Not only am I a huge Yankee fan, I’m a huge baseball fan. I can admire great players no matter what team they are on, unless it’s the Red Sox which leads to a burning hatred. The one exception being Manny Ramirez, who I obviously hated while he was killing the Yankees at the plate, but how could you not love this guy?
That’s the best This is SportsCenter commercial ever, and there were a lot of great ones. Remember the good old days when ESPN was actually good? As Mr. Walker would say, I digress.
I really started to get into baseball around first or second grade. I was absolutely obsessed with baseball cards, baseball video games, you name it. I could tell you every team’s lineup and pitching rotation off the top of my head, and definitely wasn’t a loser or anything. One of my favorite players at that time was Vladimir Guerrero. This guy was absolutely unreal to watch. First of all, he had a CANNON for an arm
On the other side of the ball, the guy could flat-out hit. He finished with a lifetime .318 average and 449 home runs, so he was as well-rounded hitter as you’ll see. But the most fascinating part of his game to me was always his ability to hit a pitch thrown anywhere, or being a “bad ball hitter.”
How do you pitch to a guy who can literally get hits off of balls in the dirt? Vlad’s ability as a bad ball hitter meant he hardly struck out, averaging only 74 strikeouts per season in his career. By comparison, Aaron Judge had 208 in his sensational rookie season, and even MVP Jose Altuve struck out 84 times despite his .346 batting average.
So back to my original point: Imagine if the Yankees had signed Guerrero? In the offseason prior to the 2004 season, George Steinbrenner was following up the Yankees’ World Series defeat at the hands of the Marlins the same way he always did after a Yankees playoff loss: spending money. The Yanks added the likes Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield to a lineup that already boasted big bats such as Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada. Steinbrenner locked up Sheffield with a 3-year, $39 million deal to become the team’s every day right fielder. For just $1 million more per year, the Yankees could have had Vlad instead. That is painful to think about. How much of a difference would Vlad have made? For argument’s sake, let’s just look at 2004.
Sheffield was no slouch for the Yanks in 2004, hitting .290 with 36 HR and 121 RBI. That was good enough for second in that year’s AL MVP voting. Who finished first? I’ll let you guess. Guerrero took home the honors with a .337 average, 39 HR and 126 RBI. I don’t even want to think about what peak A-Rod and peak Vlad in the same lineup would have been like. Call me biased, but it’s hard for me to believe the Yankees let the Red Sox come back in the ’04 ALCS with Vlad in the lineup. But then again, that entire series was wild, and it’s hard to say one player would have changed anything. Add in the fact that Sheffield would only have one more solid season in New York while Vlad would be great the next five years with the Angels, signing Vlad would have also made sense for the Yanks long-term.
Although we never got to see him in Pinstripes, Vlad will always be one of my favorite players of all-time. Congrats to him and the rest of the MLB Hall of Fame Class of 2018, which also included Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman. Although all four of these players were greats, to me Vlad stands out in this class. He was more than deserving of being a first ballot Hall of Famer, and anyone who watched him in his prime knows he’s certainly a player they’ll tell their grandkids about.
P.S. Vlad in this game rivals Michael Vick in Madden ’04 for most dominant player in any video game. Any fastball near the strike zone was going for a home run, no doubt about it.