In 1998, after completing the most significant trade in franchise history by trading away future Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners’ GM Woody Woodward, made another trade on the August 31st waiver trade deadline. Woodward sent veteran second baseman Joey Cora to the Indians in exchange for infielder David Bell. At the time the deal received very little attention, what with the media still shocked over Woodward “only” being able to “extract two minor-league prospects and a player to be named later in exchange for one of the most dominant pitchers of his time (153).” However, like Woodward’s trade of Johnson, the Cora trade would yield a significant return for the Mariners in 2001.
The Johnson trade and the subsequent Cora trade were somewhat linked. For Johnson the Mariners received pitchers Freddie Garcia and John Halama as well as the talented Carlos Guillen, who was capable of playing shortstop, second base and third base. With Alex Rodriguez firmly entrenched at short, the Mariners’ intent was for Guillen to play second base. The trading of Cora was made to open up the position for Guillen and provide him a chance to play every day for the remainder of the ’98 season. Woodward: “We felt when we traded for Carlos Guillen that he had a chance to be our second baseman next season and had planned on playing him in September (154).”
David Bell though, whom the Mariners received in exchange for Cora, was also primarily a second baseman. In fact, Bell had been the Cleveland Indians’ starting second baseman as of May of ‘98 when he took over for the ineffective 35 year-old veteran Shawon Dunston. However, Bell was more than capable of playing third base. After all, Bell was drafted out of high school at the age of 17 as a third baseman, somewhat fitting given that David’s father, Buddy Bell, was one of baseball’s premier third basemen in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Indeed, from ’79 to ’84 Buddy Bell was named to the AL All-Star Team four times and won six consecutive Gold Glove Awards.
David Bell was drafted by the Indians in the seventh round of the 1990 MLB Amateur Draft, the same draft in which the Mariners selected Bret Boone two rounds earlier. And like Bret Boone and the Boone family, the drafting of David Bell meant that the Bell family also had a chance to become a three-generation MLB family. As well as David’s father Buddy playing in the majors, David’s grandfather, Gus Bell, also had a productive career in major league baseball. Gus’ career spanned 15 years. He played a total of 1,741 games, 1,235 of which as a Cincinnati Red. When David Bell was called upon to pinch-hit for Cleveland Indian future Hall of Famer Jim Thome in a May 3, 1995 game versus the Detroit Tigers, the Bell family became baseball’s second third-generation family. Sadly though, Gus Bell died just four days after David’s MLB debut, the result of a heart-attack Gus had suffered just days prior.
David Bell’s major league debut had come at the age of 22, five years after being drafted. The year prior Bell had been named the Cleveland Indians’ 1994 Minor League Player of the Year. At that time Bell was playing third base. Unfortunately for Bell though, the Indians’ third base job belonged to the aforementioned Jim Thome. With the 24 year-old Thome blocking Bell at third, the Indians decided to send Bell to the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-player deal that involved starting pitcher Ken Hill in July of ’95. Interestingly Buddy Bell had been serving as the Indians’ infield coach when the team traded his son to the Cardinals. However, Buddy understood that his son was blocked by Jim Thome and that trading him was in the best interest of the club. According to the Indians’ GM John Hart, the elder Bell “would sit in our meetings where we go over our personnel, and he knew how much we liked David….But as Buddy said, Jim Thome’s our third baseman and will be for quite a while (155).”
Almost three years later, David Bell would find himself back in Cleveland after being waived by the Cardinals in April of ’98. According to Bell the Cardinals, “were telling me that nobody would take me, because rosters were pretty well set. They thought I’d get through waivers, and they could send me to (Triple-A) Memphis (156).” The Cardinals’ calculation that Bell would clear waivers was a reasonable one. After all, up until that point in his career Bell had hit just .221 and slugged .328 in his almost three years in the majors. After arriving in Cleveland though Bell began to produce at the plate. In ’98 while with Cleveland, Bell hit .262 and slugged .424 in 370 plate appearances. He also hit 10 homeruns, doubling the five homerun total Bell had hit in his previous 466 at-bats. Bell started 91 games at second base for the Indians and just seven at third. By that time the Indians had moved Jim Thome to first base and had acquired All-Star third baseman Travis Fryman from the Tigers to play the hot corner.
While with the Cardinals, Bell played both second and third base. In his second stint in Cleveland though, Bell had transitioned to second base full-time. However, the Mariners’ plan after acquiring Bell was for him to play a utility role. “With Bell, we acquired a younger player who can play second base, third base and shortstop (157),” explained M’s vice president of baseball administration at the time Lee Pelekoudas. “He has a little right-handed power- he’s hit 10 homeruns this season- and could be the utility infielder we’ve needed (158).” The Mariners though had Bell close out the 1998 season at second base after Carlos Guillen injured his knee and was forced to miss the last two weeks of the season.
In 1999 the Mariners’ opening day infield consisted of: David Segui at first base, Carlos Guillen at second, Russ Davis at third and Alex Rodriguez at short with Bell on the bench. However, Bell was forced into action just two games into the season when it was revealed that Alex Rodriguez had previously injured his knee in the last days of spring training and would miss four to six weeks. The Rodriguez injury meant that Guillen would play shortstop and Bell would play second base. That plan though went awry when in just the fifth game of the season Guillen tore the ACL in his right knee after tangling up with the Oakland Athletics’ Tony Phillips in a rundown. Guillen was lost for the season. As a result the Mariners filled the hole at shortstop with veterans Domingo Cedeno and Rafael Bournigal until Rodriguez returned to the lineup in mid-May.
David Bell though remained a fixture at second base. He made 157 starts at the keystone position and hit .268 and slugged .432. Bell’s 21 homerun total that year was a career best as was his 78 RBI total. With Guillen returning to the Mariners in the spring of 2000, the M’s plan was to have him play third base. The Mariners’ thinking was that with Guillen at third, it was less likely the infielder would be injured. However, despite having a career year in 1999, Bell was not assured the starting second baseman’s job in 2000.
In December of 1999 Pat Gillick and the Mariners signed the 34 year-old infielder/outfielder Mark McLemore to a one–year $2.25 million contract. McLemore was capable of playing the outfield as well as second base which is where Gillick had reportedly envisioned McLemore primarily playing in 2000. As it turned out, McLemore started 122 games at second base that season. David Bell was limited to just 40 starts at second; however, he did make 81 starts at third base in large part due to the Mariners demoting Carlos Guillen to Triple-A Tacoma after the young infielder hit just .143 over the first two months of the season.
Bell though didn’t follow up his break-through 1999 campaign with an impressive 2000 season. Bell managed a .247 batting average and slugged just .381 in 2000 as his homerun total was nearly cut in half to 11. Bell’s OPS+ had also dipped to just 81.
After Alex Rodriguez left Seattle for Texas via free agency in the 2000 offseason, the Mariners ultimately decided that Carlos Guillen would replace Rodriguez at short which would leave an opening at third base. Once again though, Bell was not the M’s first choice to fill that void. “We need a productive bat at third base (159),” Pat Gillick was quoted as saying just before the beginning of spring training. Gillick’s preference was to acquire a third baseman from outside the organization via the trade route. “A trade is more likely than unlikely (160),” Gillick told the media in February of 2001 when asked how he would address the Mariners’ perceived vacancy at third base.
Throughout the spring the Mariners were rumored to be in pursuit of several third basemen including San Diego Padre Phil Nevin, St. Louis Cardinal Fernando Tatis, Kansas City Royal Joe Randa, New York Met veteran Robin Ventura and even the Yankees’ super-prospect Alfonso Soriano. However, the asking price for these players was reportedly steep. “Everyone knows what we need, everybody knows what we have (161),” Gillick explained. “That doesn’t make it easier, because most teams start by asking for the same thing- and we have to change the names involved….if we make a deal, the matchup team will look for our pitching (162).” The Mariners supposedly had a surplus in starting pitching heading into 2001 and had several young pitchers that had attracted the attention of other teams. However that would soon change.
The Mariners’ pitcher being mentioned most often in trade rumors that spring was 20 year-old left-handed starter Ryan Anderson. Anderson was the Mariners’ first round pick in the 1997 amateur draft. The 6-foot-10-inch, 18 year-old was projected to be the number one pick in the draft but slid all the way down to 19th when Anderson’s character (he had previously been apprehended for shoplifting) and the ability to sign the talented pitcher came into question. However, the hard-throwing lefty dubbed the “Little Unit,” a spinoff to then Mariner Randy Johnson’s nickname “The Big Unit,” was too tempting for the Mariners to pass up. “We see this kid as another Randy Johnson (163),” a pleased Woody Woodward stated after the draft.
