Willie Bloomquist has retired.
I hear a few heathens asking “Willie Bloomquist?”
Few who don’t follow baseball have ever heard the name. We of the True Faith, however, know it well.
Willie Bloomquist, aka The Bloodmouse*, is, IMNSHO, the most polarizing figure nobody outside the sport has heard of. He’s probably been the subject of as many arguments as Barry Bonds and Pete Rose combined. OK, maybe not quite that many, but over his fourteen year career, he’s been the subject of fierce debate.
* OK, so he’s only known by that name within my family. When he first came up to the majors, he was a bit on the scrawny side. Long names and narrow shoulders don’t mix well. All I could see on the back of his uniform in a three-quarter rear view was “Bloo[fold]s”. Bloodmouse was as good a guess as anything else for the unknown guy.
What did he do to provoke so much debate? He played baseball.
Not poorly. Not spectacularly. Jeff Sullivan has a nice summary over at Fangraphs of the Bloodmousian Controvery.
With one exception, Willie was an average player. No, make that the average player. In a sport where the stars specialize, he was a generalist. He could fill in at almost any position and give a league-average performance. When a team can only carry 25 players (and almost half of those are pitchers), someone who can give a competent performance in multiple roles is far more valuable than the bare numbers would suggest.
And that’s half of the controversy. Statistically-inclined analysts would look at the numbers and ask why the hell Willie’s teams paid so much for an average player.
The other half is that one area where Willie wasn’t average. Willie was clutch. At the beginning of his career, there weren’t any good statistics to measure players’ performance when it really mattered. All fans and analysts had to go on were gut feelings, and those, of course, are anathema to the statistically-minded. Many and loud were the arguments of Willie’s value in high-leverage situations.
But tools evolve, and as Mr. Sullivan points out, by one current measure of clutch performance, since he first came up in 2002, Willie stands at the top of the chart. And, extending the chart back to 1974 (as far back as the necessary data is available), Willie is Number Two.
He made have been a league-average hitter, but he got those hits at the right time more often than almost anybody else. That’s not a bad thing to be remembered for at all.
Statistics aside, Willie was always a fan favorite. He didn’t sell a lot of jerseys the way stars do, but he drew applause when he took the field. He showed up and did his job. And he did it with enthusiasm. He had that Everyman vibe, and the fans who came out to watch a baseball game responded.
In interviews, Willie’s suggested that he’d like to try his hand at coaching. His positional flexibility suggests he’d be good at it.
Too bad clutch hitting isn’t a teachable skill. (Situational hitting is, but there’s a huge luck component to clutch hitting. Anyone who can reliably teach luck, please, drop me an e-mail.)
Good luck, Bloodmouse, wherever you go next.