During last year’s World Series I wrote about Adrian Gonzalez’s bizarre self-exclusion from his team’s festivities. His odd reasoning, the team’s lack of issue towards his decision, and fans from all over either ignoring him all together or being unbelievably upset.
I was in the ignore camp as unlike most beloved ex-Padres Adrian’s departure was a glitch in the programming that never corrected itself.
Upon hearing the news that he was released by the Mets last week and thus more than likely ending his career, I felt nothing. I didn’t have the “bring him home for a curtain call” reaction. I didn’t think he would catch on with another club, and I don’t really think Adrian cares to do that. I think Adrian stopped caring about the game awhile ago.
I think over the last couple of seasons he played joylessly, and apathetically bitter about his own place in the history of the modern game.
When Adrian left San Diego he was one of the most celebrated young hitters in the Baseball. His defense was above average, and his pure skills with the bat looked only to be getting better every season. And, that swing. What a swing. Within the limits of Padre fandom he was the second-coming of Tony that we knew we couldn’t keep. To those outside of San Diego he was a burgeoning superstar who just needed to spend some time in a bigger market to prove it.
He was underrated in San Diego, but looking back there was nothing within his personality or actions to say he did or didn’t like it. He was quiet, unassuming, and so consistent you never really “thought” about Adrian – he just was.
He was then shipped to Boston.
On the biggest of stages he would certainly rise to the occasion. His 2011 season was his statistical best, but it was also the beginning of an internal shitstorm in Boston, which would lead to Francona’s and Theo’s departures, and introduce an era of Bobby Valentine in 2012, and a “salary dump” trade to the Dodgers midway through that season. Adrian basically walked into a hurricane and wound up spit out playing for his favorite team since he was a boy.
Padres fans could handle losing him to the Red Sox. The world finally had a chance to see what we all saw. To watch his brilliance. And, that swing. What a swing. But, like in San Diego he was quiet, unassuming, and consistent. His on the field achievements were easily overshadowed by the antics of Josh Beckett, the cartoonish dominance of Big Papi, and the dysfunctional leadership.
I was happy he got out, but like most of us if they were gonna trade him anywhere – why did it have to be LA? Padres’ fans hated rival to the north finally had one of the best first basemen in Baseball, and we had to watch it in person for seasons to come.
What made it worse was just how happy Adrian was about it. For a guy who was always considered a quiet leader, a clubhouse mentor, he broke through playing with all the pure glee of a child sliding down a waterslide.
He joked, he laughed, he did gimmicky rituals in the dugout. He was happy, and I hated every minute of it.
However, he played on some pretty odd and rag-tag Dodgers teams. They had talent, and made waves, but he was never the focus. He was playing on the biggest stage in the west and no one really seemed to notice. His stats declined a smidge as he entered his early 30’s, and what was a career already played in the folds, somehow became more invisible.
It didn’t help that on the way out of Boston he was ripped to shreds and was lumped into the ‘scapegoat squad’ although his on the field play was unparalleled during his bean town stretch. Then he went to Los Angeles, which pissed off those of us in San Diego. He lost clout with his home, and was hated in the east. He was on an island in a ravine.
Despite being a big bat for big time organizations he was under the radar, and never expressed too much interest in changing that. Last season when his injuries finally took hold and it looked like he may never play again he chose to walk away from the game because he didn’t feel like being around it. It was strange, but pretty much no one cared, other than to say it was strange.
When he signed with the Mets most baseball fans knew it was doomed. A 35-year old first baseman whose power has disappeared, average bottomed out, and was an injury risk? The Mets already had four of those guys. The only thing that would’ve saved Adrian was a winning-season in Citi Field. Ha!
They released him, and the story wasn’t anything other than ‘he will probably retire’. It wasn’t ‘one of the best hitters of the last decade to retire’ or ‘beloved superstar cut from Mets’, it was just that he was released and that’s it. That was the narrative.
What else could it be? No one in any kind of combined effort clamored to bring him back to SD, mainly because he made it very clear that he had the most fun in LA. People in Boston probably, and erroneously, thought “good riddance”, and not one Met fan wanted him there to begin with.
He isn’t a Hall of Famer, he isn’t beloved anywhere except maybe by a few nostalgic Dodgers and Padres fans. He’s just one of those players someone will bring up in a conversation about the best first baseman from a certain era. He’s a trivia question for some dumb website to ask people in a cash only bar.
If he wanted more, he never acted like it. If he deserved more, we never cared to give it after he left. Maybe he wanted his gameplay to speak for itself, and that’s respectable. In fact, that’s the best I can say for Adrian Gonzalez’s career – respectable.
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