After being drafted Anderson moved up the minor league ranks quickly. Anderson pitched one year in Single-A in 1998 and another in Double-A in 1999 before being promoted to Triple-A Tacoma of the PCL in 2000. That year Anderson won 5, lost 8 and posted a 3.98 ERA. He struck out 146 batters in 104 innings pitched. The Mariners though were forced to shut down Anderson in late July due to a “strained shoulder.” Nevertheless, Anderson was still rated as one of the best prospects in baseball heading into the 2001 season. If the Mariners were going to acquire a starting third baseman, Anderson was the player teams were asking for in return. However, in late February of ’01 an MRI revealed that Anderson had a “torn labrum which would require surgery to repair (164),” forcing the young lefty to miss the entire 2001 season. As it turned out, Anderson ended up missing four years. He returned to the minors in 2005 but was never able to regain his form and never pitched in a MLB game.
Anderson wasn’t the only pitcher the Mariners had lost to injury during the 2001 spring training season. Just days before the Mariners found out that Anderson would be lost for the season, the talented and hard-throwing Gil Meche was forced to undergo surgery to repair a “frayed rotator cuff” which meant that Meche too would miss the entire ‘01 season. Meche was projected to be a member of the Mariner’s starting rotation in 2001.
The loss of both Meche and Anderson dealt a serious blow to what leverage the Mariners had in trade negotiations. The Mariners were suddenly not as deep in the starting pitching department and as a result, were not able to acquire a power-hitting third baseman. Instead, the Mariners would have to settle with David Bell as their opening-day third baseman. Bell would go on to make 120 starts at third for the Mariners in 2001. However, had it not been for the Mariners’ torrid start to the season, Bell may have not made anywhere near that number of starts.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners opened the season with a 20-5 won/lost record in April. They followed April up with a 20-7 month of May. Incredibly after two months into the season the Mariners were 40-12 and up 14 games in the American League West division. David Bell though was struggling at the plate. Bell hit just .205 and slugged a paltry .308 in April. He managed to raise those numbers slightly in the following month; however by June 1, Bell was still only hitting .238 and slugging .358. Regardless though, the Mariners were still completely dominating the American League.
As poor as Bell’s numbers were to begin the 2001 season, the Baltimore Orioles’ Brooks Robinson’s offensive numbers to begin the 1973 season were even worse. By the end of May, Robinson was hitting .196 and slugging .284 in his 165 plate appearances. Despite Robinson’s struggles at the plate and the fact that the Orioles were below .500 with a record of 20-21, Robinson was never in any danger of losing playing time.
By 1973 the 36 year-old Brooks Robinson had already carved out a Hall of Fame career with the Orioles. He won the American League MVP Award in ’64 and had one of the greatest postseasons ever for a player in 1970 which culminated in a World Series title for the Orioles and a World Series MVP Award for Robinson. He was both an American League All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 13 consecutive seasons and had played a major league record 2,349 games at third base. There was no doubt that Brooks Robinson, the face of the Baltimore Orioles, would one day be elected to the Hall of Fame. The only question was when that would be. Despite his advanced age and his productivity trending down, Robinson was not planning on retiring anytime soon. “I think I’ll be able to field as long as I can walk out there (165),” Robinson stated before the beginning of the 1973 season. “I’ve seen a lot of guys hang ‘em up and quit not always because they were physically tired, but because they were mentally tired. I’m not mentally tired at all (166).”
Maybe so, but Robinson’s bat certainly seemed tired in ’73. The same could be said of ’72 when, as in the case of several other Oriole veterans; Robinson began the season in a horrible slump. Indeed, by June 2 of ’72 as the Orioles were set to begin a series versus the AL West leading Oakland A’s, Robinson was hitting just .243, slugging an anemic .294 and had yet to hit a homerun. With the Orioles having scored just one run in their last two games and Robinson going a combined 0 for 8 in said games, Weaver sat his third baseman in the series opener against Oakland. “Brooks isn’t hitting so good, isn’t fielding so good and his stats against Vida (Oakland starter Vida Blue) aren’t so good (167),” Weaver explained to the media. “How soon he’ll get in there will depend on what happens. Let’s wait and see how the game goes. Right now, we’re struggling for runs (168).”
After losing three of the four games versus Oakland, two of which the result of being shutout, Earl Weaver was reported to have made his infamous “over the hill” comment. “Face it; we might have some guys over the hill. I don’t know. I do know that some place along the line there’s a point where you have to go with young guys all the way (169),” Weaver was quoted as saying.
Understandably Weaver’s reported comments did not sit well with some of the Orioles’ veteran players, particularly Brooks Robinson who had just been benched. “I find the remark embarrassing (170),” a clearly peeved Robinson said after being asked about Weaver’s comment. “I don’t enjoy going to places to hear people say I’m over the hill, or know that they’re thinking it…I know that Weaver has to worry for his job and I know he had to do something. He said what he thought he had to. That’s a manager’s prerogative. But that doesn’t mean I like it (171).”
Of course Weaver denied using the words “over the hill” but he did concede that he was “trying to shake a few boys up (172)” and that the younger Oriole players were carrying the team. “Maybe we’d be losing worse if it wasn’t for the kids. Fact I know we would. They’re doing it for us. Why (Terry) Crowley and (Don) Baylor between them, have more homeruns than Boog (Powell), Dave Johnson, Brooks (Robinson) and Don Buford (173).”
However, although Weaver was inserting the younger Oriole players such as the aforementioned Terry Crowley and Don Baylor as well Bobby Grich and catcher Johnny Oates into the starting line-up at the expense of some veterans in ‘72, Robinson was a mainstay in the Baltimore line-up after his brief benching. Robinson started 110 of the remaining 112 games that year, managing to somewhat turn around his season. He hit .255 and slugged .352 for the rest of the season; however, the ’72 campaign was arguably Robinson’s worst offensive season since 1958 when he was just a 21 year-old in his first year as a starter.
Heading into 1973, there was very little chance that the aging Robinson would be supplanted at third. In the past Bobby Grich would have been a candidate to succeed Robinson at the hot corner; however, with Grich taking over second base for the departed Davey Johnson, Robinson was not in any danger of losing playing time. Earl Weaver, at least publicly, wasn’t too concerned with Robinson’s poor ’72 campaign and was fully prepared to have the veteran Robinson as his starting third baseman in ’73.
After all, Robinson had rebounded from a poor season in the past, most notably in 1970 after a subpar 1969 season. In ’69, although he did club 23 homeruns, Robinson’s batting average had sunk to just .234 and his slugging average to .395. His OPS+ that year was a below average 92. After Robinson’s off –year in ’69, Weaver had claimed that some believed Robinson was on the downside of his career and that his production would fall off a cliff. “People warned me to watch him; that he’d go all at once (174),” Weaver recalled, “but he came out of it with two fine years (175).” Indeed. Robinson rebounded in ’70 and was a key player in the Orioles’ World Series victory that season. In ’71 Robinson finished fourth in AL MVP voting as the Orioles returned to the World Series but lost in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In the last days of the 1973 spring training season, Weaver assessed the aging Robinson by way of the following: “He’s been doing everything this spring like he has in the past. He’s not going to run any slower, he never could run. He’s still getting balls in the field. He’s had the crowd on its feet 10 times this spring. His bat speed is better than it was last year (176).” Weaver though acknowledged that it would be difficult for him to assess during the season whether or not an aging player like Robinson was all but done or merely mired in a slump. “A manager is not going to know whether a guy is too old to participate until it’s too late. How does he know in one year if a player like that is over the hill? You’ll figure he’s in a slump (177).” Over-the-hill or not, Weaver had limited options at third behind Robinson as the ‘73 Orioles were thin in terms of infield depth.
After belting two home runs on opening day in a 10-0 drubbing of the Milwaukee Brewers, Robinson went into a prolonged slump, so much so that as late as mid-June Robinson was still hitting below .200, .196 to be exact. Robinson managed to raise his batting average to .228 by the time the All-Star Break rolled around; however, for starting AL third basemen, Robinson’s production at the plate was near the bottom of the league. Despite his dreadful offensive numbers, particularly his .228 batting average and .321 slugging average, Brooks Robinson was voted the American League’s starting third baseman for the All-Star Game. The 826,000+ vote total that Robinson received was a testament to Robinson’s enduring popularity with most baseball fans.
Indeed. Robinson’s 826,000+ votes was not only the most received for an American League third baseman that year but was also the sixth highest among all American Leaguers. Robinson being named the AL’s starting third baseman irked some players though, most notably Oakland A’s third baseman Sal Bando. “He’s getting the vote for what he did in the past (178),” Bando told the press. “I can’t say I like it, but it’s not as rough for me as it is for a guy like Melton (179).”
