June 3, 2005

What a long, strange trip it's been

I saw Carlos Baerga batting yesterday for the Washington Nationals. Carlos Baerga really takes me back. He made his name as a slugging second baseman who ran like a penguin for those great (but not great enough) Cleveland Indians teams of the late 90's. Back then, his bat speed was fierce, he sprayed the ball to all fields, and helped power Cleveland into the 1995 World Series, where they were the losers in the one Series the Braves managed to win in their current run. At that time, Cleveland was in love with the Indians, and tickets were the hottest item in town. Kids stayed up late and came to school bleary-eyed with tales of playoff heroics. Baerga played no small part in this. From 1992-1995, he was probably the best hitting second baseman in the game, batting over .300 each year and smacking double digit home runs to boot. In 1992 and 1993, he amassed over 200 hits. However, whatever greatness he possessed mysteriously disappeared for the 1996 season. His line in Cleveland fell to .267/.302/.396 (BA/OBP/SLG), and he was traded to the Mets along with Alvaro Espinoza for a pre-MVP Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino. For the Mets, he slipped to .193/.253/.301.

Whatever caused him to fall off the cliff at age 27 (I blame his roundish figure) kept it up for the next few years, as 1997-1999 showed that he was unlikely to regain past glory. In August 1999, he was reacquired by Cleveland, but was allowed to leave again at the end of the season. After the 1999 season, he made stops in the Tampa, Seattle, and Boston organizations, but never got any major league playing time. It wasn't until 2002 that he again stepped onto a big league field, this time as a member of the Red Sox, he played adequately in a part time role, but hit with very little power, only getting 13 extra base hits in 182 at bats. By this time, he was bouncing all over the infield and DH, playing wherever just to get the chance to play. 2003 and 2004 were spent, again as a part timer, with the Diamondbacks, who last year were the worst team in the National League. Leaving the desert as a free agent, Carlos has hooked on with the newly christened Nationals in the capital. He's mostly a pinch hitter now, and plays mostly second and third, though he's seen brief action at first this season. He has amassed a line of .250/.289/.278 which is just as bad as it looks. It's hard to say he's not washed up at age 36, riding the bench on a team whose regular second sacker is on the disable list.

He's made it this far, however. He has played in at least parts of 14 seasons now, and he was a legitimate star for several of them. The Tribe wouldn't have made the 1995 series without him, and the players brought in the 1996 trade help get the Indians within an out of winning the 1997 World Series. It's been a worthy career, and the people of Cleveland will probably never forget him.

Chris Berman once said, "One if by land, two if by see, three if Baerga."

Carlos Baerga
Games: 1562
Hits: 1552
HR: 132
AVG/OBP/SLG: .292/.332/.424
All Star: 3 (1992,1993,1995)
Silver Slugger: 2 (1993,1994

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