If Torri Hunter is considered the President, Mike Cameron is certainly the Vice President. Hunter has long had the nickname because of his perennially smiling face. Cameron has always been the same way. During a career that spanned 17 seasons, Cameron played the game hard, and he played the game with a smile. He was often the fan favorite in the cities he played. Like a politician on the campaign trail, Cameron just got people to like him. And he had a pretty solid major league career to boot.
Many people know Cameron for one of two things; He was the player traded to Seattle when Ken Griffey Jr. came to Cincinnati, and he had his face shattered into a million pieces courtesy of a dive and Carlos Beltran‘s head. Those are two moments that have been imbedded in the memories of most. Alongside fantastic diving catches, three gold gloves, an All-Star appearance, and success many can only dream of, Cameron’s two most memorable moments shaped his 17 big league years.
The trade to Seattle made Cameron a well-known, if not a household, name. It wasn’t the fact that he was 6th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1997. It wasn’t that he hit 21 home runs with Cincinnati in 1999. It was the simple fact that Cameron was to replace the great Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle. And he did an admirable job of it. In four seasons with the Mariners, Cameron hit .256/.350/.448 with 87 home runs. His defense shined as well while replacing an icon of a center fielder in Griffey. Cameron won two of his three gold gloves while in Seattle, and in his final two years as a Mariner, he had UZR’s of 11.8 and 19.6 respectively.
In a moment that had very little to do with his ability to play, Cameron suffered a terrible injury in a collision with Carlos Beltran. With the Mets in 2005, Cameron and Beltran were diving for a ball in center field. Neither saw the other. The result was a horrific collision in which Beltran’s head shattered Cameron’s face. Cameron had multiple fractures to his nose and orbital bones. He required surgery to repair the fractures. The collision was shown over and over again. Two outfielders, like flying super heroes, were suspended in air in an attempt for a sinking line drive. But they never saw each other. Their dives were such that their faces met perfectly. No softening of the blow by a glove or a shoulder or a chest. The impact was face to face. Cameron missed the rest of the season, playing in a grand total of 76 games that year.
While the incident involving Beltran was memorable in the way a car wreck attracts attention, it ultimately led to Cameron coming to the Padres. The collision actually took place on the Petco Park’s grass in a game against the Padres. Cameron, who wasn’t able to play again for the Mets, was traded in the offseason that year for Xavier Nady to the Padres. As with most places he went, Cameron became a fan favorite.
His smile, his hustle, and his leadership were the qualities that endeared him to fans. Even despite a failed drug test, one that indicated he had taken some sort of stimulant and resulted in a 25-game suspension, fans loved him. He did not return to San Diego after the failed drug test, but did go on to play four more years.
While in San Diego, Cameron hit .255/.341/.456 with 43 home runs. The expansive Petco Park did little to reduce Cameron’s numbers. While his numbers may not have been eye popping, they were right in line with his career averages. Cameron helped the Padres to a division title in 2006 and an impressive run in 2007 cut short by blown saves and the Colorado Rockies. He was worth 6.9 WAR in his two seasons as a Padre, something the team could surely use now.
Cameron, who was recently signed to a minor league contract by the Washington Nationals, is calling it a career. With 1700 hits, 278 home runs, and a career OPS+ of 105, he can be proud of what he’s accomplished. Most now acknowledge Cameron as an underrated player during his prime. His sparkling defense, his speed, and his power made him a guy just about any team was willing to take a chance on. Thus the eight different teams he played on in his career.
Cameron finishes his career with a .248/.338/.444 triple-slash and 46.7 WAR. But beyond the numbers, Cameron will always be known as a likable guy, a guy Padres fans still love. With the baseball knowledge he possesses, I doubt this is the last we’ll see of Cameron in some form or another in the game.