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Ballot 32: Freddy Sanchez

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Freddy Sanchez

Played 10 years for three different teams

Three-time All-Star with .297 lifetime average and 1,012 hits. 15.8 WAR, 4.8 WAA

Pro argument: Won a batting title!

Con argument: No, that’s not much of an argument.

Deserves to be in Hall?: No

Will get elected this year?: No

Will ever get elected?: No

Freddy Sanchez is still just 38 years old. He has to be one of the youngest players to ever appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. His career was cut short by back and shoulder injuries that never quite recovered, though he refused to give up. Sanchez’s last game was June 10, 2011 — he started and  lined a single off Travis Wood in the third and dislocated his shoulder in the fifth diving for a Brandon Phillips ground ball. He was 33 years old.

He refused to retire until December 2015. He just kept hoping.

Sanchez was a nice player. He did have that batting title in 2006, and he really did hit ropes all season. He hit .344 with a league-leading 53 doubles that year. He did that for a 95-loss Pirates team that scored the fewest runs in the National League.

Let’s pause on that for a minute because special attention should be paid to those players who manage to have excellent years for terrible baseball teams. I’ve written this before, but I think the argument that there’s more pressure on players in a pennant race is bunk. Having been around teams in pennant races, it’s clear to me that without exception the players are much looser than on a bad team. They’re having fun. They’re confident.

I’m not saying it’s easy to play your best on a good team. Baseball isn’t easy.

I’m saying it’s A LOT EASIER to play your best on a good team.

The harder thing is playing your best on a terrible team, with half-empty stands, with teammates wanting out, with the manager on edge and the hot seat, with today’s game meaning absolutely nothing and tomorrow’s game meaning even less, with it always seemingly  two outs and nobody on base when you get to the plate.

See, the thing that we mortals so often confuse with pressure — tie score, late innings, men on base, game on the line — is the dream of almost every young player, the very REASON they got into the game, the moment they have prepared for since they first picked up a bat or a ball.

Nobody, though, dreams about playing out the string in Pittsburgh. Again.

Freddy Sanchez was drafted by Boston in the 11th round when he was closing in on 23 — he’d had an odyssey of an amateur career, playing at Glendale Community College, Dallas Baptist University and Oklahoma City University. Sanchez was born with a clubbed foot; much of his childhood was spent in painful therapy. Doctors had not been sure he would ever walk again … for him to become an elite athlete is a marvelous story.

And Sanchez flat hit when he got his minor league chance, so much so that he moved his way into the top of the Red Sox minor league prospect list along with guys like Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis and so on. The Red Sox dealt him to Pittsburgh at the deadline in 2003 to get Jeff Suppan, who was pitching well (until he got to Boston).

After that, Sanchez played through five meaningless Pittsburgh seasons, losing 94 or 95 games every years. And though he was only a batting champion once, he was a useful player throughout, hitting right around .300, playing a good second and third base, making three All-Star teams, staying relatively healthy.

After he was traded to San Francisco, he was again a useful player but this time for a winner — he played more or less every day for the 2010 Giants team that won the World Series. He didn’t do anything exceptionally well that year but he hit .292 with light power, played a league-average second base, and as the saying goes, average players help the ballclub.

No, it’s not entirely clear why Freddy Sanchez was included on the Hall of Fame ballot while similarly useful players like Aaron Rowand and Julio Lugo were left off. I guess it was that batting title, and the sad fact that his career ended too soon.

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23 Responses to Ballot 32: Freddy Sanchez

  1. invitro says:

    From wikipedia: “Sanchez was born with a severely pigeon-toed left foot and a club right foot, and his parents had received an initial medical prognosis that he might never walk. After seeking specialized medical attention through the Children’s Orthopaedic Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, he underwent surgery to correct his foot problems at 13 months, and then had to undergo years of physical therapy before he could walk properly.”

  2. TIL Jose Rijo got a vote in 2001, at age 36, then unretired and went back on the ballot in 2008.

  3. Donald A. Coffin says:

    And Javier Vasquez couldn’t get on the ballot?

