have no idea. This ain't Elias, home slice.)
After spending a year with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as a teammate of Andruw Jones, Kaz Matsui and Travis Blackley, Kevin Youkilis will retire. The team went 64-80, but they had a Pythagorean Win-Loss of 66-78. They had such potential for 2015. But, alas, the decision is his.
The thing that makes Youkilis so much fun was his walk rate. The "Greek God of Walks" had a walk-rate north of 10.0 percent in every year except for his last.
Another thing Youkilis had mastered was the hit-by-pitch. He was hit 104 times in his career. He was hit double-digit times six consecutive years. From 2007-2012, only Chase Utley and Carlos Quentin were doinked more. This, along with his propensity for walks, helped him end with the following on-base percentages from 2004-2011: .367, .400, .381, .390, .390, .413, .411, .373. But when you look at his career slash line of .281/.382/.478 it's clear that brudduh did more than just walk and get plunked.
There are certainly other guys that are hanging them up this year, and we could go on and on. That's almost the point here: there are too many careers that end every year to simply focus on one. Yes, Jeter deserved the attention he got, but it detracted from everyone else that also deserved at least some lip service. These six guys hit 2,078 home runs (3 of which came from Beckett). The average of the five position players (sorry, Josh) was 415, and that includes Youkilis's 150. The league just lost some of the greatest power hitters and most interesting personalities of the past 15 years, and they will certainly be missed.