What Bret Boone Did

baseball's best bat flipper

I had plans on the other side of the city last Friday night, plans that would require me to get in my car and make it move around. That wasn't an obstacle to me -- I quite like driving, provided I'm not driving around at rush hour. If I have to drive somewhere, I don't think anything of it. Last Friday night, I didn't think anything of it, and I grabbed my keys and my jacket and walked down the hill to where my car was parked. I put my key in the lock and turned it. Or, I activated the muscles that would ordinary turn the key, but the key didn't turn. It didn't turn in either direction and I couldn't open the door. I didn't have the wrong car, and I didn't have the wrong key. I was doing everything right, but the lock wasn't cooperating. I eventually came to the conclusion that the lock had frozen, because it was like 25 degrees outside. The passenger-side door still worked, so I wound up getting in through there. It was the weirdest reason I've ever had for being late to something.

The next night, I had other plans, plans that would once again require me to drive. I was walking around in the afternoon and when I walked by my car, I checked the driver-side lock to see if it would work this time. It did, like normal, so that was a load off my mind. Later on, when it was time to go, I grabbed my keys and my jacket and walked down the hill to where my car was parked. I put my key in the lock and turned it. The door unlocked and opened, and I got in, like people usually get into cars. I reached over to pull the door shut. The door shut, and then bounced back open again. I tried to shut it again, and it bounced back open again. This time, the lock wasn't frozen, but something about the locking mechanism had gotten stuck, also presumably due to the cold. Not wanting to be late again, I drove across town with one hand on the wheel and the other hand holding my door closed. I probably should've begun by noting that I drive a shitty car.

This isn't a perfect introduction for what I'm getting into, but what I'm getting into isn't that interesting so I thought I'd lead with a personal anecdote. The general point: life will surprise you, in ways you might not have even ever considered. No matter how much planning you do, there'll still be room for you to get caught off guard. Above are examples of me getting taken by surprise in unpleasant ways. Below is an example of all of us getting taken by surprise in a pleasant way.

Some time ago, I was asked to make a contribution to a Baseball Nation feature, discussing the Mariners' most out-of-character season. You can read the whole AL West feature here. I gave it some thought -- the Mariners, historically, have had a bunch of out-of-character seasons -- but after a little time I settled on Bret Boone in 2001. In retrospect, Boone's 2001 wasn't out of character, but only because he approximated it again in 2003. At the time, what the absolute fuck, I mean come on be serious

Within the article, I gave Boone a few hundred words, and it's probably nothing you don't already know. The main purpose of this post is to link to that post. But in case the extent of what Boone actually did has kind of slipped your mind, I'll blockquote myself:

At 31, before becoming a Mariner, Bret Boone was about as valuable as Doug Glanville. At 32, as a Mariner, Boone was about as valuable as Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.

It wasn't just that Boone had one of the greatest Mariners seasons ever. It was that he did that after having been Bret Boone for so long, it was that he did that after the Mariners lost Alex Rodriguez, it was that he did that in a still-new and still-terrifying Safeco Field as a right-handed hitter. Boone figured it out. Of all people, no righty has conquered Safeco the way I remember Boone conquering Safeco, and Boone was officially listed at 5'10.

The Mariners actually signed Boone as the rest of baseball was going into its holiday shutdown. Similar timing as the current Mariners having signed Raul Ibanez. Boone got one year, and here's Pat Gillick:

"We think Bret is a nice fit for our ballclub," Gillick said. "He's a proven run-producer who will add a little pop to our lineup while providing solid defense for our pitching staff."

  • 7.8 WAR
  • .950 OPS
  • Bret Boone

Something I forgot about is that, after the Mariners signed Boone, Mark McLemore asked to be traded, because he wanted to start. In 2000, McLemore posted a 77 OPS+ over nearly 600 plate appearances. In 2001, still with the Mariners, he posted a 115 OPS+ over nearly 500 plate appearances. He got his time and he produced even more. If one were to analyze player performance following a trade request, McLemore would indicate that hurt feelings don't have much of a negative long-term consequence. Quite the opposite, in fact. But this is about Boone.

And Boone didn't make sense. I know about the era and I know about the suspicions, and I'm not naive. That doesn't change the fact of the performance, and Boone's later-career emergence was extraordinary. From the Boone example, we can learn valuable lessons about writing players and teams off, about the value of superstars, about probability. Bret Boone and the 2001 Seattle Mariners are why every Mariners team is worth paying attention to, at least at the start. But nevermind the big picture. There are big-picture lessons, and there is the small-picture reality of what Bret Boone did after he returned to the Mariners in 2001. Those things aren't supposed to happen, which makes them unforgettable when they do.

If you're looking for a discussion topic, might I suggest Bret Boone? Or other out-of-character player seasons throughout Mariners history.

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