On Saturday, we looked at the Angels tenure of the tenth-greatest Angels acquisition, Don Baylor.
After a break yesterday (as I was working AND it was Super Bowl Sunday), we're back at this countdown looking at the ninth-greatest acquisition in Angels history.
On this countdown, out of the fifteen players, only two players did NOT come via the trade route or through free agency. One of these two players came on a waiver claim. Originally a 19th-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1997 (although a product of Sanford, Florida, close to the stomping grounds of Tom Kotchman's draft picks of that era), this player was placed on waivers during the 2000 season as a minor leaguer, and moved up to the big league club at the start of the 2001 season, winning the Angels' shortstop job outright in spring training over Benji Gil. From there, he didn't look back; he finished 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2001 (as if there was any beating Ichiro for it that season), and became an immediate Angels fan favorite due to his diminutive stature and scrappy style of play. Ladies and gentlemen...the X-Factor, David Eckstein!
DAVID ECKSTEIN, SHORTSTOP
.278/.347/.353, 614 H, 170 RBI, 76 HBP, 54 SH, 16 SF, 82 SB, 12.0 WAR (3.0 average, 4 seasons)
David Eckstein was the kind of player that practically defied logic. His batting average consistently told the tale that he could set the table, and his on-base percentage typically verified that, but he had little to no power, drastically reducing his total bases and never allowing him to breach a slugging percentage above .395. Moneyballers like Billy Beane aren't quite sure what to make of him; he gets on base, but his bat can't move him past first most of the time. But thankfully, we as Angels fans in the early 2000s weren't as mindful as Beane of Eckstein's low SLG. What we loved about Eckstein was his grit.
And believe it or not, "grit" can actually be measured. Because by his grit, we define that as his willingness to simply get on base or move runners up in any way possible. He wasn't afraid to turn his shoulder and take a fastball in the back. He had no reservations about squaring one down the first-base line with the bases loaded. And, if you asked him, he'd still float a gapper in right-center to drive in a pair. So Eckstein's average "grittiness," statistically speaking, would be, by his line of stats as an Angel, 19 HBP, 14 sacrifice hits, 4 sacrifice flies, 21 stolen bases and 154 hits.
As mentioned above, Eckstein finished 4th in AL ROY balloting, after a .285/.355/.357 slash line with 29 stolen bases and a league-leading 21 HBP and 16 SH. 2002 saw him post a career best slash line of .293/.363/.388--the only year he had a high enough slugging percentage to put him above a 100 OPS+ with a 101--leading all of baseball with 27 HBP, finishing 11th in AL MVP voting, the second-highest finish on the team behind Garret Anderson, who finished 4th. His grit helped guide the team to their only world championship.
2003 and 2004, while not able to measure up to his 2002 season, were still decent; 2003 could be considered his "down" year, but 2004 saw him rebound to perform to norms, his slugging percentage again being the only true thing to weigh his stats down. However, in fear that he'd already reached his plateau at 29 and that Eckstein would have nothing left to contribute to the team, the front office infamously and surprisingly non-tendered him after the 2004 season, to the dismay of the vast majority of Angels fans. It would take a while before Angels fans warmed up to his replacement, Orlando Cabrera (and then once the fans finally did, management offed him, too).
Eckstein, however, went on to St. Louis on a three-year, $10.25 million deal in the "shortstop carousel" of the 2004 offseason; he signed with the Cardinals, whose shortstop Edgar Renteria signed with the Red Sox, whose shortstop Orlando Cabrera signed with the Angels. With St. Louis, Eckstein posted his only two All-Star seasons, including the World Series MVP in 2006. However, despite putting up a career-high .309 batting average in 2007, injury concerns led the Cardinals to cut Eckstein, who signed with Toronto for 2008 and would be traded halfway through the season to Arizona, who was threatening to make back-to-back postseason appearances (but ultimately failed). He signed a two-year deal with San Diego thereafter, ending his career after the 2010 season having transitioned to second base.
In voting, Eckstein received three fifth-place votes, one sixth-place vote, three eighth-place votes, and two ninth-place votes, for a total of 36 points.
Eckstein, another former Angel whose method of arrival is often forgotten, will always be remembered by Angels faithful as one of the most hard-nosed, lovable players ever to strap on his cleats and bear the Halo on his cap. No matter who steps into the number 22 uniform now, that number will always be associated with Eckstein to me. To a man who always personified determination, grit, and pure love of the game, while STILL being an amazing ballplayer doing so, I say thank you.