As fans, we become familiar with the pattern of a baseball career: make the radar as a prospect, get too much/too little seasoning in AAA, try to stick on the big-league roster, stick on that roster, play until bad luck, injury or age say otherwise, get a farewell that can take any number of forms (a day at Shea, being the last cut in spring training, being one of the first cuts, never coming off the DL, never reporting to that minor-league assignment), vanish little by little into memory.
But something’s missing there. That’s the pattern for regulars, not for the fringe guys who come and go from the last couple of spots on a roster. (Or clutter them up, if the roster we’re talking about belongs to the 2004 or 2005 Mets.) There’s a different pattern for these guys, one in which the big-league stints are like islands sticking above the sea, with a lot of years below the waterline. Some of these guys’ statistical goal is enough service time to get an MLBPA pension. They’re the ones whose entries in the record books make you wonder if there’s a typo. The best example I know of is THB bane and Met-for-a-minute Rich Sauveur, who racked up 34 big-league appearances over 15 seasons, only two of those campaigns consecutive. Rich Sauveur’s career stats are Dada poetry as it is; look deeper and you realize a lot of the baseball he played — the overwhelming majority of it, in fact — has left no trace in most record books, because he played it far from the bright lights.
2000 was Sauveur’s final season; he became a minor-league instructor after that. But at least his years between big-league stints can be inferred: There are guys who keep going and going after the big-league season they can’t know is fated to be their last, spending the rest of their careers below the statistical waterline. Blaine Beatty gets just two lines in the record book, for his brief stints with the Mets in 1989 and 1991. But without some pretty determined Googling, you’d never know Beatty kept knocking around for six more years in the minors, racking up a dreary itinerary that’s a study in perseverance unrewarded: Indianapolis, Buffalo, Carolina, Chattanooga, Indianapolis, Chattanooga, Carolina, Gulf Coast League Pirates (one imagines that was his I’m-too-old-for-this-shit moment), Mexico City, Calgary and yes, finally, Carolina.
Oct. 15 was the day on which a raft of veteran minor-leaguers became free agents. (Specifically, it’s guys who weren’t on a 40-man roster and had seven years in pro ball.) Perusing the list is like taking a dip in the pool from which the nonroster invitees will soon be drawn, with plenty of double-takes: Kerry Ligtenberg’s still around? (And does he still have those ridiculous sideburns?) Peter Bergeron? Donovan Osborne? Curtis Pride?
We have our own guys on this list of course, a mix of failed prospects, played-out Cyclones, and emptied cups of coffee we saw briefly, wondered if we’d see or thought we’d see again: Craig Brazell, Ron Calloway, Ken Chenard, Steve Colyer, Eric Junge, Robert McIntyre, Orber Moreno, Neal Musser, Rodney Nye, Prentice Redman, Jose Rosado. But the lists of other teams’ guys also have a lot of familiar names.
Esix Snead, sent packing by the Braves. Jim Mann, Red Sox property no longer. Bobby M. Jones and Jorge Toca, no longer world-champion Chicago White Sox. Brian Rose, farewell to the Reds. Mike Kinkade, now an ex-Indian. Edwin Almonte is no longer part of the Tigers’ plans. Brad Clontz, Wilson Delgado and Mark Little have cashed their final Marlins paycheck. Brian Buchanan and the Minnesota Twins have parted ways. Hideo Nomo won’t be a Yankee after all. Mike Bacsik won’t be a Phillie. Now that the four of them are no longer Pirate farmhands, Jorge Velandia and Jon Nunnally can stop telling Mark Corey they think it’s funny Corey’s on the same roster as Jason Roach. Jeff Duncan is leaving San Diego. Joe Depastino and Desi Relaford are done with the Blue Jay thing.
So who knew Jim Mann was still in baseball? That Brad Clontz was still submarining somewhere? That Joe Depastino was trying for another day in the Show? I sure didn’t. But I bet Blaine Beatty wouldn’t be surprised.