Posts Tagged ‘Lou Merloni’

All 15 Year Team: Second Base

March 14, 2008

Robinson Cano / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

Thunder Thoughts look at the All 15 Year Team nominees continues with a look at the four finalists at second base.

David McDonough is the featured writer in our position-by-position breakdown of the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team, and has covered the team since their inception in 1994.  He brings a smooth and unique writing style, not to mention a knowledge of the team’s history and players that few others have.  In short, few are as qualified as he is to be doing this.

The following is Dave’s breakdown, mine will follow after all of his are done…

David Eckstein: Cream of the crop. One of the most popular players in club history, Eck was the quintessential lead-off man – always on base, always a danger to run, always scoring runs. His OBP was .440. He was the catalyst of that 1999 club which won a club record 92 games. All Eckstein did was bat .313, score 109 runs (a club record) and steal 32 bases. He played a good second base, and was a great bunter.

All of which tells you nothing unless you saw him play. Eckstein is about 5’7 and weighed 165 on a good day when he was dressed warm. He was a walk-on at Florida, and he always played like a guy who was one step from a seat in the stands. He hustled in his sleep. He ran everywhere. He was always the first one on the field, and he played with a deep, intelligent concentration. He made everyone around him a better player.

I once asked why he sprinted from the dugout out onto the field at the beginning of every game. He smiled and said, “That’s my last warm-up. The other guys sometimes pretend they are gonna race me, but I always get there first.”

I also remember an exceedingly rare day when Eckstein’s name was not in the line-up. I poked someone and said, ‘Ten bucks that Eckstein coaches first.” Sure enough, in the bottom of the first inning, there he was on the coaching line. No way was he going to sit still.

So why did the Dan Duquette-era Red Sox let him go on waivers – waivers! – to the Angels in 2000? Because they had their collectives heads up the dark place, and were so wedded to the idea that a little guy didn’t have the tools. So Eck went off to become the first ex-Thunder player to wear a championship ring (with the 2002 Angels) and was the World Series MVP in 2006 with the Cards – at shortstop, mind you, a position nobody – including me – thought he could play. While the Red Sox went through a series of second basemen like Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn.

Waivers, for God’s sake.

Freddy Sanchez: I have Freddy down as a shortstop, so more about him later.

Robinson Cano: Ex-Thunder manager Bill Masse once said that Robby Cano (whose dad pitched in the Yankees organization) had so much talent, he seemed somewhat bored in the minor leagues. That sums up Cano at Trenton really well. He is probably the most talented guy all-round to play second for the Thunder, as he did in parts of 03 and 04, but he did sometimes act as if his mind was elsewhere – maybe at Yankee Stadium.

This was mostly evident in his occasional fielding lapses – what is this round thing I have in my hand? – but he did hit well in Trenton. He didn’t have the power he would show in New York; however, he had 20 doubles in 04, and you just knew he would rise to the challenge when he got to the big leagues. Which he has, of course. If you want to vote for the ex-Thunder who will probably look back on the best big-league career, Cano’s your man.

Lou Merloni: Likable Lou was another little hustling sparkplug, who seemed destined to spend his career in Double-A, with a couple of trips to Triple-A. I confidently expected that by now he would be coaching baseball at his alma mater, Providence College. Instead, he is with his fifth organization, and has gotten parts of nine years in the big leagues, with time off for half a season in Japan.

Lou played for the Red Sox affiliated Thunder in 95, 96, and 97, and played second, short and third. Second base is as a good a category as any to put him in. By his third year here, at age 26, he could hit Double-A pitching pretty good. Everyone admired his work ethic, too. And it didn’t hurt that he was Nomar Garciaparra’s best friend, or that he was from Framingham, MA. In late 98, he went up to the Red Sox to keep Nomar company, and he’s been a useful fringe player ever since – a guy you keep at Triple-A until you need him to fill in for some injuries. He’s gotten in as many as 194 at bats in a season in the Show. He is 36 now, and he played the whole 2007 season in Triple-A for the A’s without a call- up, so his time may be over.

Not On The Ballot: Angel Santos: a heavy set little guy (listed at 5’11) who played a decent second base for the 2000 and 2001 Thunder. He could hit a little bit, had some power (14 homers in 2001) and could run (26 stolen bases that year). He got a cup of java with the Sox in 01 and with Cleveland in 03. A great ballplayer? Maybe not, but probably in Merloni’s class.

Dave’s Vote Goes To: The Eck, who else?

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: I’m sure you’re all sick of me telling you that I first started following this team as a fan back in 1999, right?  But that experience helps me in these All 15 Year Team things, and I think you just may see the first consensus vote so far.  Without further ado…

David Eckstein: Eckstein was my favorite player on that ’99 team, and for good reason.  He hustled.  But he didn’t just hustle on the field…I can remember him sprinting from the dugout to get onto the field, like he literally couldn’t wait for his chance to play.

I remember how small he was.  I don’t know what he’s listed at, and quite frankly don’t care, because I don’t think whatever the numbers are would paint an accurate picture of just how undersized this guy looked compared to everybody else.  It almost looked like somebody had let their little kid run on the field.

As Dave wrote, the fact that Eckstein was let go on waivers show you how horrific a job the Red Sox did of managing their farm system at that time.  There’s a scroll sized list of awful, awful moves they made…but this one’s near the top.

Freddy Sanchez: Of the 124 games Sanchez played in Trenton, 113 were at shortstop.  He’s a shortstop, people…at least in this competition he is.  Writing about him here would waste your time and mine.

Robinson Cano: Say what you want about Bill Masse, but he always had a certain way of putting things.  Such was the case when I asked him about Cano in 2006…

“For all the bad things you hear about baseball with the steroids and the black marks on the game, Robby Cano is what’s good about baseball,” Masse said.

“He loves to have fun and he’s always got a smile on his face.”

And even during his rehab assignment that year, which I’ve seen a handful of guys gripe their way through (Helllllloooooooo, Paul Lo Duca), Cano was all smiles.

Back from the time I briefly got to see him in 2004, you could tell he was going to be something special, and he certainly hasn’t disappointed in the Bronx.

Lou Merloni: When you’re nicknamed “The Mayor,” you’ve got to be a pretty popular guy.  Of the 1,245 games that Merloni’s played over his 15-year-career, I’ve seen a grand total of one.  And I was 12, so it’s safe of you to assume that I remember next to nothing about Merloni’s time in Trenton.

Since his three year stint with the Thunder, he’s played for Boston, San Diego, Cleveland, and the Los Angeles Angels in the big leagues.  However, he’s also worn eight different minor league uniforms and even one in Japan since then.

It’s been a long road for Merloni, but the road to the big leagues did, in fact, run through Trenton for him.

Not On The Ballot: Gabe Lopez.  Played in 326 games at second base over three seasons for the Thunder.  He rubbed some people the wrong way, but I thought he was an all right guy and an all right player.  He even made the All-Star team in I believe 2006.  But he was never a prospect, and is out of the Yankees organization after six seasons.

My Vote Goes To: David Eckstein.  How could it go to anyone else?