Mets reserve Bobby Abreu bids adieu
By Steven Simineri
The afternoon following Derek Jeter’s magical Bronx goodbye, one of his countless former teammates announced his plans to also ride into the sunset at seasons end. In an understated press conference that stood in stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance of Jeter’s retirement tour, 40-year-old Mets reserve outfielder Bobby Abreu said that Sunday’s season finale against his first team, the Houston Astros, would be his last.
“I feel happy with my career,” said Abreu, who originally signed with Houston as a 16-year old back in 1990. “I’m blessed. We all create goals in our lives. And to me, as a baseball player, I created all my goals and I met all those goals.”
Mets manager Terry Collins, who served as Abreu’s first Major League manager when he debuted with the Astros in 1996, penciled him into the lineup one last time Sunday afternoon and Abreu bid goodbye to the big leagues with a fifth inning single that sparked the decisive rally, ending perhaps one of the more underappreciated careers in recent memory.
“He was probably a little bit underappreciated. But when it’s all said and done, I think the numbers are going to speak up for themselves,” Collins, said while seated beside Abreu for his announcement on Friday.
Abreu is certainly no Hall of Famer, but he’s a candidate for the Hall of Very Good. He ranks in the top 100 in baseball history in the following: On-base percentage (78th), runs (79th), doubles (21st), RBI (87th), walks (20th), steals (73rd), total bases (85th), extra-base hits (58th) and times on base (46th). He’s 103rd in hits, too.
Of the 318 Venezuelan-born players to have appeared in the big leagues and only Omar Vizquel (2,877) and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio (2,677) have more career hits than his 2,470. His 288 home runs rank fourth and his 1,363 RBIs are good for third. Ever a patient hitter, his career on-base percentage is a stellar .395 and throughout his career, he averaged 4.28 pitches per plate appearance while the league average was 3.77.
He won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, and was baseball’s active leader in doubles and walks. His 60 career Wins Above Replacement rank 119th in history, ahead of guys such as Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki and Sammy Sosa. He is also one of only four players in major league history with 200 homers, 1,200 walks and 400 steals. The others are Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson and Joe Morgan.
Furthermore, Abreu is one of just five players to leave the game with a .395 OBP, 400 stolen bases, 500 doubles and 2,400 hits. The other four are Bonds, Henderson, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. In the long history of baseball there have only been eight seasons in which a player recorded 40+2B, 20+HRs, 100+BB and 20+ SB. Abreu owns four of those seasons. Also his twelve seasons of 20+2B, 10+HR and 20+SB is more than anybody to play the game. His former teammate Jimmy Rollins just garnered his eleventh such season, which tied Bonds for the second most all-time.
In 1997 the Astros could only protect 15 players when Major League Baseball held an expansion
draft for the Diamondbacks and the Devil Rays. The choice came down to Abreu or Richard Hidalgo, another product of the Venezuelan pipeline. The team protected Hidalgo and Tampa took Abreu in the draft, and then flipped him to the Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker. After emerging as a star with the Phillies in the early 2000s, he went on to stints with the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers before taking a year off in 2013.
In an attempt to make a return to the big leagues he returned to winter ball in his native Venezuela, where he caught the attention of former Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens. He eventually went to spring training with the Phillies, but after getting cut the veteran outfielder signed a minor league deal with the Mets in March and arrived at Triple-A Las Vegas. There, Abreu served as a mentor for some of the Mets young players, a role he fully embraced during his short stint in Flushing.
“These young guys are special,” Abreu said over the weekend. “The New York Mets have a big future. Even at 40 years old, they made me feel young.”
Collins and the Mets have credited Abreu with mentoring several of their young Latin players, in particular center fielder Juan Lagares and infielder Wilmer Flores. Abreu was in the majors from April 22 until Aug. 4 this season. The Mets released him six days later, but he re-signed with the club, returned to the 51s and general manager Sandy Alderson rewarded him with a second call-up as rosters expanded, in part because he believed Abreu’s plate approach set a strong example for his teammates.
Abreu’s playing days actually are not completely over. He said he plans to play a handful of games in winter ball in his native Venezuela for fans in his home country before hanging up his cleats for good. After that he will surely have a hitting-coach job awaiting him somewhere, but not before he settles several business ventures outside the game.
During his short stay in Queens he was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter, but he was just thankful for the opportunity to complete his comeback and go out on his own terms — wearing a big league uniform.
“To retire with a uniform, I think this is something very important,” Abreu said following Sunday’s 8-3 victory. “When you play the game and you have a long career, you want to just do it on the field.”