  4. Rob Smith says:

    I agree that playing for a losing team is harder than playing in meaningful high stress games. I’ve played for bad teams and championship teams. When you’re chasing a championship, you looked forward to every game, sometimes losing sleep anticipating a big game. You relish the opportunity to bat with runners on late in the game or pitch the last inning against the heart of the order. Stressful, nerve wracking….and exiting…and FUN. And larger than average crowds show up and are passionately rooting and complaining to the umps. Every player wants this. You look at your stats at the end of the year and realize you had an elite season. How was I THAT good, you wonder.

    Playing for a losing team with no shot at anything is not fun. You are annoyed that you have to drag yourself to another game and actively look forward to the end. Nobody comes to the games and even parents find reasons to miss the game. At the end of the year you look at your stats and wonder how you played so poorly. Years later you come across artifacts from that season and wonder how that season went so wrong and disbelieve that your stats were really that bad.

    There’s nothing better than playing for a winner and nothing worse than playing for a loser. This is true anytime after about 8 years old. The trophy and cake kids have long since left the scene. Those remaining are playing to win. I coached baseball and find this still true today. My sons both threw their participation trophies in the trash and kept their championship trophies and individual awards. The kids still know what’s meaningful and what’s useless trash.

  5. Gene says:

    The guy won a batting title, something he’ll look back on proudly in his old age. Of course, in the spirit of the 21st century it is absolutely necessary that, instead of celebrating that fact, we must immediately make a snarky remark about the who-cares-its-a-batting-title to demonstrate our disapproval of the dude’s walk rate.

    I prefer to put myself in Sanchez’ shoes and think of all the fun he had compiling his 200 hits and 53 doubles, and how much more fun he had that year than some other guy who had the same number of PAs and walked 50 more times, but had 40 fewer hits–40 fewer fun THWACKS when he barreled up a ball and drove a line drive over an infielder’s head.

    • Tiana says:

      You are totally correct.

    • invitro says:

      Let’s see… Carlos Beltran had 617 PA in 2006 for the Mets. That’s 15 fewer PA than Sanchez. Beltran had a big 95 walks, 64 more than Sanchez. But Beltran isn’t the hitter Sanchez is, so he had only 140 hits, 60 fewer THWACKS than Freddy. Beltran compiled up 38 doubles, a far cry from Freddy, but at least he wasn’t totally useless as he was leading the Mets to 97 wins, a sweep of the Dodgers in the LDS, and a narrow loss to the Cards in the NLCS. While Freddy’s Pirates were losing 95 games. But you’re positive that Freddy had much more fun than Carlos.

      You know, I think you’re full of horse manure.

      • invitro says:

        I would be remiss if I didn’t add that I am thrilled to see that my current favorite team, the Astros, just signed Beltran! Adding to other newcomers Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, and Nori Aoki. I can’t wait until Opening Day… it feels like 1982 all over again!

      • vtmike says:

        You are positive that you are smarter than everyone, and feel compelled to respond to every post with your own condescending horse manure. The guy said “I prefer to think Freddy had more fun hitting singles”. Why does that need any response at all?

        • Karyn says:

          Gene got on his high horse about OBP.

        • invitro says:

          All right… I know I can be kind of a loudmouth. What about “I think it’s silly to think that Freddy had more fun than Carlos Beltran, who…” Would that have been better?

        • Pat says:

          vtmike, you may not have been in these comments section long (I don’t recognize the handle, but I would’ve been unlikely to)… let’s just say invitro’s, um, a sort of unique feature on this blog. And one that doesn’t necessarily need any additional attention.

  6. birtelcom says:

    2005 through 2007, most WAR (average of b-ref and fangraphs versions) by NL second basemen:
    1. Chase Utley 22.2
    2. Freddy Sanchez 10.4
    3. Jeff Kent 7.4
    4. Orlando Hudson 6.5
    5. Dan Uggla 5.7

  7. David Benbow says:

    Really nice article about an athlete whose career was cut short…or was it? By that I mean, who would have thought a boy with a club foot would grow up to be a professional athlete, playing a game and a position where speed and agility are critical, making millions of dollars, making 3 All Star teams and winning a batting title. Instead of his career being cut short, maybe it was a career that never should have been, but was.

