How Should Eric Chavez Be Remembered In Oakland?
"I could ask the Phillies to keep me on to add to my statistics, but my love for the game won't let me do that." —Mike Schmidt
It’s always refreshing for a Hall-of-Famer like Mike Schmidt to know when the time’s right to hang up the spikes.
To that point, the majority of Schmidt’s days were spent at baseball’s hot corner, where he established himself as one of the all-time greats, winning three MVPs and 10 Gold Glove awards. However as “Father Time” began to set in, Schmidt realized his best days were behind him and he could only regress moving forward on the diamond.
What I admire about Schmidt is he had the courage to let go of the familiar before his game became unfamiliar to what fans were accustomed to seeing. For that and so many other reasons, the Philly faithful hold him dear to their hearts, because he always gave his very best to the team, city and fans.
Now, Eric Chavez's career numbers cannot hold the jockstrap of Schmidt’s Cooperstown-worthy numbers.
However, both players were cornerstones for their respective ball clubs and their tenures marked an era that saw their franchises go through roller-coaster rides of highs and lows. Although Chavy seemed to experience nothing but the lows over his last few seasons in Oakland.
Chavez is only 33, but “Father Time” caught up with him earlier than A’s fans (or GM Billy Beane) would have preferred. He’s a quality human being, but further jeopardizing his post-baseball health for another shot as the A’s DH would be crippling, not only to his body, but to every person that ever revered Chavy over his 13-year career.
The solution is simple, retire so people don’t forget what an intrinsic role he played during the inception of Oakland’s Moneyball era.
Still, the question is more complex. How should Chavez be remembered in Oakland?
Once the A’s drafted Chavez with the 10th overall selection in 1996, word spread like Bay Area traffic that Oakland possessed baseball’s next great third baseman.
He was closely compared to future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones, because his arsenal included power, speed, and sparkling defensive ability. Yet, his career path has closely resembled that of Scott Rolen and Troy Glaus. Great, promising talents whose career numbers were debilitated by on-going, lingering injuries.
(Although both Rolen and Glaus have found the Fountain of Youth and a resurgence on contending ball clubs in 2010.)
Chavez debuted in 1998, and by the turn of the century he had established himself as the A’s everyday guy, hitting 26 bombs in his second full season.
Batting .333 in a losing effort to the Yankees during the 2000 ALDS, the future looked bright for the precise, silky-smooth infielder out of San Diego.
In 2001, he blasted onto the national scene, winning his first of six consecutive Gold Gloves. Also, Chavez belted 32 bombs in a already power-loaded A’s lineup, featuring Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, and Johnny Damon.
For his efforts down that season’s stretch, Chavy was the American League Player of Month for September, which resulted in the franchise’s first back-to-back postseason appearance since their run of three straight World Series appearances from 1988 to 1990.
From 2000 to 2005, Chavez had his best numbers. He was a notoriously-slow starter, but after the All-Star Break he fired on all cylinders heading on through Game 162, continuing a constant theme of Oakland second half surges.
Note: This might help explain why Chavez was never selected for the Mid-Summer Classic in his career.
In 2004, Chavez inked a six-year, $66 million contract extension with the Green and Gold, locking him up through his 32nd birthday. He was the lone player from the Moneyball A’s to sign a lengthy extension, meaning Billy Beane had done his homework and calculated Chavy as the greatest all-around value for the small-market club.
Looking back, Beane didn’t strike it rich with the long-term investment. However, Chavez was the right player to retain from those highly-entertaining, overachieving A’s squads. He was a five-tool athlete that never received strong suspicion from MLB officials linking him to any steroid scandal.
Though his best years were during the peak of steroid abuse, Chavez's averages never really changed. He just stopped developing. The only argument for possible PED use would have been his proneness to injury since the start of stricter testing policies. Plus, he played with multiple, noted juicers during his career.
In the end, the statistics back up Beane’s decision, because Chavez’s numbers through 2005 suggested he had great value for Oakland’s trend-setting, numbers-crunching management system.
Today, front office personnel, scouts, and baseball nerds have fallen in love with WAR player ratings, which is a formula for calculating a player’s value in terms of wins for his team.
From 2001 to 2005, Chavez placed in the American League’s Top 10 WAR ratings for position players, averaging a 5.8 rating per season. Also, he consistently ranked in the league’s top five for infielder putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage through 2007.
Note: If Chavez retired tomorrow, he would finish with the sixth-highest fielding percentage in MLB history.
The point is Eric Chavez is the longest tenured player on the A’s roster, standing the test of time in Beane’s buy low, sell high system. However, the injuries to his body (neck, shoulder, spine) definitely hindered his numbers and cramped his free-flowing style of play.
Obviously, Chavez never lived up to his contract’s expectations, but the swagger he brought to the ballpark was undeniable and fun to watch everyday.
The memories of his highlight-reel glove will always triumph his career in the batter’s box, but Chavez often delivered against the top teams in crucial moments when the A’s were making potential playoff runs (just ask Mariners and Angels fans).
And isn’t that what we want out of our athletes? That they seize the big moment when it‘s presented to them.
Eric Chavez had a subtle flair and coolness on those A's “Animal House” teams, but he should be remembered for his clutch performances during a memorable, exuberant stretch for Athletics’ fans everywhere.
It’s time Chavy. Go gently into the night.
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