Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Where have you gone, Orlando Merced?

In which I discuss a Pirate of the past and why I loved or hated them so much. I'm not actually trying to find them.

If this blog was run by my brother Dennis instead of me, it would be Where have you gone, Orlando Merced? instead of the WHYGAVS that exists today (does WHYGOM work?). I really like writing these things because I have certain perceptions of these guys that played in my youth and while writing them I always look them up at BBREF and see if what I rememberactually matches reality. Most of the time it doesn't because, but that's OK. When I started thinking about Merced last night, here's what I remembered: a first baseman/outfielder from Puerto Rico that was incredibly honored to be a Pirate because he idolized Roberto Clemente. I remember that he was switch hitter but that he was the worst right-handed hitter in history so he rarely played against lefties, defeating the purpose of switch hitting. Eventually he just hit lefty all the time. I seem to recall that he wasn't a great hitter and that he wasn't exactly your prototypical first baseman, a position he held on the '91 and '92 NLCS teams because he certainly didn't have much pop. Oh, and after bouncing around the league for a while and being a pinch-hitter for the Astros, he tried to come back with us a few years ago and failed, thus ending his baseball career.

So what was Orlando Merced? Looking at his career numbers, it turns out he wasn't a bad hitter. He was actually pretty good at getting on base early in his career (.373 OBP in '91 and a whopping .414 in '93) and he gained some decent pop later in his career. He was an above average hitter in both '91 and '92 on the LCS teams, meaning that he actually gave us more offense from first base than I remember. After the Pirates traded him for Craig Wilson, Abraham Nunez, Jose Silva, and others he did bounce around a lot before trying to come back to the Pirates in 2004 and failing. He was, in fact, terrible as a right-handed hitter. As for the Clemente connection, he didn't just idolize Clemente, one of his best childhood friends was Roberto's son Luis.

So why does any of this matter? Why Orlando Merced today? Because with all of the talk about Tracy's firing and how disinterested the Pirates are in playing baseball and things like that, Orlando Merced is one of the last Pirates I remember (maybe Salomon Torres is an exception, but not many other people) that was just plain happy to be a Pirate. Not happy in the Adam LaRoche "I'm happy for the chance to shine in my own light and maybe help turn this team around" sense (not that there's anything wrong with that), but happy in the, "All my life all I ever wanted to do was wear black and gold and now that I'm doing it, nothing else matters to me" sense. And what can I say? I miss that.