Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I don't remember Cal Ripken as a very good player. I just don't. The first time I can recall hearing about him I was nine years old and he was about to set the record for most consecutive games played in the major leagues.

"Cool," I said. "But he's only hitting .260."

I watched Ripken hang on with bad Orioles teams for the next six years, and listened as announcers and managers fought over who could pay him the better compliment, all while watching wondrously as mediocre Blue Jays pitcher after mediocre Blue Jay pitcher consistently got him to roll over and hit weak grounders. He was a light-hitting third baseman with mediocre range in a high-offense era - a role player on a bad team. And he was treated like a superstar. By the time he got selected to yet another All-Star team in 2001 (his 18th straight) I wanted to scream out to anyone that would listen: HE SUCKS! In the heart of the steroid era, a .637 OPS from a third baseman was light years away from All-Star-worthy, and when he retired the next year I think I was more relieved that I would get to stop hearing about him than I was worried that the Orioles would actually find a good player to replace him.

In 2001 he really and truly did suck, but the truth of it was that he hadn't been much of a player since 1991, when I was a 5-year-old learning how to speak pidgin-English in southeast Asia. I missed the good Ripken and spent most of my life enduring the bad - I can only imagine how it must have felt for Oriole fans of the same vintage.

Corey Patterson was a slightly different story. Shortly after Ripken retired, I joined a baseball message board at the ripe old age of fifteen. The board had its share of Cubs fans, and Corey Patterson had been ranked the second best prospect in baseball (behind Josh Hamilton) by Baseball America in 2001. There was a lot - a LOT - of talk about 30-30 seasons, and the general consensus was that the Cubs had found a center fielder for the next decade. However, since the Cubs were in the NL Central, I never got to see Patterson - I only got to read over the next five years as the Cubs fans griped about his strikeout tendencies, got a little frothy-mouthed at his promising 2003 half-season, before settling into a bitter and uncomfortable acceptance of the fact that Corey Patterson was not the player he had been advertised as. By the time he made his way to the AL East in 2006, I was eager to see what all the fuss had been about. And much like that other famous, shitty Oriole, I saw a vulnerable hitter and mediocre fielder, a player remarkable only in his unremarkable-ness.

In the ensuing years, I never really lost track of Corey. His "bust" status and notoriously poor eye led to an online meme, and even though my message board buddies had long since moved on, Corey was still around.

I never thought the Blue Jays would sign Corey Patterson. He was a player (like Doug Davis, who was also legendary on that message board, and - ironically - Gregg Zaun, among others, had been before) who was so etched in my mind as a journeyman role player for non-Blue Jay teams that I thought he would never make his way to Toronto. It's hard to explain, but I suppose my assumption was that if the guy had played for five different teams, the Jays had had plenty of chances to acquire him already and deferred.
Through the bulk of the first half, Corey is putting up a Corey-like line: .263/.296/.403. He's within 3 percentage points of his career OPS and has accompanied that with terrible defense. He's been exactly the player he was advertised as coming into the season - a little power, a little speed, and not much else.

But that said, I like having Corey Patterson on this team. In his proper role - much as I think the Orioles could have benefitted from using Ripken in his proper role through the late nineties - he's a valuable bench player. He can start in center field while a player like Travis Snider is getting his reps in at the position and a player like Rajai Davis is OPSing .400 over the course of an extended slump. He can sit on the bench and pinch-run for Jose Molina or Juan Rivera in late and close situations. He can occupy a roster spot for a (major league) pittance and be easily disposed of when no longer necessary. He can be called on to bunt - either in the rare circumstances when a sacrifice is in order or, more often, for a hit against a tough pitcher.

Just don't hit him leadoff. OR SECOND!

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