Bando was referring to the Chicago White Sox’s Bill Melton. At the break Melton was hitting .299 and slugging .490 with 14 homeruns and 60 RBI. Bando himself was hitting .265 and slugging .465 with 18 homeruns and 54 RBI. Nevertheless, Robinson received almost 200,000 more votes than Melton and over 400,000 more votes than Bando. Adding to the controversy was a Sporting News poll in which the popular weekly publication asked major league players for their opinion as to who they believed should be starting the All-Star Game. In terms of third base, Melton received 86 votes while Bando tallied 26 votes. Robinson was a distant third with 12 votes.
The naming of Robinson to the All-Star team was just the latest incident that sparked the never-ending debate as to how players should be selected for the Mid-Summer Classic. Three years prior, in an attempt to garner more fan interest in the All-Star Game, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had reinstated the fan vote for the 1970 All-Star Game. Previously fans hadn’t had a say in the selection of all-star players since 1957. That year Commissioner Ford Frick had put an end to fan-voting due to the Cincinnati Reds’ “ballot stuffing” controversy.
In 1957 seven Cincinnati Reds players were voted to the NL All-Star Game thanks to promotions by the grocery chain Kroger Supermarkets and local establishments as well as a get-out-the-vote push by a popular local daytime television talk show host. Prideful Cincinnati Reds fans dutifully voted for their favorite Reds players multiple times and in many cases hundreds of times. So successful was the get-out-the-vote campaign in Cincinnati that according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “the more than half a million votes of Cincinnati fans were greater than the total cast by all other sections in the nation.”
Fearing that the starting NL All-Star Team would have a Reds’ player at every position but pitcher, Commissioner Frick felt the need to take action. Of the eight Reds’ players who had been leading in voting, one player, George Krowe, ultimately lost out in the final vote to Stan Musial. However in Frick’s mind, seven Reds in the starting line-up were still too many. Frick proceeded to remove Reds’ right fielder Wally Post entirely from the team, replacing him with Hank Aaron. Frick then named Willie Mays as the NL’s starting center fielder and assigned the Reds’ leading center field vote getter to the reserve roster. That Reds center fielder was ironically the aforementioned Gus Bell- David Bell’s grandfather.
And like his grandfather Gus, who had been a key figure in the 1957 Reds all-star controversy 44 years earlier and Brooks Robinson in 1973, David Bell would also be involved in an all-star controversy of his own. Like the ’57 Reds, the 2001 Seattle Mariners’ starters dominated all-star voting thanks in large part to promotions led again by Kroger Supermarkets as well as a major push in Japan to have Ichiro named to the AL All-Star team. With the Japanese icon Ichiro on the ballot, lesser known Mariner players such as David Bell, Dan Wilson and Mike Cameron were either leading in voting at their respective positions or near the top as Ichiro fans were seemingly casting votes for all of the Seattle players that appeared on the ballot.
However, like Brooks Robinson in ’73, Bell’s numbers were not considered to be all-star caliber. At the break Bell managed to raise his batting average to .261 and his slugging average to .418. He had hit nine homeruns and driven in 44 runs- pedestrian numbers at best for that era. In Bell’s defense though, there wasn’t a clear-cut choice as to who should be the AL’s starting third baseman. “It’s not exactly like any third baseman is having a wow year (180),” stated Bell’s manager Lou Piniella when asked about the all-star vote. Piniella had a point. With perhaps the exception being the Anaheim Angels’ Troy Glaus, who at the break was hitting .247 and slugging .519 with 22 homeruns and 55 runs batted in, no AL third baseman up until that point was having an “all-star type” season.
Still though, David Bell bore the brunt from those who believed the all-star selection process was flawed. Famed sports columnist David Kindred summed up the attitude of those opposing all-star fan voting by way of the following: “Poor David Bell. He’s a third baseman- by all accounts a fine and earnest craftsman…Yet Bell has become a whipping boy for alarmists shouting from the rooftops that “The System Doesn’t Work! (181)”
By late June Bell had an approximate 32,000 vote-lead over the second highest vote-getter at third base. When asked for his opinion as to who should be starting in the All-Star Game and all-star voting in general Bell replied, “Basically it’s who the fans want to see play, so I think it’s a definite honor to get any votes…There are guys who deserve to go who don’t go, guys that don’t deserve to go who do go. But it’s up to the fans. Two years ago, if you want to look at numbers, I had the numbers to go to the All-Star Game, and it didn’t bother me- at all- because it’s not a concern of mine (182).”
Ultimately Bell did not finish with the highest vote-total for third basemen. Neither did Troy Glaus for that matter. Instead, thanks to a late surge by the sentimental vote, the 40 year-old future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who was playing in his last season, was voted in as the American League’s starting third baseman. If the anti-fan-voting crowd was peeved by Bell possibly starting the All-Star game, the Ripken selection may have sent them over the edge, what with Ripken hitting .240 and slugging a woeful .324 at the time.
Interestingly just weeks before, when he was leading the all-star vote, Bell was being asked if he would step aside for Ripken should Bell ultimately win the vote. Bell’s response: “I don’t know. If that were an option, I’d definitely think about it; and if it were something he wanted, I would for sure do it (183).” In the end though, Bell was spared from having to make that decision as Ripken ended up edging out Bell by about 45,000 votes. Bell wound up finishing second in voting. However, American League manager Joe Torre selected Troy Glaus as the only reserve at third rather than Bell.
Bell not being selected to the AL All-Star team had neither a positive nor negative impact on his numbers. Recall, in the first half of the 2001 season Bell hit .261 and slugged .418 with nine homeruns and 44 RBI. His OPS was .722. In the second-half of the season Bell hit .257, slugged .411 and had an OPS of .712. Bell finished the 2001 season with a .260 batting average, a .415 slugging average and a .718 OPS which equated to a 92 OPS+.
Still though, Bell produced a 3.3 rWAR in 2001 thanks to his defensive excellence in the field. “Defensively, he’s as good as anybody (184),” Piniella plainly stated when asked his opinion of Bell’s play at third. Mariner’s second baseman, Bret Boone, agreed with his manager’s assessment. “His defense at third has been tremendous all year. I think he should win a Gold Glove (185).” Indeed and Bell’s defensive numbers certainly backed-up Boone.
David Bell was tied for first in defensive WAR for third basemen in 2001 with a mark of 2.2. His total zone rating of 19 was the second highest among all major league third basemen that season and the highest among all 2001 Mariner players. Indeed, in terms of fielding Bell had arguably one of the best seasons in 2001 that a third baseman has ever had. Since 1901, there had only been 14 other third basemen to have a total zone rating of greater than 19. Among that group were noted glove men such as Craig Nettles, Clete Boyer, Gary Gaetti, David Bell’s father Buddy Bell, and of course Brooks Robinson, who had exceeded a rating of 19 in four different seasons. Still though, David Bell was denied a Gold Glove in ‘01. Instead that honor went to Oakland A’s third baseman Eric Chavez who may have helped his cause with a brilliant year at the plate to go along with his fine fielding stats. Players and managers have been known to take into account a player’s hitting when voting for the year’s best fielders.
Unlike Bell, Brooks Robinson did win a Gold Glove in 1973, his 14th consecutive one at that. Helping Robinson’s cause was that after the All-Star break Robinson was somewhat able to turnaround his season at the plate. Post-break Robinson hit .295 and slugged .376. His homerun total though dropped from seven pre All-Star-Break to just two post-break. The drop in power may have been the result of the adjustments Robinson had made at the plate during the ’73 season.
According to Robinson he, “changed the position of his left arm, drawing it back and keeping both arms closer to the body while awaiting the pitch (186).” Doing so allowed the right-handed hitting Robinson to emphasize his natural inside out stroke and shoot more balls to center and right. Robinson had reportedly gotten away from that earlier in the season. Orioles’ hitting coach Jim Frey agreed. “Brooks has been watching the ball better and the new stance has taken away his long, looping swing (187).”
Robinson ended the 1973 season having established several new career records for third basemen including: most career games (2,488), most chances (7,736), most putouts (2,421) and most double plays (531). David Bell ended the 2001 season having established a new career high in rWar with a mark of 3.30, just shy of Robinson’s 1973 mark of 3.50.
Nobody is ever going to confuse David Bell with Brooks Robinson. Although never a spectacular player, Bell was a solid role-player during his career. After leaving Seattle via free agency following the 2001 season, Bell played a key role in the San Francisco Giants’ winning the NL pennant in 2002. He then signed on with the Phillies where in 2004; he established a new career high in rWar with a mark of 4.40. Brooks Robinson played in four more seasons after ’73, retiring after the ’77 season at the age of 40. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983. Robinson is still considered to be one of the greatest third basemen in baseball history.
