In the midst of one of the more sports-friendly weekends of the year, a story got lost in the shuffle of papers about Floyd Mayweather’s dominance, Michigan’s near collapse to Akron, Alabama showing it’s Alabama even if they’re facing a Hesiman winner, and the AL/NL wild card races.
Vladimir Guerrero officially retired from baseball.
Now, admittedly, Guerrero hasn’t been seen in the majors for nearly two full seasons, so the news is not that shocking; but it’s still news when a potential Hall of Famer calls it quits.
I say potential because he’s by no means a lock for Cooperstown, but I would be shocked if he didn’t have a plaque with his name on it at some point in the next ten to fifteen years.
First, let’s get his career stats out of the way. After 16 seasons and over 2,000 games played, Guerrero amassed a .318 average, 449 home runs, 1,496 runs batted in, .931 OPS, 2,590 hits, 1,328 runs scored, was a 9-time All-Star, won the 2004 MVP, and finished in the top ten five other times. Also, in his younger days, his arm from right field was one of the best in the league.
While his Hall of Fame candidacy is arguable, there are three titles that are indisputable. First, he was the last great member of the Montreal Expos. From 1996-2003, Guerrero set career franchise records in Home Runs (234), Batting Average (.323), Slugging (.588) and OPS (.978).
Second, from 2004-2008, he was the most feared hitter in the American League with the Anaheim Angels. He won the MVP in 2004, and then led the league in intentional walks the following four seasons. His 250 career intentional walks are fifth all-time. Aside from Mr. Bonds and Ramirez, everyone is in the top 14 on that list are current or future Hall of Famers.
Third, and probably most important, Guerrero is the career hits leader for all players from the Dominican Republic. According to MLB.com, 28 percent of the opening day rosters this year were players from the Dominican. Back in 2005, during Guerrero’s prime, there were 29 percent. Considering the country makes up almost one-third of the players in the majors, not inducting its all-time hits leader would be nothing short injustice.
Despite all of this, when I remember Vlad, it won’t be these facts. Not even close. Vlad was by far the best bad-ball hitter I have ever seen. The guy swung at virtually anything, and yet he never struck out 100 times in a season and has fewer than 1,000 for his career. It didn’t matter what pitch, or the location, when he wanted to swing, chances are he would make contact, even if the ball was in the dirt. Watching him hit was unique. It was like he didn’t have a plan other than to “see ball, hit ball”. I bet the majority of fans will say the same thing.
My favorite story about Guerrero (and there are many) was during the 2006 All-Star game. I was watching with my dad and Brad Penny started for the N.L. and was out there just throwing 98 mph fastballs, which the hitters were naturally struggling with. I think Penny had struck out three of the first four hitters and I told my dad, “wait until Vlad gets up, if Penny throws him a fastball, he’s going yard (hitting a home run).” So you can guess what happens from there, sure enough, Vlad hits it out on the first or second pitch.
In the era of steroids, Vlad “the Impaler” was one of the few great hitters who was never questioned as to whether he used PEDs or not. He was never the flashiest, most outspoken, biggest, or intimidating (though some pitchers he faced may beg to differ), but he was the epitome of the saying: “see ball, hit ball”.
For a guy who swung at everything, he hit the ball pretty well, and that deserves a spot in Cooperstown.