David Eckstein last appeared in the majors with the Padres in 2010.
Prior to entering relationships, people date for a while, then choose to take the next step with each other. In 2002, I was a 9-year-old dating the game of baseball, and I’m proud to say we’re now happily married with children. During the dating process there were a few particular instances where I remember thinking baseball might be the one. The Angels run to the World Series crown in 2002 was one of those instances.
I grew up in northern New Jersey, in the market of the Yankees, Mets and, to some extent, Phillies. In 2002, the mighty Yankees were the only of those teams in the postseason, and I excitedly spectated as the Yankees took on the (then) Anaheim Angels. At the time, I understood the wild card to be the best of the teams that wasn’t good enough to win a division, which made me think the Yankees were heavy favorites. Today I realize that the Angels were not huge underdogs going into that series, having won 99 games in a division that included the A’s and the Mariners, both excellent teams at the time.
Obviously the Angels took down the Yankees, moved on to pummel the Twins and beat the Giants in seven games after overcoming a 5-0 defecit to win Game 6. Even as a young fan who was really just getting his feet wet in baseball, I was drawn so closely to the game by what I witnessed the Angels do that postseason.
The 2002 Angels were certainly a lovable bunch. They had power in the form of Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus, starting pitching in Washburn and Lackey (just to name a couple), a few fantastic names in Troy Percival, Tim Salmon and Scott Spiezio, and grit in Darin Erstad and David Eckstein.
I could go on and on about the players on that team, but today I’ll focus on Eckstein, whose name has come up in recent rumors. Over the past few days, Eckstein has been said to be retiring, but his representatives have denied that this is the case. Regardless, we’re going to take a look at the career of the former Halos shortstop.
With the 581st pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, the Boston Red Sox selected David Eckstein, a shortstop out of the University of Florida. With his 5’6″ frame, Eckstein went on to draw every cheesy baseball adjective in the book. He was a gritty grinder/gamer with a pesky approach. Eckstein worked his way through the Red Sox system step by step, reaching Triple-A in 2000 before the Angels nabbed him from the waiver wire.
Eckstein debuted for the Halos as a 26-year-old shortstop in 2001 and was immediately an impact player, posting a .285/.355/.357 slash line while finishing fourth in Rookie-of-the-Year voting.
Eckstein was a big part of the Angels success over his four-year span with the team, posting 11.0 WAR (baseball-reference) and playing a part in the team’s run to the World Series crown in 2002.
After the 2004 season Eckstein was not tendered a contract by the Angels (who opted for Orlando Cabrera) and took his game to St. Louis, where he racked up 8.0 more WAR, made two all-star teams and won a World Series MVP in three seasons.
When his stop with the Cardinals was up, Eckstein signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays for the 2008 season, but injury issues prevented him from being the player the Jays were hoping for. As August came to a close, the Jays flipped him to Arizona, where he served as a pinch hitter as the team tried (but failed) to edge out the Dodgers to make the postseason.
After the 2008 season, Eckstein’s days as a shortstop were over and he took the second base job with the Padres. He played in San Diego for two years before becoming a free agent last offseason. Eckstein sat out in 2011, never finding the right opportunity. Rumors that Eckstein was going to retire surfaced this past week, but we still don’t know what the future holds for the 37-year-old. What we do know is that Eckstein was a very good player on a great Angels team.
Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.