However, Bell’s 2001 season in Seattle and Robinson’s 1973 season in Baltimore are very similar- both in terms of hitting and fielding. The table below illustrates the similarities between the two:
Statistics such as OPS+ and RBAT+ (batting runs) as well as rWAR including oWAR (offensive WAR) and dWAR (defensive WAR) take into account the different run environments Bell and Robinson played in. As the chart shows, Bell and Robinson’s offensive numbers in ’01 and ’73 are very similar. Only two points separate the players in terms of OPS+ as well as offensive WAR. Bell is slightly better than Robinson in terms of runs better than average (RAA) and batting runs (RBAT+) whereas Robinson is slightly better than Bell in the defensive metric dWAR. In terms of individual won/lost records, Bell’s 5-2 mark is only slightly better than Robinson’s 5-3 record.
Both Bell and Robinson produced at a rate somewhat below average in terms of offense; however, both played tremendous defense for their respective teams. Defense made up most of the two player’s value. Bell and Robinson had totally different careers but for one season they produced at an extremely similar rate playing for very similar teams- teams that won primarily with defense.
There is no question as to what made longtime Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger so valuable to his club; it was his superlative defense. Simply put, Belanger was one of the greatest defenders of his era, if not of all-time. Belanger’s career defensive statistics certainly make that case. His career 39.5 dWAR (defensive WAR) total ranks as the second highest of all-time behind Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith’s 44.2 total. Belanger’s career 238 total zone mark ranks as the third highest of all-time behind only Brooks Robinson’s 294 total and Ozzie Smith’s 239 total. However, Belanger achieved his mark in approximately 900 less games than Brooks Robinson and 500 less than Ozzie Smith. Had Belanger been able to hit at a rate even slightly below-average, he almost assuredly would have surpassed both Robinson and Smith in total zone. For as good as Belanger’s defensive metrics were, his offensive numbers to put it mildly, were subpar. Belanger’s light bat delayed his call-up to the majors and cost him some playing time during his career. Fortunately for Belanger though, for most of his playing career the Orioles recognized his value despite his poor production at the plate.
Belanger made his major league debut in August of 1965 when he was called up from Double-A Elmira at the age of 21. The Orioles had called up Belanger to play a utility role while starting shortstop Luis Aparicio recovered from a bout with the mumps. Belanger eventually replaced Aparicio as the Orioles’ starting shortstop in 1968 when the Orioles traded the future Hall of Famer Aparicio to the Chicago White Sox after the conclusion of the 1967 season.
Belanger had been pegged to eventually be the Orioles’ starting shortstop since the team had signed him out of high school in 1962 for $35,000. In Belanger, the Orioles knew they were signing a potential defensive superstar. Sure enough just four years later, those who had seen Belanger play at Rochester of the International League in ‘66 declared him to be, “the greatest shortstop prospect in history (188).” Although not going quite that far in his praise of Belanger, Orioles’ scout Frank Lane said the following of the young shortstop:
“I have followed Belanger for a long time, and let me put it this way: when I was the general manager at Chicago I signed two of the greatest shortstops of them all- Chico Carrasquel and Aparicio. This kid has better range than either of them, plus a stronger arm. Mark is the Marty Marion type but can play a deeper shortstop because of the great arm (189).”
Marty Marion starred for the St. Louis Cardinals at shortstop in the 40’s. Marion was an 8-time NL All-Star and was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1944. Interestingly, Marion’s physical stature was similar to that of Belanger’s. Marion was listed at 6’2” and 170 lbs. Belanger was 6’1” and also 170 lbs. Marion was nicknamed both “Slats” due to his thin build and “The Octopus” for his long arms and range on defense. Belanger was nicknamed ”The Blade” for his thin stature.
Like Belanger, Marty Marion also played with Rochester of the International League. Earl Weaver once invoked Marion’s name when describing Belanger’s defense. Weaver: “Belanger’s got unbelievable range. It looks like the damn ball slows up and waits for him to get there….Range-wise, as far as going laterally to the left or right to get to the ball, I don’t think Belanger can be touched (190)…I grew up in St. Louis when Marty Marion was playing shortstop. People say Marion was the best. Mark is better (191).” Indeed.
However, Belanger was no Marty Marion at the plate and the Orioles were well aware of that fact. Regardless though the Orioles dealt Aparicio in November of 1967 to make room for Belanger. “We just have to get Mark in now; otherwise he might rot on the vine (192),” then Orioles manager Hank Bauer was quoted as saying after the Aparicio trade was announced. Still though, both the press and the fans were skeptical of Belanger’s ability to hit major league pitching. After all, Belanger had hit just .174 in 205 plate appearances in ’67.
Orioles Director of Player Personnel, Harry Dalton, attempted to alleviate those concerns when speaking to the press just several weeks after the trading of Aparicio:
“The fans here haven’t really seen Belanger yet. You can’t judge a player by what you see in a few games here and a few there. You’ve got to put him in the lineup and leave him there, and that’s what we intend to do with Mark. I’m convinced he’ll be outstanding with the glove and if he hits as much as .230 he’ll help us. Luis only hit .234 last year (193).”
Belanger fell short of Dalton’s .230 target in ’68. That season Belanger hit .208. Still though Belanger produced a 3.4 rWar total, fourth highest among Orioles position players. And that’s how most of Belanger’s career panned out- miniscule production at the plate but brilliance in the field. For his career, Belanger was a .228 hitter. His career slugging average was just .280 and his lifetime OPS+ a dismal 68. Nevertheless Belanger managed to appear in over 2,000 major league ballgames. In fact, Belanger is the only player in MLB history to play in at least 2,000 games with a career OPS+ lower than 70. Belanger may have not come close to the 2,000 game milestone had he been with another franchise.
To the Orioles’ credit though, particularly Earl Weaver and GM Frank Cashen as well as the aforementioned Harry Dalton, the franchise recognized that despite his poor offensive numbers, Belanger’s presence at shortstop helped produce a significant amount of wins for the Orioles over the years. “I’d like to keep Belanger and Paul Blair (O’s center fielder) in the lineup if they don’t hit nothing (194),” Weaver once told the press. “With their defensive ability, they save us a lot of runs (195).” Cashen agreed with Weaver but took Belanger’s value to the Orioles one step further:
“What people never seem to appreciate is that offense is half the game and so is defense. That’s the way it breaks down mathematically. A team is at bat half the time, but, except with pitchers, it’s almost what a player does in the offensive half of the game that determines what people think of him. That’s ignoring half the game- and Mark Belanger is as outstanding in his half of the game as Reggie Jackson in his….I disagree with that. Belanger is more outstanding (196).”
Sure Cashen may have been embellishing when he made the Belanger/Jackson comparison; however, he did correctly recognize the fact that Belanger was a winning player. For example, in 1976 when both Belanger and Jackson played for the Orioles, they produced very similar numbers in terms of individual won/lost records. Jackson, who clubbed 28 homeruns and led the AL in slugging with a .505 average and a 155 OPS+, produced an individual won/lost record of 8-1. Mark Belanger, who had his best season at the plate in ’76 when he hit .270 and produced an OPS+ of 100, had an individual won/lost record of 9-0, one win better than Jackson. In fact from 1968 thru 1978, the years in which Belanger was the Orioles’ full-time starting shortstop, he led all Oriole position players in total rWAR with a mark of 40.4. In terms of career rWAR, Belanger’s 40.9 rWAR while playing for the O’s is the ninth highest in Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Browns history. Belanger ended his career with an individual won/lost record of 66-32, good for a .632 winning percentage.
It wasn’t only the Orioles though that recognized the value Belanger brought to a team. The Atlanta Braves were also aware of Belanger’s worth, so much so that they had originally insisted the Orioles include Belanger in any trade talks involving Braves’ catcher Earl Williams. However, according to the Baltimore Sun, “Orioles Executive Vice President Frank Cashen was reluctant to part with Baltimore’s talented shortstop, Mark Belanger (197).” In the end it was second baseman Davey Johnson that was sent to Atlanta in the deal to acquire Williams as “Frank Cashen refused to part with the two-time ‘gold glove’ shortstop (198).”Cashen admitted as much in his comments immediately after the blockbuster- Williams trade was announced. “It was a trade I agonized over, and we were reluctant to give up so much talent but otherwise there would have been no deal….We kept Belanger though (199).”
The refusal to trade Belanger was somewhat surprising to the media given that Belanger was coming off a 1972 season in which he hit a meager .186 and slugged .246, forcing one of his biggest advocates, Earl Weaver, to bench the defensive star. Apparently even Weaver had his limits in terms of Belanger’s lack of production at the plate. Belanger’s 113 games played in ’72 was the lowest amount of games he had played since ’67 when Belanger was still considered to be a rookie.
