By In Stuff

Ballot 29: Orlando Cabrera

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Orlando Cabrera

Played 15 years for nine different teams

Lifetime .272 average with 2055 hits and 459 doubles. 21.4 WAR, -5.2 WAA

Pro argument: Got 2,000 hits and won two Gold Gloves.

Con argument: He wasn’t a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Deserves to be in Hall?: No

Will get elected this year?: No

Will ever get elected?: No

* * *

He had a lot of nicknames. They called him O-Cab and O-Dog and O.C. Through the years, the O-Dog got himself into a lot of stuff. Cabrera was the last out of David Cone’s perfect game. He was a key figure in Boston’s’ first championship in a billion years. He hit a key home run in the one-game playoff against Detroit in 2009. He somehow hit .340 with two home runs in 50 plate appearances against Greg Maddux. He got his 2,000th hit at Yankee Stadium. And so on.

He also made more than $50 million in the Major Leagues.

It takes great skill and physical will to play shortstop in the Major Leagues. A couple of weeks ago, you might have seen that Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo won the Platinum Glove, which is supposed to go to the best overall fielder in the National League. This, in a word, is ludicrous. Rizzo is a superb defensive first baseman, but it is not possible for a first baseman to be the best defensive player in the league. As the old joke goes:

Q: What do you call a great athlete and defender playing first base?

A: An outfielder.

To put Rizzo ahead of the best shortstops is, in my opinion, to fundamentally misunderstand the game. It is to misunderstand how much harder it is to play shortstop (and second … and third … and center … and catcher) … and how much more good you will do at those other positions.

Cabrera was a good defensive shortstop for many, many years. He really was something of a freak that way. In 2008, as a 33-year-old, he played 161 games at shortstop for the White Sox and was GOOD. That’s absurd. There are only five shortstops in baseball history who, after the age of 33, played 160 games at shortstop. Cabrera is the only one of the five to do it twice. He was an athletic marvel.

Players with the most seasons of 160-plus games at shortstop:

1. Cal Ripken, 11

2. Orlando Cabrera, 5

(tie) Miguel Tejada, 5

4. Leo Cardenas, 4.

(tie) Zoilo Versalles, 4

For the most part, Cabrera was limited offensively but, as mentioned, he pecked out 2,000 hits and hit as many as 17 homers in a season. He hit more doubles in his career than more than 100 Hall of Famers, including Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins. He stole 216 bases in his career too.

Of course, his grandest moment came in 2004 when he came over to Boston in a four-team trade. He hit .294 and slugged .465 the rest of the way, solidified the Red Sox infield … and the Yankees could not get him out in the American League Championship Series.

Michael Schur remembers Cabrera:

“Most important pickup of 2004. Played out of his mind for two months. Made up awesome handshakes for everyone on the team and changed clubhouse. Diving catch of ARod’s low line drive in 10th inning of game 5 with runner on 2nd saved the game. Hit like a maniac in postseason.

“Roberts, Foulke, Ortiz, Schuling get all the press but Cabrera was a massive part of that run.”

The Red Sox did dump him after the season, replacing Cabrera with another Colombian shortstop, Edgar Renteria who, coincidentally, is also on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.

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19 Responses to Ballot 29: Orlando Cabrera

  1. Jaack says:

    Of the six players listed so far, three of them played their last game with the 2011 Giants.

  2. Paul White says:

    As a Red Sox fan, of course I remember his brief stay with the team. What I remember more is that when he returned for the first time as an opponent in 2005, he was given a standing ovation during his first at bat and had to step out of the box to wipe away tears before he could continue. Love that guy.

  3. Ajnrules says:

    In before BR Donald A. Coffin

    And Javier Vazquez couldn’t get on the ballot?

    I was surprised when Orlando Cabrera got his 2,009th hit. I always saw him as a good field no hit type player but he did have some offensive value. He also never walked and didn’t have much power after he turned 30. Still, 2,000 hits! I honestly believe Jim Edmonds would have gotten 5% last year if he had 2,000 hits.

    • Donald A. Coffin says:

      Grin.

    • Llarry says:

      While I agree with the sentiment, are we absolutely *sure* there isn’t some sort of technicality pushing Vazquez’ eligibility back to next year?

      Maybe he filled out his retirement paperwork with the wrong hand, or snuck into a game the next year in the back of Bartolo Colon’s jersey?

