#10 Darin Erstad, OF, 1B
A few years back, columnist/sub-literate Rob Neyer couldn't let Angel fans enjoy the World Series victory, so he twisted the knife into Darin Erstad's back. Erstad was making $8 million a year and was not performing up to the level of his monster 2000 season. I guess the glare from Darin's World Championship ring was blinding Rob to reality: If Darin Erstad were a Yankee, they would have renamed Central Park after him by now.
Before you yammer on with your stats and disbelief in the intangibles, the poetry and unquantifiable foggy grit that make great team players, look at your Rosetta Stone of sabermetric stats - Win Shares. Guess what Stat-Ass? Darin Erstad has the 8th most Win Shares in Angel history. So he is not overrated. He's Top Ten material all around.
Angel Lifer Brent Carter had a few thoughts on Erstad...
Darin's the only player in MLB history to win gold gloves in both the outfield and infield. His monster season in 2000 aside, his numbers don't begin to tell the story of his importance to the Angels. With Erstad you either get it or you don't, and if you don't it's just too bad for you.
For more perspective on the role of Darin in Angel lore, retired Angel blogger Sean Smith revives the spirit and intelligence of his dearly departed Purgatory Online Blog for a look at the first player selected in the1995 amateur draft...
Take that 2000 season. Erstad was 26 that year, coming off a sub-par 1999, and no one was sure what to expect. What we got was the seemingly limitless stack of hits - singles, doubles, homers, even six triples. 240 of them in all, and 100 RBI and 121 runs scored thrown in for good measure. He destroyed the franchise single-season record for hits, previously 202 by Alex Johnson, and set new franchise records in runs, total bases, runs created, and times on base, and cracked the top ten in doubles, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He was phenomenal; he seemed to get hits by sheer force of will while at the same time winning his first Gold Glove in an outfield that was missing the defensive genius of Jim Edmonds, who had been traded two years prior. He made the All-Star Team, and finished eighth in the Most Valuable Player voting despite being on a .500 club that finished third in a four-team division - just barely behind Edgar Martinez and Manny Ramirez, and ahead of Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter. It was a good year.
Like I said, take it. Take it, and put it away, because it's irrelevant. Worse, it's a distraction: it gives anyone who sees ballplayers as a collection of Microsoft Excel columns something to point at while they say, "that Darin Erstad - he just never lived up to that 2000 season." As if somhow failing to hit .355 every year was a personal insult to them. As if there was no value in defense, or in character, or in bringing a no-nonsense temperament to a franchise that had managed to fumble away every chance at glory they'd every possessed.
When Darin Erstad is long retired, I certainly won't remember him for that season. Those numbers - 240, .355 - they mean something, but they don't get anywhere near the heart of the matter. They don't capture Erstad, and they sure as hell don't capture what being a fan is about. What I'll remember most about him is that, when the Angels finally broke through to glory, finally drove a blade deep and fatally into the heart of their reputation, he was the guy holding the knife.
Scott Spiezio is rightly remembered for his three-run shot off of Felix Rodriguez to put the Angels back into Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. But the Giants escaped that inning - the seventh - without further damage. The Angels were still down 5-3, and had six outs left in their season. The real question was whether they could keep any momentum going, especially since the Giants had managed to get a couple of outs after the Spiezio homer the previous inning.
And it was Erstad who answered that question. What I will remember first about him is that he took that grim focus into the maelstrom and laid off a ball outside and a strike on the outside corner, then hammered a Tim Worrell changeup into right field and kept the Angels from slipping back into the role of prey. I'll remember Joe Buck shouting "smoked into right! It's a one-run ball game!" I'll remember that Erstad didn't strut down to first, he ran, and when he saw the ball was gone he put his head down and finished running around the bases without cracking a smile. In Game 7, he'd make a sensational diving catch and, later, catch Kenny Lofton's fly ball to center to end it all, but for my money that Game 6 home run, that bridge between Spiezio and the tying run, was the greatest single play in Angels history. From that moment on, the Angels weren't that cursed and forgotten club living in the shadows of the Dodgers and Donnie Moore, they were a team that could shoulder the pressure and not buckle. They were champions.
Thanks Sean, good luck in Law School. In the ballotting, Shredder Seitz ranked Darin 5th all-time Angel, I ranked him 7th and Brent ranked him 9th. I have to add that, with season seats directly behind the Centerfielder, I am looking forward to Erstad's return to the turf. And so will every pitcher.