After starting 34 of the Orioles’ first 40 games in 1972, Belanger’s playing time was reduced as the Orioles’ offense struggled. At that point the team was hitting only .220 and averaging just 3.25 runs scored per game. Belanger was hitting just .159 and slugging .221. Meanwhile, Belanger’s only competition at shortstop, Bobby Grich, was hitting .277 and getting on base at a .347 clip. Seeking to inject more offense into the line-up, Weaver chose to sit Belanger more frequently in favor of Grich. As a result, Belanger would start just 29 of the Orioles’ next 62 games and as of the beginning of July, Belanger was considered to have lost his starting shortstop job.
When asked by reporters what the future outlook was with respect to Belanger Weaver snapped back, “The outlook is that I’m going to play the guys who are hitting and I’m certainly going to play a guy who’s hitting .280 for me and that’s what Grich is doing….you can’t go on forever with guys hitting under .200 (200)-” So much for keeping Belanger in the lineup “even if he hit nothing.”
To Weaver’s point though, Grich did hit well after taking over the reins at shortstop as his numbers would attest. Up to that point Grich had hit .284 and slugged .464 while at short; however, the Orioles record during that span was 33-28, a marginal improvement over the 21-19 record the Orioles had in their first 40 games with Belanger as the starting shortstop, despite Belanger producing next to nothing at the plate. Moreover, Grich had committed 17 errors in just 338 chances at short. The year prior in 1971, the Gold Glove winning Belanger had committed just 16 errors in 739 chances. In ’72 Belanger committed 12 errors in 477 chances. Clearly Belanger was the superior defender.
Eventually, being in and out of the starting lineup and not playing regularly took its toll on Belanger in ’72. After going 2 for 4 at the plate and lining a key double in an August 7th Orioles win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Belanger made it known to the press his displeasure in not starting regularly. “I don’t feel I can do a good job playing one week and sitting down another…if that happens, I would just as soon go to another club. Grich is our best-hitting regular and he’s got to play, so it’s up to the Orioles to decide what to do with me (201).” Indeed. And instead of trading the light-hitting Belanger who was coming off a season in which he hit .186 and produced a dismal 42 OPS+, the Orioles dealt Davey Johnson to the Braves, inserted Bobby Grich at second base and handed the starting shortstop job back to Belanger for the ’73 season.
Naturally Belanger was surprised he wasn’t the one traded considering that Belanger had insinuated his desire to be traded just several months earlier. “I felt I would be the one to go…I was surprised I didn’t go (196)” confessed Belanger in the spring of ’73. On the other hand, Davey Johnson, who had roomed with Belanger while the Orioles were on the road, was happy to be dealt- happy for both him and his good friend Mark Belanger. “I’m happy about being traded. I wanted to go to the National League…I’m glad as hell for Mark because he can’t play the way he was used last year. He’s the best in baseball but only when he’s playing. Watch him now (202).”
Johnson went on to produce a 7-3 individual won/lost record in 1973, fueled in large part by his record breaking 43 home runs, 26 of which he hit in Atlanta. Johnson’s defense though was subpar as his total zone rating of -10 indicates. Had the Orioles instead traded Belanger to Atlanta, handed the shortstop job to Grich and retained Johnson at second, the numbers suggest they would have not been any better off. Grich was an 8-1 won/lost player in ’72 playing mainly shortstop. In ’73 he was a 10-0 player playing second base. Belanger was a 5-2 player in ’73. Even if Johnson was able to produce the same 7-3 won/lost record in Baltimore rather than hitter-friendly Atlanta and Grich equaled his 8-1 record in ’72 while playing all of his games at shortstop, both stretches to say the least, combined the two players would have produced a 15-4 won/lost record. Belanger and Grich had a combined won/lost record of 15-2 in ’73.
The reason for Belanger’s 5-2 won/lost record in ’73 was once again his defense. His 4.0 dWAR in ’73 led all major league shortstops as did his 26 total zone rating. And for his efforts, Belanger was awarded a Gold Glove which at the time was the third of his career. Offensively though, Belanger was still below average. He hit just .226 and slugged .262, poor even by shortstop standards. He did though lead the league in sacrifice hits as the ’73 Orioles transitioned from a strictly homerun hitting club to more of a small-ball club predicated on the stolen base and sacrifice hitting to better take advantage of the skills of some of the newer members in the starting line-up. Belanger’s 61 OPS+, although a marked improvement over the 42 he produced in ’72, still ranked near the bottom among MLB shortstops.
Still though, despite his poor numbers at the plate, Belanger finished second in overall rWAR among shortstops with a mark of 3.6. Belanger’s 1.7 wins above average (WAA) were second only to Oakland’s Bert Campaneris’ 2.4 among major league shortstops and his five individual wins were behind only Bobby Grich and Paul Blair among Orioles position players, once again underscoring Belanger’s importance to the Orioles.
In his book Nine Innings to Success: A Hall of Famer’s Approach to Achieving Excellence, Orioles’ ace pitcher Jim Palmer summed up Belanger’s importance to the Orioles by way of the following:
“Mark Belanger is another Oriole I think of when the conversation turns to those special years. Mark played with the Orioles from 1965 to 1981, meaning his major league almost overlapped with mine. Mark wasn’t much with the bat, hitting just .228 for his career, but defensively, he set a new standard for excellence….It didn’t matter what he did at the plate. Only Mark could have hit .225 and .226 in two consecutive seasons and still earned votes for American League MVP (203).”
Unlike the Orioles with respect to Mark Belanger, the Mariners’ never labelled Alex Rodriguez “the greatest shortstop prospect in baseball history;” however, M’s scouting director at the time, Roger Jongewaard, certainly came close to doing so when he assessed Rodriguez just before the Mariners selected the future superstar with the first overall pick in the 1993 MLB Amateur Draft:
“Outstanding. Similar to Jeter only bigger and better…. Better at 17 now than all the superstars in baseball were when they were seniors in high school….Generates a special feeling when watching him play…Premium prospect with potential to be an impact player (204).”
For as glowing as his scouting report on Rodriguez was, Jongewaard may have understated Rodriguez’s actual talent and potential. The Mariners called up a then 18 year-old Rodriguez one year after drafting him as the highly touted prospect was able to advance thru all levels of the M’s minor league system with relative ease. After playing sparingly and somewhat struggling in his first two seasons in the majors Rodriguez put up a historic 1996 season at the age of just 20.
That season Rodriguez set new records for hits by a shortstop (215), extra-base hits (91) and runs scored (141). Rodriguez captured the AL batting crown by hitting .358, the third youngest player to do so in MLB history and also the first shortstop to win the batting title since Cleveland’s Lou Boudreau did so in 1949. Moreover, Rodriguez’s .358 batting-average was the highest for an AL right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939. Rodriguez also became the third youngest player in history to hit 35 home runs in a season behind Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Frank Robinson. Rodriguez narrowly missed out on winning the 1996 AL MVP Award. He finished second to Texas’ Juan Gonzalez.
Rodriguez followed up his historic 1996 season with four more tremendous years in Seattle. In fact from 1996 thru 2000, Rodriguez’s total rWAR of 38.7 not only led all major league shortstops but also all major league players. The closest shortstop to Rodriguez’s 38.7 rWAR was the Yankees’ Derek Jeter at 28.7. Rodriguez’s individual won/lost record in Seattle was an incredible 52-1.
Following the 2000 season and at the age of just 25, Rodriguez was set to hit the free agent market. Given his historic production at such a young age, all indications were that Rodriguez was going to shatter the record for the largest contract ever given to a player in baseball history which at the time was held by the Dodgers’ Kevin Brown. Brown signed a 7-year $105 million pact with Los Angeles just two years prior. Brown though was no longer baseball’s highest paid player based on yearly salary. Brown’s $15 million per year salary had just been surpassed by the Blue Jays’ first baseman Carlos Delgado who had recently signed a four-year deal with the Jays for $17 million per.
Given that Rodriguez was younger and clearly more productive than both Brown and Delgado, Rodriguez was set to surpass both players in length of contract as well as annual-pay. Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, made it absolutely clear during contract negotiations as to how special he felt his client was:
“Everybody knows Alex Rodriguez is one of the best players, if not, the best player in the game. What we want to demonstrate is that he may be the best 25 year-old major leaguer in history…Griffey was among the best we’ve seen at a young age, but Alex has more homeruns, more RBIs than Griffey did at age 24, and Alex is playing shortstop…We have a shortstop that’s an absolute slugger. Alex Rodriguez could play first base on most teams. He could play any corner outfielder position. He would be the star on a team even if he didn’t play shortstop…That’s the dimension that Alex brings to a franchise (205).”
