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40 in 40: Dee Gordon

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Dee Gordon has been a shining example of why we love baseball

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On December 7, 2017, the Mariners made the most exciting move they had made since signing Robinson Canó four years prior: they traded for Dee Gordon. The move being exciting, however, had nothing to do with Dee. The trade, which saw the Mariners send top pitching prospect Nick Neidert to the Miami Marlins, was mostly about the international bonus pool money that came back to Seattle.

At the time, Gordon seemed an odd acquisition with Canó firmly entrenched in the lineup. That he was the only player the Mariners were receiving in return for Neidert seemed to suggest that the Mariners were confident they could use the pool money to woo Shohei Ohtani.

Of course, we all know how the story ended. Ohtani didn’t come to Seattle, and Gordon had to scramble to learn to play center field. The Mariners started strong before falling into a precipitous collapse infamously punctuated by Gordon’s clubhouse altercation with Jean Segura.

Gordon’s 2018 fWAR of 0.0 didn’t improve much after the Mariners shipped Canó off to New York and allowed Dee to play his natural position of second base: he put up just 0.5 fWAR last season. And with a year and $14.5 million still owed to Gordon (including the buyout for his option next year), he represents more of a mini-albatross than an actual asset.

All of this is to say: I understand if you don’t have a high opinion of Dee Gordon, Seattle Mariner. Some of the negativity during his tenure has been out of his control, but his time in Seattle has been marred by disappointment, frustration, and confusion.

Despite it all, it is with complete honesty that I can say that Dee Gordon is one of my favorite Mariners of all time.

I think it started early in his first season, when Dee broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning against Cleveland with a solo dinger. As soon as he made contact with the ball, he knew it was gone. His follow-through was so perfect that it almost felt fake. As if Dee had planned the whole game, setting up this moment so that he could pay homage to Griffey.

Of course, he didn’t set it up. It just happened. And it wasn’t the first time that Dee had been part of a larger-than-life moment that felt bigger than himself. When you fully commit to something and invest yourself in each moment, I’m convinced that magic happens.

I don’t know whether his dinger after José Fernández’s death is a moment Dee would want to be reminded of. It might be precious to him. It might also be unbearably painful. It might be both. Whatever it is to him, to me it is illustrative of who Dee Gordon is as a person, which is itself inextricably linked to who he is as a baseball player.

Dee is a player who gives all of himself to the game. He is wholly invested in his performance and his team’s performance. Most players don’t take their slumps this hard.

Most players also don’t do this after a catch in the outfield.

Or act like weirdos after they slide into third base.

Or do... whatever this is.

Most players, and most people, don’t do any of those things. Most players seem to fall into the same unconscious routines that many of us are guilty of in our lives. It’s not a phenomenon unique to baseball — or sports — but it does seem more prevalent in baseball than other sports. With so much time between each play, the mind is allowed more time to manufacture each moment. There’s nothing wrong with it — it’s part of being a person. What Dee has done, though, is give us raw, un-manufactured moments. He is more willing than most to show us, and sometimes revel in, the joy and despair intrinsic to personhood. Ever so often, he reminds us that fully committing to living sometimes allows us to experience something so special that it seems unreal.

Do I wish Dee had been more successful over the past two years? Of course I do. As we enter 2020, and the Mariners seem all but assured to miss the playoffs for the 19th straight year, Dee’s best-case scenario from a baseball perspective is probably recouping just enough value to get back a fringe prospect in a trade — if the Mariners keep on most of his salary.

But it isn’t just about that. If I’d relied solely upon good performance and considering only the “baseball perspective” to sate my baseball appetite, I would have starved by now. The Mariners haven’t made it easy. It’s the clubhouse culture and individual personalities of the people batting and pitching that have kept me from feeling like I’m an automaton rooting for laundry. For the last two seasons, Dee has been at the forefront of that culture.

Mariners baseball has helped save me from life, and Dee Gordon has helped save me from Mariners baseball. So maybe we’ll get our fringe prospect for Dee at the deadline. Maybe not. My best-case scenario is that Dee keeps reminding me what’s important.