Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
The Heartbreak and Folly of Misplaced Nostalgia
2005-12-20 05:33
by Mark T.R. Donohue

When I was a lad, my favorite active major league player was Cubs catcher Jody Davis. I have no idea why this was. Perhaps I saw him hit a game-winner at Wrigley Field in person one time; perhaps I just liked his unmanly, non-baseball-like given name. (I also liked Oil Can Boyd.) In any case, toward the twilight of his Chicago career, when he was in the process of being displaced by the likes of Damon Berryhill, Davis was a regular late-inning pinch hitter. Those of you who followed the Cubs during the Reagan administration may recall that WGN Radio had some sort of storklike, cartoon mascot who would appear in these situations on the tiny monochrome Wrigley announcement board and spur on the crowd with a two-frame animation: "Jo-DY! Jo-DY! Jo-DY!" And Davis would inevitably ground out to shortstop.

The point being, despite winning my undivided support, Davis was an above-average player (by OPS+) one season in his 10-year career, and if he didn't necessarily deserve to be replaced by Damon Berryhill, he didn't belong as a starting catcher on a contending team. In the grand scheme of things, it didn't much matter that I was utterly rooked in trading my Eric Davis baseball cards for Jody's. But I wasn't a major league general manager at the time. The Rockies, as an organization in general, have a misplaced affection for guys they used to have. If they can't afford to bring back, say, the actual Juan Pierre, they become obsessed with finding the next Juan Pierre. There's a certain subset of what hardcore Colorado fans there remain who pine openly for the Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, and (gods help us) Neifi Perez era.

Since baseball memories are formed in large part by seeing games in person and Coors Field is the architectural equivalent of beer goggles, there are people out there, and lots of them, who think Vinny Castilla is a great baseball player rather than an average one who happened to spend his peak years in Denver. Larry Walker was a great baseball player. Vinny and Dante and Ellis Burks were park phenomena. Andres Galarraga -- well, that's a tough call. He was OK I guess.

That as a franchise the Rockies tend to hold their past hitters in somewhat exaggerated esteem is understandable. But what about Dan O'Dowd's odd fixation on bringing back Colorado alumni pitchers? Mike DeJean, Dan Miceli, and Jamey Wright all pitched in return engagements for the Rockies last season. O'Dowd has talked, apparently in earnest, about bringing back the likes of Shawn Estes and Pedro Astacio. What's the story here? Does the Colorado management team score "realistic home field expectations" on the 20-80 scale? Are there really so many fans of Estes' first stint in Denver out there that paying him millions of dollars to be below replacement level becomes a sound business investment?

It's criminally underreported that in the Rockies' only playoff year, when they won the wild card by one game in a strike-shortened season, the team had a league-average offense, league-average starters, and a mighty colossus of a bullpen. Yet the bring-back-Curt Leskanic movement is strangely muted. Look, I'm not saying the Rockies are better off with their current crop of players. It's just they certainly don't need to start bringing back guys who weren't particularly good for them the first go-round. They need a third set of players, who haven't been Rockies before, passionately believe purple is slimming, and only solicit prostitutes with the greatest imaginable discretion. And can play a little bit.

Oh, forgot one: Preston Wilson. He was never that good, either. We don't want him back.

2005-12-20 06:57:08
1.   Sam DC
Great piece -- have enjoyed reading your stuff since you grabbed some turf on this site.
2005-12-20 07:57:19
2.   Cliff Corcoran
The Yankees are guilty of a similar trend toward re-signing ex-Yanks. Oddly, until very recently, the players they were bringing back were from before their recent string of championships:

(note that the linked post was written last December before the Yankees brought back Tino Martinez, Rey Sanchez, Jason Anderson, Ramiro Mendoza or Al Leiter - you may have to resize your browser to read the whole post).

By the way, I think you should take a closer look at Ellis Burks' career and road numbers. If ever a Rockie hitter was not a product of Coors, it was Ellis Burks.

2005-12-20 10:59:02
3.   King of the Hobos
Not even a mention of Steve Colyer. Oh well, great post nonetheless
2005-12-20 11:45:42
4.   Jon Weisman
I agree - that was a great post - great combination of sentimental and analytical thoughts.
2005-12-20 13:45:37
5.   Dan Lucero
Let's clear this up:

Walker - great player.
Galarraga, Burks - very good players.
Castilla - good player who looked great playing at Coors.

There's nothing wrong with nostalgia, per se - you'll notice I didn't include Bichette in that list because he's one of my all-time favorites. I think he was robbed of the MVP in 1995 despite only drawing 22 walks, and I still proudly wear a BICHETTE 10 jersey (found on eBay a year or two ago) to Rockies games on the occasion that I pay for tickets. You'll never be able to sway my opinions on Beef - I hope to never grow that cynical about this game.

But I agree with you on your main point - the Rox need to quit with the retreads. Estes is a better option than Astacio, but signing neither of them would be much smarter.

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