In the end the Texas Rangers agreed with Boras and signed Rodriguez to a massive 10-year $252 million contract which the Mariners were incapable of matching. “We couldn’t go there (206),” Pat Gillick stated when asked about the Rangers’ signing of Rodriguez. “There would have had to have been a major hometown discount to get us into that ballpark…Other clubs do what they need to do. We’re headed in the right direction (207).”
Gillick’s “headed in the right direction” comment was a curious one given that not only did the Mariners lose out on Rodriguez, which was expected, but the team had also lost out on another free agent shortstop, that being Toronto’s Alex Gonzalez. Unlike Rodriguez though, the M’s hadn’t lost out on Gonzalez because of money issues. Instead it was the delay in Rodriguez signing with Texas and Gonzalez’s preference in playing shortstop that cost the Mariners’ acquiring Gonzalez. Gillick:
“We were close to a deal with Alex Gonzalez. The problem was we told him if we re-signed Alex, he’d have to change positions, and he knew if he went back to Toronto he’d stay a shortstop. If we knew what we know now, it would have been a different situation. I think we’d have signed him (208).”
Surely though Gillick and the Mariners’ should have realized that their 5-year $94 million offer to Rodriguez was going to fall well short of Rodriguez’s demands and that perhaps waiting on Rodriguez would very well cost them Gonzalez. In any event the Blue Jays ended up re-signing Gonzalez to a four-year deal worth $20 million. Once Gonzalez had signed, Carlos Guillen became the Mariner’s de facto shortstop. “Right now our shortstop is Carlos Guillen (209),” proclaimed M’s executive Lee Pelekoudas. “If we can do better, we’ll try (210).” However, the Mariners quickly found out that there weren’t many shortstops on the market, certainly not one that was considered to be a significant upgrade to Guillen; therefore Guillen was the Mariners’ shortstop by default heading into 2001.
The Mariners though still had to find some offense to replace Rodriguez’s bat in the infield. “We’re looking for an offensive infielder to be frank (211),” Gillick was quoted as saying in December of 2000. That need was fulfilled when the Mariners signed Bret Boone just days later. Gillick’s next step was to find the Mariners a player capable of playing shortstop to back-up Guillen which was a priority given Guillen’s injury history.
Indeed, in his short three-year career Carlos Guillen had already experienced a myriad of injuries including torn ligaments in his left and right knees, a dislocated shoulder and a pulled hamstring. In fact, shortly after Rodriguez’s departure in late 2000, Guillen had complained of pain in one of his knees while playing winter ball in Venezuela. With no viable back-up at short, the Guillen news had troubled the Mariners. “Given Guillen’s history, truthfully, it is a concern (212),” Piniella said after hearing the news of his young would-be shortstop. “You’d love to think we could put Carlos at short and let him go…but you wonder if you can keep him healthy and on the field (213).”
Fortunately for Guillen and the Mariners, the soreness in Guillen’s knee was just that- soreness and considered not to be serious. By late February of ‘01 Guillen declared himself to be completely healthy. “I feel 100 percent right now…It was raining a lot down there and the ground was soft so I think that’s why my knee started bothering me in December. I stopped playing to rest and be ready for spring training (214).” With that Guillen and the Mariners had dodged a bullet; however, later in 2001 Guillen would be sidelined for several weeks due to a malady that was potentially far more serious than any physical injury he had ever experienced in the past.
Heading into the 2001 spring training season, Guillen had virtually zero competition for the starting shortstop job. Meanwhile, at least publicly, Lou Piniella was expressing his confidence in Guillen being able to handle the M’s starting shortstop position. “I think he’ll do a fine job over there, I really do. I have all the confidence in the world in him (215)…He’s got some pop. Carlos can hit a dozen home runs at the big-league level and drive in some runs. I think he’s very capable of hitting in the .270 to .280 range, which would help us immensely (216).”
Piniella’s belief that Guillen can hit between .270 and .280 with 12 or so homeruns may have been a tad optimistic given that Guillen had barely reached those numbers in the minors. Piniella, for the most part, had always been a Guillen supporter going back to the days shortly after the Mariners had originally acquired Guillen from the Houston Astros as part of the Randy Johnson deal. At the time the Mariners, particularly GM Woodward, were criticized for what was perceived as receiving very little for the dominant and future Hall of Famer Johnson. And the criticism levied at the Mariners wasn’t limited to just coming from the press. Mariners’ first baseman, David Segui, made his feelings absolutely clear as to what the Mariners had received in exchange for Johnson. “You lose a number one starter for two minor league guys, how does that help the club? They basically gave him (Johnson) away for nothing (217).”
Piniella though put the Johnson trade in perspective. “I realize people were looking for more; our own players were but this does a lot to help refill our basket (218).” Piniella then posed a question as a way of explaining why the Mariners went with the Houston offer rather than the reported offers from the Yankees and Indians that were supposedly on the table. “Would you rather have made a deal for prospects with a higher-profile organization that overrates its players or an organization like Houston that is known for its sound developmental program (219)?” a defensive Piniella asked. Piniella was alluding to the fact that the Houston Astros, at the time, considered Guillen to be their top-rated infield prospect. The Yankees on the other hand, reportedly hadn’t even included an infielder in their proposal while the Indians offered up a choice between outfielder Brian Giles, first baseman Richie Sexson and infielder Enrique Wilson.
Piniella then went on to assess Guillen by way of the following, “Guillen has good tools, good size, speed an athletic kid, the type we don’t have many in our organization (220).” Despite Piniella’s glowing assessment of Guillen, scouts were reportedly divided on the Mariners’ new acquisition. One NL scout’s opinion of Guillen was that “The kid can fly. Reasonably quick bat…Good hands in the field, good actions…I rated him a definite major-league prospect (221).” While another NL scout was quoted as saying that he could not recall Guillen, doing “anything to distinguish himself (222),” while in the minors.
During Guillen’s first three years in Seattle, both scouting reports could have been considered accurate. After being inserted into the M’s line-up in ’98, Guillen hit a sparkling .333 and reached base at a .381 clip in his 42 plate appearances. Guillen’s ’98 season was cut short though due to his first major knee injury, that being the tearing of ligaments in his left knee.
After having an impressive spring training in ’99 in which Guillen hit .333, Piniella decided to insert his then second baseman in the lead-off spot in the Mariner’s potent batting line-up. With the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Junior and Edgar Martinez hitting in the two, three and four spots respectively, the thinking was that Guillen was sure to see a lot of fastballs at the top of the order which suited Guillen just fine. “I’m a fastball hitter and they want me to be their leadoff man (223),” the young infielder proclaimed at the time. “So I think I’m going to see a lot of fastballs, which is a good challenge for me. With Alex, Griffey and Edgar, obviously, they don’t want to throw me curveballs and change-ups (224).” With that, Guillen seemed to be on track to be a significant contributor to the 1999 Mariners.
Lou Piniella certainly seemed high on Guillen when he stated that, “People are going to like this kid in Seattle. In fact, people in the major leagues are going to like him (225).” Apparently Guillen’s impressive spring that season had even won over David Segui, who just six months earlier had criticized the acquisition of the young infielder. “Carlos is legit (226),” said Segui on the eve of the Mariners’ season opener versus the Chicago White Sox. However, the hopes of Guillen having a breakout year in ’99 were quickly dashed when after collecting only three hits in his first 21 plate appearances, Guillen was sidelined for the year after suffering a second major knee injury in just the fifth game of the season. This time Guillen had torn the ligaments in his right knee.
Like the previous year, Carlos Guillen was able to recover from a major knee injury and return to the Mariners in time for the beginning of the 2000 spring training season. However, by this time Guillen was no longer batting lead-off nor was he Alex Rodriguez’s double-play partner at second base. Instead Guillen was hitting ninth and was set to play third base. The move to third was an attempt to prevent Guillen from injury.
With respect to hitting at the bottom of the order, Piniella’s decision to drop Guillen to the ninth spot in the line-up had more to do with the departure of Ken Griffey Jr. that winter than it had with Piniella losing any confidence in his young infielder. “We’re putting our three speed guys, Mike Cameron, Mark McLemore and Alex (Rodriguez), at the top of our lineup, and all three of those guys can steal bases (226), Piniella declared. “We’ll put the game in motion at the top and the bottom of the lineup. Guys like Dan Wilson, David Bell, Carlos Guillen can all handle the bat well…we’re going to have to manufacture a lot of runs this season (227).” Similar to what Weaver had done with the ’73 Orioles, that is incorporating more of a small-ball approach to the offense; Piniella was planning to the same in 2000 given the loss of Griffey Junior who, for the third straight season in 1999, had led the AL in home runs.
