Former Padres second baseman and shortstop David Eckstein is done. He’s decided to retire rather than fight through a minor league contract for another shot on a Major League team. Or maybe he’s not depending on who you believe. Ken Rosenthal says Eckstein is not yet hanging them up. If he does retire he leaves behind a legacy of pure guts. He was never meant to play professional baseball. He was always too small, too scrawny. He was not your normal profile of what a Major League player was supposed to be. And he didn’t care.
For two seasons, Eckstein scrapped and played his way through adversity in San Diego. He suffered through an 87 loss team on his way to being the team leader for the 90-win Padres in 2010. Eckstein made Bud Black put him in games. He was not necessarily the go-to guy at first glance, but his heart carried him through and firmly cemented his place in the lineup card.
Eckstein will have retired after spending ten seasons in the big leagues. He played for the Angels, the Cardinals, the Blue Jays, the Diamondbacks, and the Padres. But I will always remember him with the Padres. Eckstein did not play in 2011 and was hoping to mount a comeback in 2012, but the opportunity just wasn’t there. In a career full of opportunities created by hard work and dedication, Eckstein’s time was limited. He did more than most can ever say in a lifetime. He put together an impressive Major League career.
In San Diego, Eckstein played in 252 games. He hit .262/.323/.330 during that time. With age and playing time a factor, Eckstein provided above replacement level talent for the Padres. He accounted for 1.2 wins in 2010 alone. But that was not Eckstein’s legacy. His legacy was in his leadership.
Any clubhouse he stepped into, Eckstein became an instant leader. Players turned to him for guidance, listened to him when he spoke, and leaned on him when things were tough. If there were a statistic for intangibles, Eckstein surely would have won the award many times over.
In 2011, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times succinctly noted, “Much of David Eckstein’s value goes well beyond statistics — his grit and desire, his knowledge of and instincts for the game, his clubhouse leadership, his willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the team by advancing runners with ground-ball outs.”
If ever there were evidence of a player’s key leadership quality, it was in the void left behind in San Diego after the 2010 season. The team hoped to replace that veteran leadership with Orlando Hudson, but the effect was the opposite. Eckstein was able to rally a team that had no business being in a play-off hunt and make them believe they belonged.
Even with the team mired in a ten-game losing streak, Eckstein found a way to contribute. Aside from his positive attitude and motivational ways, Eckstein hit a sacrifice fly to help the Padres finally muster up a win and break the streak. The damage of course was done by that point, but there is little doubt that without clubhouse leadership like Eckstein’s the entire Padres team never would have recovered and would not have still be competing for a postseason spot to the very last day in 2010.
David Eckstein’s retirement (if he is in fact done) comes as no shock. Teams don’t place the type of emphasis on intangibles as they do slash-lines and production at the plate. In 2010, while still technically un-retired, Eckstein’s brother Rick told the LA Times, “David has been a great attribute to baseball for 10 years. He brings a certain element to every team he’s been a part of, and at some point, what he brings, people don’t see it as a value. So, he’s decided [he won't play].”
The decision, while maybe not made official in 2011, may have been made official this year. Eckstein will always be viewed as a gamer. He will always have one of the biggest hearts in all of baseball. He was tough. He will be missed in San Diego and across baseball.