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What Was Lost This Offseason

As April dawns and the long trek of the baseball season begins, the custom among baseball writers is to publish offseason reviews and wrap-ups. These articles are usually monotonous and analytical in nature. The format is rarely different from stating facts: this team added player X who is projected to contribute Y amount of WAR etc. There obviously is a place for this work. However, these pieces alone cannot summarize the complete impact of the offseason. Part of what gives baseball its wondrous character is the sheer mass of it. 162 games, seemingly thousands of obscure relievers, and innumerable plot lines give spice to the long grind of the season. The endless array of balls and strikes are all the more meaningful when an appreciation is felt for the characters behind the uniforms.

The true story of the offseason is the assembling of thousands of small puzzle pieces into a single mass. Front offices move around parts in an attempt to further the development of the team and players switch caps accordingly.

The biggest move of the offseason was not the mega signings of Jake Arietta to the Phillies nor was it the blockbuster Giancarlo Stanton trade. Arrieta and Stanton with all their particular personality quirks and unique playing styles will remain part of the game. The impact of the different clubs they will play for is important, but in a wide angle viewpoint, the fabric of baseball will remain similar to what it was. Baseball will continue to have Stanton mashing mega home runs and Arrieta delivering nasty sinkers to flailing hitters. The real impactful moves this offseason involve players who will no longer linger around in the baseball conscience.

It is one of baseball fanhoods ironies that the strongest emotional attachments are not made to the stars. For some unknown reason, gritty second basemen capture the hearts of fans at rates quite disproportionate to their on-field production whereas stars oftentimes struggle to maintain a positive image in the public eye. Nostalgia is much stronger for the Willie Bloomquists of the diamond than for the stars who never quite capture the minds of the public.

In this definition of meaningful offseason activity, retirements are the most remembered transactions that occur.

Two players hung up the spikes for good this offseason: Mike ‘Big Pelf’ Pelfrey and Chris Capuano. In honor and in memoriam to these great contributors to the baseball landscape, I would like to point out some of the unique quirks and statistical achievements of these players.

Mike Pelfrey made his debut in 2007 as a decently touted prospect. A 2005 1st round draft pick (9th overall), he quickly rose through the minors. The high point of his career was his 2010 campaign. A 15-9 record with a 3.66 ERA over 204 innings in 2010 was the highest he reached, however, as Pelfrey never really came close to approaching those numbers again. He stuck around the league for the next 7 years embellishing himself as a fixture in the tapestry of the game.

As is typical in baseball fanhood, the memorable thing about “Big Pelf” is not the 27 innings scoreless streak he ran up in 2010 (second in Mets history to Jerry Koosman- 31 2/3- in 1973) or his part in the late 2000s and early 2010s Mets rotations, rather it was his demeanor on the mound.  Pelfrey was an incessant hand licker. Fans latched on to this unique quirk quickly and it soon developed into a running meme. For perspective, Corey Kluber has a reputation for finger licking but Big Pelf blows him out of the water. It will no longer be around and baseball will miss it.

Mike Pelfrey.jpg
Mike Pelfrey licking his finger for the umpteenth time during a game. 

Another character who called it quits this offseason was Chris Capuano. Capuano debuted in 2004 and was a middling journeyman who made his way around the league for the next 13 years. Statistically speaking, he has few distinctions. A Milwaukee Brewers record 18 straight starts without a Win is probably his most famous (infamous) record, but it’s in the minutia that his impact is felt. 

A particular trait of his was a penchant for blowing up in the latter half of games after dominating the first few innings. In 2011 this pattern was glaringly apparent. Through August 3rd (a nice arbitrary point of time) his ERA through the 5th inning was a pristine 2.79. From that point on, he was an unmitigated disaster “pitching” to a 12.74 ERA clip. I am sure he endeared himself to Mets fans greatly that year :).

In the social sense, his mode of dress hearkened back to the old days as he was one of the highest socks guys ever to take the field this century. That endeared him to the traditionalist fan, and the reputation he enjoyed as one of the more handsome men to ever step foot on a diamond definitely didn’t hurt his impact on the memories and upcoming nostalgia of fans. His performance never really caught up to the peripheral aspects of his game but the majesty of baseball is to be found in the periphery.

Two more impact players probably could have been spotlighted. The matter remains that Mike and Chris were part of the fabric of baseball for over a decade and the contribution they made will not be found in the record books. This little tribute is an attempt to rectify that and place their careers into context without reverting to the flat and stale “They were better ballplayers than 99% of the population” article. This view of their respective careers is emblematic of the grand scope of the national pastime and we ought to sit down and appreciate what they have done for us, while eagerly awaiting the next generation of ballplayers who will create the next narrative.

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