Vlad exited quietly but deserves entrance to Hall
Gaudy career numbers only part of story for respected slugger
Vladimir Guerrero didn't make much of a splash over the weekend with his retirement announcement in a Dominican Republic newspaper. But it was fitting that Vlad would do it this way, so quietly.
He never cared much for attention, preferring to slip into the background when the game was over, even if he'd done something out of this world -- which happened frequently.
Guerrero, who spent six years with the Angels after eight with the Montreal Expos, was one of the game's greatest players. There will be debate over his Hall of Fame credentials, but for one member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America spanning four decades, it's an easy call.
This man belongs in Cooperstown.
Guerrero was a true five-tool player of the highest order. It troubled him late in his career when one of those tools -- his blazing speed -- deserted him, victimized by eight seasons spent on Montreal's rock-hard carpet.
His knees shot, he still had enough left to put together one last great season in 2010 for the Rangers. Hitting .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs, he finished 11th in the American League MVP balloting.
When Texas opened the AL Division Series against the Rays that season, Josh Hamilton was asked about the impact and influence of Guerrero. About five minutes later, having given Vlad basically every form of praise known to man, Hamilton finally paused for a breath.
Guerrero was loved by teammates from Montreal to Baltimore, his final landing spot in 2011. His natural humility was as remarkable, from a superstar, as his soaring talent.
Ten times he finished in the top 15 in the MVP balloting. He was the AL MVP in 2004, his debut season as an Angels free-agent acquisition, and finished third in 2005 and 2007.
Mike Trout is off to a blazing start, but he has a lot of ground to cover in order to eclipse that other outfielder who wore No. 27 in Angels red.
Guerrero's career numbers -- .318 batting average, .553 slugging, .931 OPS (on-base plus slugging), 449 homers, 1,496 RBIs, 1,328 runs, 181 steals -- tell only part of his story. He played every inning with passion.
Remembered for his long-distance blasts, including a winning show in the 2007 Home Run Derby in San Francisco, he was a great hitter, not a one-dimensional slugger.
Guerrero had more doubles (477) than homers. He never struck out 100 times in a season; his high of 95 came at age 23. Known for his nose-to-toes hitting zone, he averaged only 18 more strikeouts than walks per season. And, oh, could he fly. He fell one homer shy of a 40-40 year in 2002.
Brad Penny, the burly right-hander, confirmed that Guerrero once homered off him in Florida on a pitch that bounced in the dirt. His powerful arm from right field was a deterrent to baserunners throughout his career.
In his 13th season, which began with the tragic death of promising young pitcher Nick Adenhart, Guerrero enjoyed his most satisfying day as a Major League player. His 2009 Angels exorcized their Fenway Park demons in completing a three-game AL Division Series sweep.
In what he called "the biggest moment of my career," Guerrero slammed a game-deciding, two-out, two-run single in the ninth inning of a 7-6 conquest of a Red Sox club that had eliminated the Angels the previous two seasons.
Guerrero, who dealt with recovery from knee surgery, a torn chest muscle and a strained leg muscle, gutted his way through 100 games that season. His greatest hit left him thinking of Adenhart, killed on April 9 in a car wreck claiming two companions and critically injuring a third.
"When it comes to honoring Nick Adenhart and what happened in April," Guerrero said, "yes, it's probably the biggest hit -- because I'm dedicating it to a former teammate, a guy who passed away."
Known as "Moolah" inside the clubhouse, Guerrero was money in that series, hitting .400. He continued to hammer away, hitting .370 with five RBIs, in a six-game AL Championship Series taken by the eventual World Series champion Yankees.
"To see Moolah get that hit and be over at first base smiling like that ... it's just the greatest feeling ever," Angels batting coach Mickey Hatcher said that day in Boston. "Everybody on this team is thrilled for the guy, believe me, because Moolah is so respected for what he's done and who he is."
Guerrero was a reluctant interview subject out of shyness, not conceit. While he conveyed a lack of confidence in his fractured English, the media would have uncovered nothing controversial from this guy. It was simply not in his nature to be boastful.
"Vlad's one of the greatest guys and best teammates I've ever been around," Torii Hunter said. "I felt honored to play on the same team with a Hall of Famer."
Guerrero never got a big head, figuratively or literally. He had the same body when he came into the game as when he left it, with some added pounds courtesy of the containers of food his mother provided for his team.
When his name comes on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2017, some voters will quibble with his numbers. Examining them closely, they'll find Vlad was comparable to the great Roberto Clemente. If he'd spent his first eight seasons on a grass surface, not a slab of concrete covered by plastic, there would be no doubt.
He played two more seasons with the Expos but represented the Angels in seven postseason series and won his MVP as an Angel. It will be a tough call, determining which cap Vlad wears on his Cooperstown plaque. What matters is that he gets there, where he belongs.