    • invitro says:

      Sometimes it seems that some people think that any player who wasn’t a regular at age 38 had his career cut short :).

      • Patrick says:

        Sanchez’s career ended in the middle of his age-33 season (during which he played in 60 of 64 possible games to that point) because of an injury. So in his case it is accurrate

  8. shagster says:

    My son and I went to Giants fan day at stadium in 2011, the day for fans to meet players shortly before players report to spring training. When they opened the field, my 6 year old scampered quickly out onto the outfield grass looking for uniformed players to sign his baseball. He got to Freddy first. “Are you Buster Posey?” “No, but he’s a friend. I play …”. “I’m looking for Buster”, and quickly took off again. I looked sheepishly at Freddy, and he laughed. “It’s ok. I get that a lot.” Freddy’s a hero in our book, and in our family’s HOF.

  9. RC says:

    Actually, I think Freddy should get in based simply on the fact that he had a very substantial physical disability in a part of the body that is so tied to the game (footwork), and yet he made it to the majors and had a significantly better than average career. To me, that is more impressive, and deserving of honor, than the stats supporting a good number of current Hall members. That would be a plaque that would provide both a lesson and inspiration. Of course I also thought one-handed pitcher Jim Abbot should have won SI’s Sportsman of the Year in 1993 when he pitched his perfect game….I’m just that kind of guy.

    By the way Joe, I LOVE you. Some of your columns (must recently the one about the picture with Vin, Kareem, Michael and Bruce) are simply exquisite. Thanks.

    • Karyn says:

      I think there could easily be a display in the Hall of Fame regarding players who overcame significant physical impairments to play in the major leagues. Sanchez and Abbot could be centerpieces of such a display. Their fortitude and perseverance are remarkable, and should be honored.

      That doesn’t mean either deserves enshrinement as members.

  10. Rick Rodstrom says:

    What is it about Pirate players and batting titles? The Pirates have won batting titles 25 times. The Yankees with all their great hitters have 9.

  11. Robert says:

    Freddy Sanchez was a fine ballplayer, and a fine man. His courage and determination in overcoming a significant handicap was remarkable and I salute him for it.

    I have been to the Hall of Fame several times. In all of my travels I have found no place which generates the same sense of awe and reverence. It is my favorite place on earth.

    In all humility, I must bring myself to remark that I feel that it is marginally disrespectful to the greatest of the great who are enshrined in the Hall to suggest that Mr. Sanchez has earned a place among them. Surely, in doing so, we are crossing the demarcation line between recognizing the achievements of the very good and the achievements of the truly great.

    I honestly do not believe that he has earned the honor of being on the 2016 ballot.

    • Karyn says:

      Oh, he earned being on the ballot. He was in the majors for more than ten seasons, won a batting title, and was a three-time All Star. That deserves a spot on the ballot for one year.

  12. Brad says:

    I am a Red Sox fan and ugh, the Sanchez trade was awful. I remember it pretty well. Initially the Red Sox had traded reliever Brandon Lyon and minor leaguer Anastacio Martinez to the Pirates for Scott Sauerbeck (the best lefty reliever available, until coming to Boston), and minor leaguer Mike Gonzalez (who would go on to have some decent seasons). But Lyon was apparently hurt. So Boston, who were interested in Jeff Suppan, sent Gonzalez back along with Freddy Sanchez for Suppan and the return of Lyon and Martinez. In essence, they traded Sanchez for Sauerbeck and Suppan. But that trade worked out poorly for Boston as Sanchez turned into a useful player, and Sauerbeck and Suppan were BOTH left off the postseason roster. And Boston continued to have trouble finding a second-baseman until 2007 with Dustin Pedroia.

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