By Edward Overend, Lead Writer
Yeti, The Loch Ness Monster, Chupacabra and Ogopogo. Elwetritsch, Bigfoot, Dingonek and Cherufe. Veteran clubhouse presence guy.
All of the above have mythical and inexplicable qualities. Mystery surrounds them. That’s why they exist in the first place. They spark our imagination.
A cryptid is found most commonly in the deepest parts of the Ocean or in the badlands, bundu or mountains. By its very survival in these inhospitable terrains and seas, the cryptid has demonstrated characteristics that are enviable and admirable, traits to strive for and embrace.
The problem for one of them is that they inhabit the cold, heartless and unromantic world of modern baseball, a place where everything can be quantified and is.
Intangibles are what a veteran brings to a baseball clubhouse. How can you quantify those?
Yesterday, it was time for the Mariners to DFA one of these creatures. No, it wasn’t Nessie. It was Safeco’s very own version, Willie Bloomquist.
Willie was brought back to the Mariners this season. Why? Who knows? There were probably many reasons. It’s safe to assume, however, that two of those were that he was a local guy and a league veteran.
This was supposed to be the season when, after 14 years, the Mariners returned to the playoffs. After all, they were only one game out last year, the young guys were a year older and Nelson Cruz was the big bopper the batting lineup needed. The bullpen was as good as any in MLB and platoon guys had been added in the outfield.
Where else could value be added? Where could another, elusive win be eked out?
Leadership guy! Bingo!! Where can we get one of those?
The thing is, unlike Big Foot, leadership guy is not hard to find. There are loads of them.
One becomes a veteran clubhouse presence guy either by no longer being much good or never having got there at all. Of course, in order to have a lengthy major league stint at all, one must have talent oozing from every pore when compared with mere humanity but this is professional sport, not a game of pool down the Dog and Duck. The price for the loser is infinitely greater than three pints of ale with a whisky chaser thrown in. The price is a career.
Clubhouse guy tends to find the baseball wilds to his liking. Team success is not for him. He’d much rather live in the cellar, away from the spotlight, where he’s both comfortable and appreciated. Much better for him to try to get his franchise from 69 to 70 wins rather than be the reason for not getting to 90.
Just passing on his knowledge will ultimately pay off in spades in future years. He’s seen it and sometimes, though probably not often, even done it all before, whatever it is. He’s been round the block and through the wringer. He doesn’t sound very attractive but you just can’t help yourself because he’s there and available.
There’s no knowing how much difference sitting next to a guy who folds up his trousers rather than throws them on the floor might make to a prospect called up from Triple A. Addressing the beat writers by their first name and looking them in the eye when you do so can only help when faced with a 100mph four seamer. What better example to the 22-year-old kid who escaped from poverty in Cuba on a raft than the 37-year-old white bloke’s spot of golf and a sandwich at the country club on his day off.
‘This is how you survive out here, kid! Follow my example and you’re half way there. Ignore me and don’t say I didn’t warn you…’
The problem is, unlike the mysterious monsters of the world, we can actually see the old man and his inadequacies. Perhaps where once effort alone was enough to pilfer a base hit, now that effort, especially when stamped emphatically across the face, is a sign that it’s all become a bit too much.
No matter how much turning up on time, getting on with the job, not partying until 5am and being a media darling can be viewed as admirable qualities, having a WRC+ of 2 (yes TWO) simply isn’t worth the fractions of a win an arm round the shoulder might provide.
For every nugget about the time you watched Jeff Cirillo hit four consecutive balls in BP right to the warning track, if a fly ball that’s caught by an outfielder rather than the catcher is the height of your power, the kid just isn’t paying attention. Whilst he might already have his eye on Section 3, Row D, Seat 137, at least he might keep one ear open if your OPS is capable of a gaudy .600.
Clubhouse guy has no use unless he is a bit useful. Whilst the idea is to extract every ounce of knowledge from him, if his presence on your roster is actually costing the team wins, then it’s time to go. By occupying a space that could be taken up by a young prospect, the cost is doubled.
You would think that baseball, with all its schmaltz and sentimentality, at least traditionally, would have the most time for such a species. However baseball, more than any other sport, can be broken down numerically to such an extent that it’s becoming increasingly rare to see guys kept on rosters just for their experience.
Perhaps the place where they could last the longest is behind the plate. Calling a game is very much a skill but even that these days can be blown out of the water if your framing skills just aren’t up to the job.
Cryptids exist worldwide, the locals apparently as proud of them as they are of anything else in their lengthy history. They’re celebrated, a veritable reason for visiting a region.
Sabermetrics might be what kills off baseball’s mythical beast. Surely the day is nearing when merely having played for umpteen years is not a qualification that guarantees a job. Everything is now measurable, apart from those bloody intangibles. And by that very notion, do intangibles even exist in the first place or are they baseball’s version of the world is flat?
Perhaps the intangibles a veteran player brings to a club are the ways in which he can act with its loyal followers and the respect he shows the team. If, by doing things the right way, he doesn’t bring your club a bad name, he’s alright by us. Fans don’t want to support a team that is nationally unpopular because of arrogance, fighting or self-importance.
Willie certainly wasn’t into any of that. A quieter, less assuming and just get on with it kind of guy you couldn’t imagine. He came to the ballpark to play the game not to entertain. It was just unfortunate that the game he came to play was just that bit too tough for him these days.
There has to be a role in baseball for character guy. He clearly loves the game. Perhaps that role is to be less and less that of a player. We’re not comfortable calling out character guy for his failings. He’s trying his best and, like us, just can’t do it. He means well and wants the team to win, however, will just doesn’t show up on the scoreboard, nor on the stat sheet.
We can’t let this entire species become extinct though, can we?
Maybe we can. Lot of mythical baseball creatures no longer exist. How likely are we to see another 300 game winner for example? The game moves on. It gets older and wiser and less susceptible to a good yarn. It knows bullshit when it sees it.
However, while this beast is still roaming the ballparks of MLB we should enjoy it’s very presence. Down the track, it’ll be our job to pass on to our grandchildren about the time when a bloke played baseball just because he was a good dude. It can be our Eddie Gaedel/Bill Veeck moment.
Adding to his scarcity, Willie Bloomquist is also that rare breed of player that played for his hometown ball club. When a player comes from the region he ends up playing in, a certain extra connection with the fans most certainly exists. The Twins have Joe Mauer, the Giants have Brandon Crawford, the Mariners had Willie Bloomquist. That might sound ridiculous but the connection is real.
Willie Bloomquist was the Mariners’ own cryptid. He wasn’t the biggest, scariest, most fabled creature out there in baseball’s wilderness but he was Seattle’s.