#29 - DAVID ECKSTEIN, SS
Most of the lore surrounding the great David Eckstein involve his grit and making the most out of the least, but his athleticism gets undersold when those virtues are overemphasized. And yet, few players were ever more popular during their tenure in Anaheim as "Eck"
Eckstein was claimed off of waivers in August of 2000 from Boston. Perpetually on the bubble of doubts because of his size (5'6"), the Red Sox made one 40-man roster shuffle too many and Angels GM Bill Stoneman grabbed the mistake. In 2001 Eckstein made his major league debut and played 153 games, 126 of them at Shortstop. He would accrue 3.6 Defensive WAR there with the club with none of the panache or backflipping majestic motions associated with the great shortstops. Like everything else associated with his game, Eckstein played the position with cerebral hustle. Figuring out where the ball might go seemed to be his specialty. Getting there took more apparent effort, but get there he usually did, more than enough to keep him there. He would play 526 games at Short, fifth most in Angels history and fourth most when the team released him in the winter after the 2004 season. All in four seasons.
At the plate, Eckstein's game was again a brainy grind. The kid was never afraid of the foul ball hack to keep an AB alive, to wear down the pitcher, to assist the guy in the batter's box in seeing a few more pitches and, of course the main job, to get on base by any means necessary. His Hit By Pitch numbers would make you think he was the neighborhood bully and that he had earned some of the 76 beanings he received as an Angel (76 HBP ranks second most all time in club history). But it wasn't karma it was his grinding game that delivered three of the top ten single season Halo HBP marks are his including #1 (27 HBP in 2002) and #2 (21 in 2001). He was primarily a singles hitter with the occasional walk and when he did get on base his potential base-sealing again wore down the pitcher - always a grind, always a mental game, no slack. His stolen base success rate of 75% is in the club's top ten best.
In the stands, perhaps no player was as loved and cherished by Angels fans - even fans of opposing teams would admit their admiration of a guy who looked laughably out of place standing next to the big jocks on the field. The men admired him, the kids considered him a peer and the ladies they would ooo and aaah enough to make those bog jocks realize there was a new stud in town. There was some level of irony that even the dullest fan got, a chuckle at first to see the little guy up there and then a hardy laugh to see him winning.
When the Angels needed Eckstein the most he really showed up. In 2002 his 5.2 Wins Above Replacement (23rd best single season by a Halo and only one of two shortstops to ever have a 5.0 or better season with the team - Jim Fregosi being the other) helped get the 99-win Angels to the playoffs and in October he had twenty hits and scored nine runs in the three postseason series and was a media darling, contrasting with the naturally gifted Barry Bonds and the bad pres an aura of haughty entitlement gets a player. Eckstein embodied virtue to the inherent vice of the Giants outfielder. When the good guys came out on top in seven games, the littlest Angel had his place in the pantheon assured. But his four seasons of grinding effort delivered statistical accomplishments that put him in the company of the greatest to ever put on a halo when they put on their uniform.