October 29, 2009

You can't teach an old dog new tricks

So this will most likely be the last season we will have seen Vladimir Guerrero in an Angels uniform. Well, good luck Vlad, I hardly knew you.

What?

I know, I know - Vlad will eventually go into the Hall of Fame. His 2004 MVP season was amazing. He basically carried the Angels during the final two weeks of the season and right into the play-offs that year. He’s had some great years. He even did a solid job this post season. Fans wearing his jersey with his name and number dominate Angels stadium.

I get it. Statistically, he’s been great (for the most part), but again, I hardly knew him. All I know of Vlad is what I’ve heard through broadcaster Jose Mota, who usually translates interviews for him. That’s it. You don’t see Vlad on Sports Center doing interviews. You don’t hear him on the radio with Jim Rome. We rarely even see a quote in the paper from him. It’s as if he doesn’t exist outside of the box score. All we get is what we see on the field.

Now, I know that’s good enough for some fans, but it’s never been enough for me. Some of us want to feel connected to our players. Vlad could have had a love affair with Angel fans, but he never put forth the effort.

I’ve seen him at Spring Training. I’ve seen him walk past fans without so much as a wave or even a smile. Nothing. I’ve seen him ignore the autograph requests of little kids wearing his jersey. And I’m not just talking about once or twice over six years. I’m talking about him consistently ignoring us; as in all of the time, year after year.

I know I’m being unreasonable. I guess a little public interaction is too much to ask of a guy who made $15 million this year.

Maybe he was afraid someone would pick his pocket. Maybe he’s shy. I don’t know. Maybe if he’d learn to speak a little English, it would have helped him to have more confidence when interacting with the public. Then again, his unwillingness or lack of desire to learn new things is kind of indicative of his career.

He’s always been a notorious bad ball hitter. His strike zone (as Rex Hudler puts it), is from “his toes to his nose.” He never met a pitch he didn’t like. I’ve seen him swing at balls that bounced in front of the plate. Yeah, he’s hit a couple of those, but he’s missed a ton more. As he has gotten older, his approach to hitting hasn’t changed and it has taken its toll. I believe I read this past season he swung at more pitches than ever before and the results weren’t what they used to be. Vlad never made the effort to develop any semblance of plate discipline. He never managed to learn a little bit of English either. I’m just saying, just a little bit could have gone a long ways.

Vlad is an island. He could have had the world in his hands. I know he’s still popular, but I don’t think he’s beloved. Tim Salmon was beloved. Torii Hunter is beloved. These guys understand that this game is nothing without the people who come to watch them play. The day Torii Hunter left Minnesota he left a huge void in his wake. Minnesota loved him and for good reason. He comes to the ball park with a smile. He talks with fans. He signs autographs. He goes beyond anything I’ve even seen when it comes to connecting with fans. Heck, he even blogs. On the field, he’s a human highlight film. I know he’s not likely to be a Hall of Fame candidate, but make no mistake about it - Torii Hunter is The Man.

Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune summed up Hunter best when he wrote "Torii Hunter's departure creates more than a void in the Twins lineup -- it creates a void in Minnesota sports." Click on the Star Tribune link to read the whole piece - which was written shortly after Hunter signed in Anaheim.

You can't help but admire players like Hunter or any player who at least makes the effort to connect with the fans on some level.

When the Angels clinched the American League West title behind Ervin Santana’s complete game shut out against the Rangers, Ervin stood on the field and thanked the fans for their support -- in his own words and in his own voice. He expressed himself openly and honestly. I felt the sincerity of his words. It was truly a special moment. Stuff like that goes a long way to connecting with his fans.

When Bobby Abreu speaks, we experience his personality. His charisma lights up an entire stadium. We know how much he loves it in Anaheim. He’s told us. He doesn’t need Jose Mota to explain it to us. Bobby Abreu simply rocks.