In that season 46.6% of the 859 runs scored by the Mariners came by way of the homerun- the highest percentage in baseball. To put that number in context the World Series Champion, New York Yankees, scored 900 runs, the fourth highest in baseball with only 34.56% coming by way of the homerun, just the 18th highest in the majors. Moreover, in their historic 1998 season, the Yankees scored 965 runs, the highest in the majors with only 35.96% coming by way of the homerun. Conversely the ‘98 Mariners scored 106 less runs than the Yankees despite hitting 27 more dingers.
When asked how many runs the Mariners will have to “manufacture” Piniella quipped, “How many did the New York Yankees produce without homeruns last season? That’s how many we want (228).” Sure enough in 2000, the Mariners scored 907 runs, a 48-run improvement over 1999 but with the same 198 homerun total. More importantly the Mariners had improved from a 79-83 won/lost record in ’99 to a 91-71 record in 2000.
The improvement in runs scored was definitely a factor in the Mariners’ winning 12 more games in 2000 and finishing just one-half games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West, as well as qualifying for the playoffs as a wild card. The ’99 version of the Mariners had finished a distant 16 games behind the division-winning Texas Rangers. However the 2000 Mariners, besides scoring 48 more runs than they had the previous season, had also prevented 105 less runs in 2000 than they had in ’99.
In February of 2000 the Mariners were finally able to trade the disgruntled Griffey Junior to the Cincinnati Reds. Over his previous three seasons Griffey had hit 160 home runs and won the AL homerun crown in each season. Griffey’s 160 homeruns easily led all Mariners over that period including Alex Rodriguez who had hit 107 round-trippers during that time. Longtime Mariners Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner followed as they hit 81 and 69 homeruns respectively. Next on the list was third baseman Russ Davis who had clubbed 61 homeruns over the last three years, including 21 in 1999. Davis, like Griffey had departed Seattle at the conclusion of the 1999 season after signing on as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants.
Davis’ departure was just one of several reasons as to why the 2000 M’s had allowed 105 less runs than they had the previous season. For as much power as Davis had provided with his bat, his defense, to put it kindly, was substandard. Indeed, in his three years as being the Mariners’ primary third baseman beginning in 1997, Davis’ total zone rating was a collective -32 including a -14 rating in 1999. In 2000, Carlos Guillen had a -2 rating in 64 games starting at third while David Bell had a +2 rating in 81 games at the hot corner. In other words the inserting of Guillen and Bell at third in 2000 saved the Mariners 14 runs.
However, Guillen’s contribution to the 2000 Mariners was more in the hitting department than it was with the glove, most of which occurring after a minor league demotion. After having another relatively good spring training which prompted then Mariners third base coach, Larry Bowa, to label Guillen as “invaluable (229),” Guillen got off to a horrid beginning to the season. In the month of April Guillen hit just .114. He followed his poor April with an almost equally bad May and by the end of the month, Guillen was hitting a dismal .143 and as a result, his playing time curtailed.
With Guillen in a slump and his playing time reduced, the Mariners decided to demote the one-time prospect to Triple-A Tacoma. “We’ll get him some at-bats at Triple-A and hope he hits the ball well so we can get him back up here (230),” Lou Piniella explained to the media soon after Guillen’s demotion had been announced.
A little over one month later, after hitting just under .300 at Tacoma, Guillen was recalled by the Mariners. From that point on Guillen hit an impressive .289 to lead all Mariner players with the exception of Edgar Martinez and slugged a sharp .462 with seven homeruns and 37 runs driven in. Guillen though did end the regular season on a down note by hitting only .200 in the month of September which relegated him to the bench during the Mariners’ divisional series versus the White Sox. Guillen though would make the most of the one opportunity he was afforded during the series, that coming in the series clinching Game Three.
With runners on first and third in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game, Piniella sent in Carlos Guillen to pinch-hit for M’s catcher Joe Oliver. Piniella’s instruction to Guillen was to, “Drag the ball towards (Frank) Thomas” as Guillen could “drag the ball as well as anybody we’ve got (231).” Guillen executed Piniella’s plan to perfection, laying down an absolutely beautiful bunt on the right side of the infield through two White Sox defenders to win the game and thus win the series for the Mariners.
From there Carlos Guillen went on to make two starts in the 2000 ALCS versus the New York Yankees. In Game Six of that series Piniella inserted the switch-hitting Guillen at third base and sat David Bell in order to get an additional left-handed bat into the lineup to face Yankees right-handed starter Orlando Hernandez. In his second at-bat of the game, Guillen absolutely crushed a Hernandez fastball into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium for a 2-run homerun to give the Mariners a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately for the M’s the lead would not hold and they would ultimately lose the game 9-7 and thus be eliminated from the playoffs. Guillen’s smash was one of the two homeruns the Mariners hit in that game. The other was off the bat of Alex Rodriguez who also doubled twice and singled in his last game ever in a Mariners uniform. The stage had been set for Guillen to take over short the following season from his one-time mentor.
“I can’t try to replace Alex Rodriguez…Alex is one of the best. He played well but I think I can too (232),” Guillen was quoted as saying in March of 2001. Of course nobody in the Mariners’ organization expected Guillen to replace Rodriguez; least of all Lou Piniella. Piniella had stressed that point several times during the spring of 2001 in an attempt to relax his shortstop. “He doesn’t have to go out and be an Alex Rodriguez. He should go out and be a Carlos Guillen (233).” Mariners’ center fielder, Mike Cameron, who just one year earlier had replaced M’s legend Ken Griffey Junior, echoed his manager’s thoughts on Guillen not having to replace Rodriguez. “He’s not going to do what Alex did but that’s OK. No one is going to do what Alex did. He just needs to play, stay healthy and be himself (234).”
Moving Guillen back to shortstop, his natural position certainly helped Guillen to “be himself.” According to Guillen, “Shortstop is where I feel most comfortable. It’s good to be able to see the signs so you know which pitch is coming. That helps you set up on defense. At third base, I never knew what was coming (235)….”Shortstop is where I played most of my life. It’s where I want to be. I’ve wanted to be a starting shortstop in the big leagues since I was 12 years old. I have experience at shortstop. I know what I’m doing (236).”
Guillen’s teammate, David Bell, who by that time had played three infield positions in his career, noted the difficulty younger players such as Guillen had when playing out of position. “It’s hard for young players to play positions they’re not comfortable with and to make adjustments during a season (237),” Bell stated. And contrary to conventional wisdom, the move from shortstop to third base, which was what Guillen was asked to do in the past, was not a natural transition. Bell: “It’s much easier to go from third base to shortstop than from shortstop to third…at third, what you need most are reactions. You’re so much closer; it’s a real adjustment (238).” Alex Rodriguez, who later in his career made the transition from shortstop to third elaborated further. “Cal Ripken Jr. made seven errors his last season at shortstop, then 28 his first season at third base and he’s a Hall of Fame player. It’s not a little adjustment, it’s a major adjustment….What the Mariners have in Carlos is a jewel. He’ll make all of the plays that can be made (239).”
Rodriguez proved to be prophetic. In 2001 Carlos Guillen’s total zone rating was +10 which was tied for second highest in the AL amongst shortstops and fourth best in the majors. The player that Guillen was tied with was, interestingly enough, the Blue Jays’ Alex Gonzalez. Recall, had the Mariners’ moved on Gonzalez sooner in terms of signing the free agent shortstop, rather than waiting on Alex Rodriguez to decide where he was going to sign, Gonzalez would have most likely been the Mariners’ shortstop in 2001 rather than Guillen. Guillen would have most likely played second or third base which may have meant the exclusion of either David Bell or possibly even ’01 MVP candidate Bret Boone from the M’s infield.
Third base was where Guillen played the majority of his time in 2000. Although he was an improvement defensively over the aforementioned Russ Davis, Guillen led the Mariners in errors in 2000 with a total of 21, 17 of which had occurred while playing third base in just 190 chances. In 2001, Guillen committed only 10 errors at short in 510 chances. As a result, Guillen’s dWAR increased from 0.1 in 2000 to 1.7 in 2001, fifth highest among major league shortstops.
“His (Guillen) defense was always going to be alright once he got back to shortstop (240),” Mariners’ outfielder Jay Buhner stated during the 2001 season. “He has super-soft hands and incredible footwork (241).” Guillen’s double play partner, Bret Boone, echoed Buhner’s opinion of Guillen. “He has great soft hands and a great arm. You get to the bag, the feed is always there. Carlos is always where he should be. Between us, we defend a lot of ground up the middle (242).” Indeed. Guillen’s and Boone’s combined 3.4 dWAR in ’01 was the highest in the majors of any double-play combination.
