It’s Different When It’s Your Guy

Last week I wrote about playing with numbers, and looked at statistical reasons to support one side of an argument. This week, I’m going to shift gears and write from the other side of my brain, minimizing the role of numbers in this piece. It’s a rare attempt for me to extract the raw-ness and cold, hard factual side, and allow the emotion and romance that can come with being a fan of our game, to take center stage.
The Cardinals owe a great deal of their 2011 success to Lance Berkman. Though (and it’s almost silly to even type this), Mr. Berkman hasn’t always been a St. Louis Cardinal. In fact, outside of a coupe of months that nearly everyone would like to forget with the Yankees, Lance Berkman spent his entire 12 season career with one club before coming to the Cardinals.

Twelve entire seasons.

And when he left, it wasn’t because another team made him a better offer in free agency. It’s because he was TRADED away! You want to talk about being upset?

This kind of thing happens in baseball, as well as other professional sports, all the time. Every year there’s competition for a top free agent or draft pick, there’s jockeying for position at the trade deadline for difference-makers and players-to-be-named-later. But every once-in-a-while, a player’s move from one team to another shakes a fan base to the core.

This was one of those times.

Last year, there was a lot of talk last year during the off-season about whether or not Derek Jeter was going to return to the Yankees. Negotiations went back-and-forth (goodness, what is it with me using all these hyphenated phrases this week?!), but in the end, the captain ended up in pinstripes like he was supposed to. The Yankees are the only team Jeter can play for, right? Like some kind of baseball code that keeps the universe from imploding, it just had to work out that way. Well, it did.

But, it doesn’t work that way every time.

After all, Roy Oswalt left the Astros in 2010 after being with them since they drafted him in 1996. I’ve already mentioned Berkman’s history. Chipper Jones was drafted by the Braves more than 20 years ago, in the 1990 draft, and has never spent a single day with another organization. Imagine how Atlanta fans would feel if he ever left. Also drafted in 1990, Jorge Posada. The Yankees made Posada their 24th round pick that year, and he’s been in their system ever since. Of course, that may change relatively soon, but possibly due to retirement rather than joining another ballclub. It’s hard to imagine these players in any other uniform, but doing so doesn’t completely unnerve you. Does it? You probably think about those scenarios a little bit differently than you did when you went to bed Wednesday night.

Here’s a portion of one of the text messages I got received during a “text conversation” on Thursday, from someone with whom I’m very close. He said, “I’m sitting here letting this soak in, and – [not fit to print]! Do you realize we just lost our Musial? No legend to tell our grandkids “these guys today aren’t like Pujols was…” makes it deeper to me, didn’t realize how [badly] I wanted that I guess…”

For years, even when I was a kid, people have made reference to how there aren’t any Cal Ripken Jrs left, the Tony Gywnns of the world are a dying breed. We’ve all been hearing that for years, and have seen it proven time and again, when a player leaves the team they’ve been with for years to join a new club.

I think about Jonah Keri, and losing your favorite TEAM altogether aside, how he must feel when he sees former Expos players go into the Hall of Fame wearing another team’s cap. Unfortunately for him, it’s a feeling that he has to endure over and over and over again. From Pete Rose to Pedro Martinez to Andre Dawson, Tim Raines (?), Larry Walker (?)…etc, Jonah’s personal hell is revived every January and July. I used to consider that, and think, “Bummer.”, then move on.

But, it’s different when it’s your guy.

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