I’m not saying Vlad is bad person. I believe he’s very charitable. I’m betting he’s done nice things for people that would bring tears to my eyes. I know he’s done a lot of his homeland and even made a big contribution to the victims of Katrina.

And as I said earlier, his statistics are tremendous. They’re even Hall of Fame caliber. The Angels would most likely not have won five Western Division titles in six years without him.

Vlad is now a free agent. He wants to stay in Anaheim because he’s comfortable here (we know this because he was actually quoted in the papers). His mom is also comfortable here and that’s important to him. Funny, I really don’t care. I might be more sympathetic to his wishes had he stepped out of his comfort zone and let the fans get to know him. In fact, maybe something was lost in the translation of his comments. Maybe what he really said was how he was committed to winning and wants desperately to win a World Series for this organization. Comfortable or complacent?

Who knows what really makes him tick? Face it; I know more about Steve Solis (the bullpen catcher) than I do Vlad. I’m sure for most fans; Vlad has given them all they ever wanted and needed. Well, I’m not just “most” fans.

Besides, Vlad is due to regress. Some would argue that we saw signs of this in 2009. He also aged two years this season (when we learned he was 34 and not 33). He will be at least 35 (who really knows?) when Opening Day rolls around in 2010. Even still, I know some fans want to see him resigned. Most of them have an emotional attachment to him. I’m just not one of them.

Angels broadcaster Terry Smith said on the radio (AM 830) that if Vlad is back in 2010 it will be because the Angels have gone to Plan “B” or even “C” or “D.” The writng is on the wall. I wish you well Vlad.

I’m just saying, Vlad – we hardly knew you and it’s really sad. The fans lost out and quite frankly, you lost out as well.

6 comments:

  1. Sure, he can be reckless and bone-headed, you can't really argue about the results and what he has done on the field.

    For such a hacker, he has never struck out more than 77 times in one season in a Halos uniform. You'd think he'd be up there with the likes of Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard.

    As far as off the field, he has left a lot to be desired, but maybe it isn't entirely Vlad's fault, he hasn't opened up to fans in general.

    Maybe his family/friends are eager to protect him for their own good [and their own benefit], so they've taught him over the years, not to give too much unless he has to.

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  2. to each there own man, quit giving vladdy sass. blog about a players life on the field, not his life in general.

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  3. Actually, it's not sad at all, unless you're 11 and Vlad is your favorite player of all time (all the 2 years you've been a fan). All Vlad owes us is 100% on the field. I don't need to know what his favorite dinner is or what he thinks of the health care debate. Just play hard. We make too much of trying to know "the inner" player. I don't give a damn what my doctor does outside of the office; just make my cold go away. Same thing with athletes. Or movie stars. Just do your damn job.

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  4. @Sugares-
    Now you sound like a Yankees fan. Yes, the ultimate goal in sports is to win, but there is so much more than winning.

    I'm assuming by your comments that you were on Sir Charles' side during his "I didn't ask to be a role model" oredeal too...

    These guys are expected to do more than just show up and hit the ball. Baseball has layers that go much deeper than production.

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  5. Interesting discussion. Sorry I'm late.

    James makes a great point. Players who give your hometown team some personality are too rare. And so are subtle points on the internet.

    If I were an Angels fan, I'd agree with James. Appreciate the contribution Vlad made and lament that he wasn't more interesting.

    I'm a Baltimore fan and I had mixed feelings when Vlad decided Anaheim was a better fit than Baltimore. All that business about his mother made me nervous. He also made a huge point about being more comfortable in a city with more Spanish speakers. OK, fair enough. But how much interaction did Vlad have in southern California? Sounds like not much.

    Terrific blog, by the way.
    smitty

    PS - Grich was an Oriole.

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  6. Thanks Smitty... I'm a big fan of the bugs and cranks blog. And yes, Grich was an Oriole, indeed. Thankfully, he eventually made his way west, along with Doug DeCinces another favorite of mine.

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