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Thursday, February 26, 2004

At Least The Red Sox Have 1918 Hall Of Fame: Andy Van Slyke 

If every team always had just one guy like Andy Van Slyke, Baseball would still be the national sport. Maybe I only think this because he was my favorite player growing up, but in my opinion, he will always be the epitome of what a ballplayer ought to be: a goofy guy playing an absurd game and giving it absolutely everything he had, while obviously having a great time. And, win or lose, he usually had something funny to say after the game.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usI grew up the world’s biggest Pirates fan. To me, there were only two baseball players worth talking about: Van Slyke and Bonds. At the time, I didn’t realize what perfect polar opposites they were. Bonds, obviously, was the best baseball player in the world, but he did nothing at all to endear himself to the fans, other than gracing us with his godlike presence for a monumental fee. Van Slyke was probably a worse hitter than Bonds’ shadow, but he made watching a baseball game a God damn fun thing to do. He made you feel like you had a buddy on the team, and that definitely counts for something.

Don’t get me wrong, he was a very good hitter. He won two silver sluggers (came close to a batting title once), made three all-star teams, had a career OBP of .350 and slugging percentage of .450, drove in a hundred runs once and scored a hundred twice. For some reason, in that nasty Pirates lineup of the early nineties, he always batted third.

He was as solid as you get on the base paths, topping twenty steals each of his fist six seasons in the big leagues while rarely getting caught. And he was always looking for a chance to turn a single into a double or a double into a triple. On close plays, his slides were some of the most creative I ever saw. This was an outfielder who somehow managed to get his uniform dirty almost every game.

Defensively, he was a star. Though his speed was well below average for a center fielder, he won five consecutive gold gloves in the middle of his career. One of those guys whose defense wasn’t widely noted until he’d made his thousandth diving catch, he probably deserved even more.

But, of course, it’s his humor that most of us remember best. Hopefully, somebody will write a book about this guy someday, because it seemed like he was always saying something funny and self-depreicating. Here are some of the nice Andy Van Slyke quotes Chris and I were able to find:

"Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon."

"I have an Alka Seltzer bat. You know, plop plop fizz fizz. When the pitcher sees me walking up there they say, 'Oh what a relief it is.'"

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us"If everyone were like him (Mitch Williams) I wouldn't play. I'd find a safer way to make a living."

"It seems like Satan has thrown the DH into our game."

"I've never even hit batting practice before a crowd (1,519 on 4-18-88) that small at Busch."

"Last year we had so many people coming in and out they didn't bother to sew their names on the backs of the uniforms. They just put them there with Velcro."

"My biggest problem in the big leagues is that I can't figure out how to spend forty-three dollars in meal money."

"They wanted me to play third like Brooks (Robinson) so I did play like Brooks - Mel Brooks."

"With the Cardinals everybody would be reading the business section to see what their stocks were doing. You get to this locker room (Pirates) in the morning and everybody is looking at the sports page to see if Hulk Hogan won."

Describing the difference between playing at home and on the road: "On the road, when you go downstairs for coffee in your underwear, they throw you out of the kitchen."

After a particularly tough day at the plate: "I couldn't have driven Miss Daisy home today."

On failing to hit the ball out of the infield during a prolonged slump: "They're writing a movie about me. It's called The Summer of 4-3."

On why the Pirates didn't catch the Mets: "You can't expect Mr. Ed to keep up with Secretariat."

On who he would be, if he could be someone else for one day: "My wife, just to see how wonderful it is to spend the day with me."

In all honesty, if he hadn’t been a funny guy, he’d have likely been forgotten by now. But he was! And so here he is, our second official inductee to the At Least the Red Sox Have 1918 Hall of Fame! Congratulations, Andy Van Slyke!

PS: Two more mediocre seasons, and Doug Glanville is a LOCK.

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