As in the case of David Bell, it took a while for Guillen’s bat to catch up to his defense in 2001. Unlike past spring training seasons, Guillen had been scuffling at the plate and was hitting below .200 as of late March. Guillen’s hitting woes extended into the season and by the beginning of May, Guillen was hitting just .181 and slugging .277. However, despite his poor numbers at the plate, Guillen had still received the fifth most at-bats among Mariner players in the month of April as the Mariners were unable to find a suitable back-up at shortstop.
Soon thereafter though, Guillen’s bat began to heat up. Guillen hit .297 and reached base at a .375 clip in the month of May to raise his overall batting average to .244 by the end of the month. At the All-Star Break Guillen was hitting .245 and slugging .342 with four homeruns. It wasn’t exactly the production Lou Piniella had envisioned for Guillen in the past; however, with the Mariners sitting atop of the AL standings with a record of 63-24, Guillen’s light hitting wasn’t a concern.
After the All-Star Break Guillen reached base safely in 28 of his next 36 games started. He reached base by way of a hit in 24 of those games; however, by September 4th Guillen was still hitting .245 and slugging .344. At that time Guillen was once again bitten by the injury bug. On that day, Guillen, who at the time was also experiencing soreness in his right wrist, sprained his left ankle trying to leg out a single in a game versus the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The ankle sprain kept Guillen out of the lineup for approximately one week. Utility man, Mark McLemore, who had already spelled Guillen in late August while Guillen rested his sore wrist, was once again asked to fill in.
Once Guillen returned to the starting line-up he hit a sizzling .424 and slugged .576 which included a 5-for-12 performance in a three-game set versus Alex Rodriguez’s Texas Rangers. However, after sweeping the Rangers Guillen and the Mariners received devastating news- Guillen had been diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs that if left untreated could be life threatening. Guillen was immediately admitted to the hospital.
Exactly how and when Guillen contracted the illness could not be determined. According to the Mariners’ team physician, Dr. Mitch Storey, “the likelihood is that he (Guillen) contracted the bacteria a long time ago, maybe a year ago (243).” However, if that were the case, how exactly did Guillen test negative for the illness at the beginning of spring training? Storey had a possible explanation. “Did he have it then (spring training) and the test was not sensitive enough to pick it up? We will never know that (244),” the doctor explained to the press. According to Guillen, he had been feeling ill for about three months and occasionally had suffered nose bleeds. Moreover, Guillen had experienced some weight loss and even Lou Piniella noted that his shortstop appeared “lackadaisical” just prior to Guillen’s positive test result.
Compounding the Guillen news and the uncertainty of exactly when Guillen had contracted the virus was the potential that others in the Mariners’ organization may also have contracted the illness. Given that “pulmonary tuberculosis is contagious (245),” and “like a common cold, it spreads through the air (246),” the Mariners’ players were understandably worried. “Most of the guys are concerned about their kids…We all fly together and Carlos has been sick for a while (247),” an anxious Mike Cameron told the media. M’s reliever Jose Paniagua also expressed his concern to the press; “I had a couple of cousins die in the Dominican from TB. I didn’t sleep very well last night (248).”
Obviously all of the Mariners’ players, coaching staff, front office personnel and anybody else who had come in close contact with Guillen would have to be tested. However, the Mariners had a problem. According to the Spokesman Review, “No one in Seattle had enough of the necessary test materials to deal with such a large group (251).” The reports of Guillen’s positive test results came out on September 29. As of October 2, nobody within the Mariners’ organization had been tested and the team was on the road in Anaheim to play the Angels.
Meanwhile, Lee Pelekoudas attempted to calm the waters when he told the press that, “From what we’ve been told, we’d be surprised if anyone else contracted it (249).” Pelekoudas did add though that “It’s not something our team’s physicians’ work with often, so we called in national health specialists (250).” The Mariners finally began testing on October 4th; five days after Guillen’s diagnosis had been reported. Fortunately all of the tests came back negative.
As for Guillen, “He’s not doing very well right now (251),” a worried Lou Piniella informed the press. “The medicine he’s taking is pretty strong. Freddy Garcia visited him, and he told me Carlos wasn’t having a good day (252).” According to Dr. Storey, Guillen would “probably be feeling much better in two weeks. The day you start taking antibiotics, the amount of infected bacteria actually in your system starts decreasing. But he will need to take antibiotics for a long time. This is the kind of bacteria that is difficult to eradicate (253).”
The illness forced Guillen to miss the entire division series versus the Cleveland Indians. The Mariners narrowly escaped defeat at the hands of the Indians, coming back from a 2 games to 1 deficit and take the series in five games. Mark McLemore had once again filled in at shortstop. Guillen returned to the lineup on October 17 for Game One of the ALCS versus the Yankees and went 0 for 3. He made his second start of the series in Game 5 in New York. He went 2 for 4 but the Mariners were hammered 12-3 by the Yankees and eliminated from the postseason.
Guillen finished the 2001 season with an individual won/lost record of 6-2. His 1.4 wins above average (WAA), was in large part why the Mariners’ were sixth best in the AL for WAA at the shortstop position. With the Mariners losing one of baseball’s all-time great shortstops that off-season and with so much uncertainty surrounding his ability to stay healthy for an entire season, Guillen’s production was a welcomed surprise for the Mariners and on par with Belanger’s contribution to the 1973 Orioles; albeit most of Belanger’s contribution came by way of the glove. Nevertheless, wins are wins and Guillen and Belanger produced almost the same amount of wins for their respective ball clubs.
In Part IV we will look at the outfields.
News Tribune: August 1, 1998 (153)
News Tribune: September 1, 1998 (154, 157, 158)
Telegraph Forum: July 28, 1995 (155)
Akron Beacon Journal: April 1, 1998 (156)
News Tribune: February 2, 2001 (159, 161, 162)
St. Louis Dispatch: February 18, 2001 (160)
Hartford Courant: June 4, 1997 (163)
Longview Daily News: February 24, 2001 (164)
San Francisco Examiner: March 17, 1973 (165, 166)
Baltimore Sun: June 3, 1973 (168)
Evening Sun: June 7, 1972 (169, 173)
Greenville News: June 7, 1972 (170, 171)
Santa Cruz Sentinel: June 28, 1972 (172)
Newsday Suffolk Edition: March 30, 1973 (174, 175, 176, 177)
Evening Sun: July 23, 1973 (178, 179)
Statesman Journal: July 1, 2001 (180)
San Francisco Examiner: July 6, 2001 (181)
News Tribune: June 27, 2001 (182, 183, 184)
Statesman Journal: August 28, 2001 (185)
Cumberland Evening Times: August 14, 1973 (187)
The Sporting News: February 27, 1967 (188)
Evening Sun: December 20, 1967 (189, 193)
Baltimore Sun: March 6, 1973 (190, 191)
Evening Sun: November 20, 1967 (192)
Miami Herald: March 1, 1973 (194, 195)
Evening Sun: June 13, 1978 (196, 199)
Baltimore Sun: November 30, 1972 (197)
Baltimore Sun: December 2, 1972 (198)
Baltimore Sun: August 7, 1972 (200)
Miami Herald: August 9, 1972 (201)
Evening Sun: December 2, 1972 (202)
Jim Palmer: Nine Innings to Success (203)
Picturing America’s Pastime (204)
Fort Worth Telegram: November 8, 2000 (205)
Spokesman Review: December 12, 2000 (206, 207)
Santa Maria Times: December 13, 2001 (208, 209, 210)
Longview Daily News: December 13, 2001 (211)
The Monitor: January 28, 2001 (212, 213)
The World: February 20, 2001 (214)
Daily Reporter: March 13, 2001 (215, 232, 233, 234, 235)
Longview Daily News: February 27, 2001 (216)
Albany Democrat: August 1, 1998 (217)
Spokesman Review: August 4, 1998 (218, 219, 220, 221)
News Tribune: April 2, 2000 (222)
News Tribune: March 27, 1999 (223, 224, 225)
News Tribune: April 2, 2000 (226, 227, 228)
Spokesman Review: March 7, 2000 (229)
News Tribune: June 3, 2000 (230)
News Tribune: October 7, 2000 (231)
News Tribune: June 8, 2001 (237, 238, 239, 242)
Star Tribune: June 5, 2001 (240, 241)
Longview Daily News: September 29, 2001 (243, 244, 245, 246)
Courier Journal: September 30, 2001 (247, 248, 253)
Spokesman Review: October 2, 2001 (249, 250, 252, 252)