The Phillies salvaged the final game of their weekend series with the Mets, but it’s plain from looking at them that they are in serious trouble this year.
They have Ty Wigginton. They’re doomed.
Last time we checked in with Ty, we noted that the holder of our rookie record for hits (146 in 2003) is the last guy you want on your team if you want your team to go to the playoffs. It’s by no means his fault alone, but since his first major league appearance with the Bad Ship 2002 New York Mets, he’s been a part of nothing but listing vessels.
Surely you remember his Mets teams of ’02, ’03 and ’04 as nothing to toast yet something to drink about. Ty’s shipping manifest since then has brought him to some of the saddest ports of baseball call: the perpetually lousy Pirates; the stuck in the mud Devil Rays; the going nowhere fast Astros; the shell of a franchise Orioles; and in 2011, the amazingly disappointing Colorado Rockies. Right around this time last year, we were in awe at how handily the Rockies were beating the Mets and everyone else, though especially the Mets. They took four in a row from us, as our bullpen melted down and Scott Hairston looked helpless in the field (thank goodness times have changed) and left New York at 10-2, poised to run away with their division. Then the Rox realized they were employing Ty Wigginton and went 63-87 the rest of the season.
Again, not Ty’s fault. Can’t be. He’s a hard-nosed player. He was a hard-nosed callup under Bobby Valentine, a hard-nosed Rookie of the Year candidate (tied with Jose Reyes for eighth place, 117 points behind Dontrelle Willis) under Art Howe and a hard-nosed good solider who moved off third base to make room for young David Wright before taking his hard nose to Pittsburgh. Soon thereafter, the Mets got pretty to very good for several years, while Ty failed to lift the Pirates, Rays and Astros to new heights.
Not his fault. Can’t stress that enough. But still, contention fails to grow where Ty Wigginton goes. Ten seasons, one over-.500 record and nothing resembling a pennant race for good ol’ Sluggo. He gets around. He just doesn’t get anywhere.
Yet the Phillies would seem to be the perfect opportunity for Wiggy to shake off the misfortune of being associated with so many losing teams. The Phillies…geez, there’s been no stopping them for five years straight. Not only do they win the East every year, but as an SNY graphic helpfully pointed out Sunday, they increase their win total annually, raising it from 85 in 2006 to 102 in 2011.
You might have noticed, however, before Mike Pelfrey’s admirable six innings went to waste, that — save for starting pitching (granted, a big save) — the Phillies we’re seeing early in 2012 look like the epitome of a Ty Wigginton team. That is to say, 1) they seem lethargic, undermanned and thoroughly subpar; and 2) they contain Ty Wigginton.
Which is not to say Ty Wigginton is anything less than a damn good Joe. His first exposure to major league baseball came inside one of the most toxic clubhouses of this or any other century, right around the same time Roberto Alomar tried to separate Roger Cedeño’s head from its neck until Robbie realized how hard it would be to find any evidence of a head on Roger Cedeño (besides, Alomar really wasn’t into doing anything laborious once he became a Met). Ty persevered nonetheless. If Ruben Amaro sees something in Wiggy, even if it’s as a stopgap while his real players rehab, his presence in Philadelphia shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the Phillies are finally in freefall.
Though that would be outstanding.
Ty Wigginton being a Phillie can be taken as a sign that he is what announcers like to call well-traveled. He’s on his seventh team in the past nine seasons. It’s fair to say that like other “old friends” we’ve seen lately, Liván Hernandez (a National League Easterner for everybody but Philadelphia thus far) and Xavier Nady (on his seventh team in eight seasons), Ty carries no more than the residue of that ex-Met smell. We’re long past the moment when a Wigginton or Hernandez or Nady appearance at Citi Field will elicit more than the tiniest smattering of appreciative applause. For Wigginton, gone from these parts since 2004, or Hernandez, who was only a little good for a pretty bad team in 2009, or Nady, who stopped being a Met in the middle of 2006, any acknowledgement from the stands is more about vague recognition, a fan assuring himself that he’s been a fan…a very engaged fan…a long time. I suppose it’s possible somebody still carries Met torches for Ty or Liván or Xavier — maybe they posed for pictures or autographed balls, and those small favors should never be forgotten — but for the relatively brief “formers” from your team, there’s a statute of limitations on hero’s welcomes.
On the next homestand, Angel Pagan will be in with the Giants. I will offer my thanks for four seasons of well-meaning if erratic play. Jose Reyes and the Marlins will come in next. For him, I’ll Reyes the roof. If I make it to the first Cardinal game in June, I’ll do the same for Carlos Beltran. Should I be around for, say, Chris Capuano’s return to Flushing, I’ll clap politely. The return on future returns figures to dwindle from there. It’s just the way baseball works.
Guys hanging in and hanging on are also the way baseball works. Personally, I admire the refusal of baseball players to quit being baseball players. Hell yes to Willie Mays manning center field in the World Series no matter what the sun and the cynics said. Hell yes to Tom Seaver needing Barry Lyons clobbering him in a simulated game in order to know he could no longer be Terrific in the present tense. Hell yes to David Cone missing his old gig and pitching on the same team that featured Ty Wigginton at third base. Hell yes to Jamie Moyer, the last player I’ll ever call my senior, not yet calling it a career. Hell yes to Octavio Dotel, 1999 Met and literally a dozen other things in the succeeding thirteen seasons, setting a record for peripateticacity while successfully continuing to collect his share of big league meal money.
When I noticed Wigginton on the Phillies during the season’s first week, I thought about the guys who don’t give up and heard myself humming the Steve Miller Band’s ode to album-promoting itineraries from “Rock’n Me”:
I’ve been from Phoenix, Arizona
All the way to Tacoma
Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.
Northern California where the girls are warm…
Ty Wigginton’s only been to Philadelphia on the back of that concert t-shirt. Octavio Dotel has Atlanta, L.A. and Oakland covered, but not the other two. Jamie Moyer’s been a staple in Seattle (adjacent to Tacoma and close enough for rock ‘n’ roll/MLB) and Philly, but where Steve Miller’s stringent demands are concerned, Jamie Moyer’s a piker. I got to wondering if anybody in this day and age of free agency has met the Miller standard. Has anybody, outside the Onion’s sports coverage, actually played for the Diamondbacks, the Mariners, the Phillies, the Braves, the Dodgers/Angels and the Giants/A’s?
Thanks to Baseball Reference, I can confirm that one baseball vagabond indeed rocked all those locales. Not shockingly, it was a lefthanded pitcher. He was never a Met, but he did take part in two particularly memorable moments against the Mets. (Chances are he took part in memorable moments against everybody.)
That pitcher — who threw out Keith Hernandez at first base by tossing the ball with his glove around it in 1986 and threw the defining pitch of a ten-run inning to Mike Piazza in 2000 — was Terry Mulholland, a veteran of eleven teams.
• He came up as a Giant in 1986.
• He was traded to the Phillies in 1989.
• He arrived on the Mariners the day after Moyer did in 1996.
• He joined the Braves when we hated them most, in 1999.
• He checked in with the Dodgers in 2001.
• He concluded his career with the Diamondbacks in 2006.
And for extra credit, he pitched for the Phoenix Firebirds as a Giant farmhand in the ’80s. They didn’t even need to invent the Diamondbacks to make Terry Mulholland the rockingest ballplayer of all time.
Or Steve Miller’s time, at any rate.