  4. C.Taffe says:

    The more underrated 2004 play was the great catch and throw (on Speedy Fighins) to end top of 10th for D.Lowe against the Angels w runner on 3rd. Saved D.Lowe mentally by letting him get the W when Ortiz went yard and DLowe obviously kept momentum going in relatively solid ALCS and WS starts

    Everyone outside of JP should thank the OC.

  5. Rick Malwitz says:

    In the trade that brought him to the Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra was sent to the Cubs. He replaced a potential Hall of Famer who’d worn out his welcome in the Fens.

  6. Rob Smith says:

    I hear announcers pontificate on the difficulties of playing 1st base and yammer on about how great Freddie Freeman or Anthony Rizzo or someone like that is. I played a lot of positions in my life. Shortstop is impossible to play if you’re not incredibly quick with soft hand and a great arm. I was a lousy shortstop. 3rd base is impossible to play if you don’t have impossibly quick reflexes, soft hands, a great arm and a fearless mentality. I was a lousy 3rd baseman.

    1st base does require intelligence to know to keep everything in front of you and the willingness to throw your body in front of hard hit balls. You have to practice digging balls and work on footwork around the base. But it’s not hard. You rarely need to throw and if you knock a ball down you’ll generally have time to get an out. A 1st baseman should never be considered the best defensive player in the league. That’s laughable. A great 1st baseman is really nice. But an adequate 1st baseman is more than fine. Adequate shortstops don’t last long. They learn to play a lot of positions to stay in the league as a utility player.

  7. AndyL says:

    The 160-plus games at shortstop stat seems like cherry-picking as there are a number of shortstops who have more 150+ or 155+ games at the position. That said, as Joe suggests, Cabrera had a very solid, terrific career — like all of the players who are on the ballot. They are prime evidence of just how difficult it is to put up the stats to be even considered for the HOF, let alone to have a legitimate shot at the sport’s ultimate honor. Cabrera is obviously not in the class of the greats (Wagner, Ripken, Banks etc.) or the next level (Smith, Larkin, Jeter, Trammel etc.) but he is 32nd in games played at the position, sandwiched around players who, like Cabrera, evoke distinct memories and who had careers they should be immensely proud of: Bert Campaneris, Larry Bowa, Alfredo Griffin, Chris Spier, Ozzie Guillen, Greg Gagne, Bill Russell, Gary Temoleton.

    • JHench says:

      Certainly was hard to have those 155+ game seasons prior to 1961.

      Of course, that’s 50+ years ago now, so I guess there’s been ample opportunity for people to do it since…

  8. invitro says:

    There oughta be a law against putting below-average players on the ballot. Ho hum you below average kids get offa my lawn now.

    • Johnny P says:

      Cabrera, while not a HOFer, was a great and underrated player. Compared to historical standards, he should be on the ballot.

  9. jdn says:

    On the Sons of Sam Horn message board for Red Sox fans, a user called Cabrera Era started the game thread for game 4 of the ALCS, when the Yankees were up 3-0, and all seemed over. SoSH has a rule, that if the Sox win the game, the same person starts the next game thread, so Cabrera Era went on to start all the rest of the postseason, since the Sox never lost again in 2004.
    Of course, they lost the season opener of 2005 without Cabrera, so the streak came to an end, but it was cool to watch at the time.

  10. nightfly says:

    I love how the card has a small silhouette in the corner of the same picture of Cabrera that makes up the rest of the front. Apparently Topps did that for every card in the 2004 set… including the traded players set that came out later, so if you go here and scroll down, you get to see the much different silhouette they used for Cabrera with the Sawx.

  11. poscastfan says:

    Never understood what the Redsox management saw in Edwin Encarnacion to offer him that 4 year contract, when Cabrera had played so well down the stretch in 2004 and through the Post-Season.
    But, there again, I’ve never been able to convincingly wear a gorilla suit.

  12. Marco says:

    If the best shortstop is 25% better than the average shortstop and the best first baseman is 50% better than the average first baseman, I have no problem naming that first baseman the best defender in the league.

    • MarkWIDX says:

      But that’s the same argument people use to boost relievers for Cy Young/MVP/HOF. What if the thing he does is by definition 50% less valuable/difficult? The average 1B includes plenty of guys who aren’t skilled enough to play other positions; think that’s true for SS?

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