They Won't Go Away

One of the most lamented sights in sports is the player who doesn't know when to quit and move on with his life.  Many are the stories of the great Willie Mays fumbling around the Mets outfield and looking like a former shadow of himself at the plate in his final season.  Those who only saw Cal Ripken's final year won't understand how great a player he once was, streak or otherwise.  Although this last gasp to defy Father Time did not dim their legacy in my eyes, it was still hard to watch.  Every year, this hard game pushes the truly great and the nearly great out with no compunction.  This year, two such players are trying to force their way back in.

Rickey Henderson is the greatest lead-off hitter of all-time.  It's been several years since he was an offensive force of nature, but even last year he was a productive major leaguer with the Red Sox, getting on base 37% of the time and hitting 5 homers and stealing 8 bases in just 179 at bats.  Now he is toiling in the Independent Leagues hoping (and deserving) to get another year in the big leagues.  He's playing with the Newark Bears for now and if you never saw him play in his prime, I urge you to go see him now because this is how much better than most players he once was.  Currently, he's hitting .362 with an on base near .500, still hitting for power and stealing bases.  Rickey thinks the 43-year old Rickey is the best player in the Atlantic League and Rickey'd probably be right.  But that doesn't mean that the major league GMs have forgiven Rickey for all the antics and tantrums he subjected them to over the years.  Deserving or not, it's likely that his hopes of one last season in the majors will get nothing but bad news while he's with the Bears.  I hope I'm wrong but burned bridges are hard to rebuild.

Lima-time, however, is coming to a major league city near you.  The emotional and demonstrative Jose Lima, who won 21 games with the Astros in 1999, is back in the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals after a stint on that same Newark Bears team.  Lima was going ballistic against independent league competition, posting a 6-1 record and 2.33 ERA in 8 starts.  A further breakdown of his numbers shows that in 54 innings, he allowed just 49 baserunners (5 via walks) while striking out 52 batters.  A performance that dominating opens the door for optimism that he might still be an effective starter in the big leagues.  However, the dark shadow of the home run that pushed him out of the majors - 95 in his last 430 innings - followed him to Newark.  He gave up 4 in a league that might not qualify as single-A competition.  But if his first start in Kansas City is any indication, he might be able to stay a while in the majors.  His line shows that he gave up a homer and 4 earned runs and only struck out one batter in 6 innings work.  But the homer was a solo shot off the bat of Barry Bonds (and who hasn't given up a bomb to Bonds?) and 2 of the runs that scored were due to poor outfield defense.  As for the low strikeout total, the Giants are one of the toughest teams to strike out, so a low strikeout total wasn't really a surprise.  Will "Lima" once again mean "major league pitcher"?   I guess it depends on what your definition of "major league pitcher" is.  If you mean a return to the same form he had when he won 20 games, then no way.  He throws too many pitches that have home run written all over them to post an ERA less than 4.00.  But can he keep enough hitters off the bases to be a serviceable innings eater like he was in 2001 with the Tigers?  Yes, I believe it's that Lima-time again.