Lately, whenever a 40-year old ballplayer announces his retirement after a nearly twenty-year career, they are deluged with gifts and farewells, and days in their honor, and standing ovations for every move they make, right?
Well, not in every case, but the Mets did honor their retiring veteran, Bobby Abreu, allowing him to start the last game of his memorable 18-season career in his familiar rightfield, and he contributed in a familiar way in the Mets 8-3 win over the Houston Astros in the last game of the season.
In a fitting finale, Abreu lined a hard single to left in the fifth, was awarded the ball, the 2,470th and final hit in his career, was recognized by thousands in the stands with a standing O and a sea of white towels waving. The Mets dugout waved their towels, and even some Astros gave him his due, applauding into their gloves as Abreu doffed his helmet and visually thanked the fans.
Eric Young, Jr. was sent in to pinch-run, who first gave Abreu a bear hug, and a gracious former All-Star retired to the dugout for more hugs and kudos. Young later scored on a double by Lucas Duda, adding to the Met lead.
His first manager in the bigs was also his last, Terry Collins, who helmed the Astros when Abreu made his major league debut in 1996. He proudly was at the end of the gauntlet of hugging.
“He was probably a little bit under-appreciated,” Collins told the media, “but when all is said and done, I think the numbers are going to speak for themselves.”
Abreu definitely has the numbers. You could even call him a borderline or debatable Hall of Famer. The native Venezuelan finished with a .291 average in 2,425 games, scoring 1,453 runs, 2,470 hits, 574 doubles, 59 triples, 288 home runs, 1,363 RBIs, 400 stolen bases, and 1,476 walks.
His 162-game average: .291, 165 hits, 97 runs, 38 doubles, 19 homers, and 91 RBIs.
He is one of only four players in major league history with at least 200 home runs, 1,200 walks and 400 stolen bases, and the other members of this little fraternity are quite well-known, with two Hall of Famers in the club – Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, and Joe Morgan.
Abreu is a two-time All-Star (2004-05), a Gold Glove winner (2005), and a Silver Slugger recipient (2004). He batted .300 or better six times, actually led the NL in triples one year (1999) and in doubles with 50 in 2002.
Nicknamed “El Comedulce,” which translates roughly to “the candy-eater,” Abreu led all active major leaguers in career walks with his 1,476 walks and 574 doubles, and was ranked fifth among active players with 1,453 runs scored.
When he announced his retirement prior to the final weekend of the season, Abreu was understandably quite proud and moved by the warm reception.
“I was out (of baseball) for one year (2013), and I was proud of myself that I could make it back,” Abreu told the media. “I’m happy with the way it’s going to end.”
The Candy Man was a big hit in the Mets clubhouse. All of the younger players gravitated toward him and he welcomed their enthusiasm.
“These young guys are special,” Abreu bragged about his young teammates. “Even though I’m 40, they made me feel young.”
Collins recognized he had an extra batting coach in the locker room.
“Bobby has been a positive influence in our clubhouse from day one. He constantly talked to the younger players about hitting and how they can get better. He’s had a long and illustrious career and we are glad he spent part of it in a Mets uniform.”
In one of those frequent baseball coincidences that are attributed to the baseball gods, Abreu played his last game against his first team. The Astros signed Abreu as a 16-year old prospect in his native Venezuela and assigned him to their newly founded Baseball Academy they initiated in his country.
He was the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year when he was called up in ’96, and already, the baseball gods were setting up his career. His first hit was against the Mets, on Sept. 24 of that year, against the formidable hurler Bobby Jones.
At the end of the ’97 season, baseball held and Expansion Draft which welcomed the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays to the majors. Teams could only protect 15 players on their 40-man roster. The Astros chose to protect fellow Venezuelan, and future Met – Richard Hidalgo, exposing Abreu to the newbies.
The Phillies made a back room deal with Tampa Bay. The Devil Rays, as they were known then, selected Abreu, but quickly traded him to Philadelphia for shortstop Kevin Stocker.
Abreu flourished in Philadelphia, where he even won the All-Star game Home Run Derby in 2005. He was a big hit with the community as well. Abreu would spend nearly $10,000 of his own money on Friday night home games, sending underprivileged children to the game on his dime, and treated them with bonus goodies.
In July of 2006, the Phillies traded Abreu to the Yankees for four minor leaguers who never saw the majors, so that did them a lot of good.
For the 2009 season, Abreu became a free agent, and signed with the Angels. He later spent several years with the Dodgers and then went back to the Phillies in January of this year, thinking he would end his career where he had his greatest successes. Only the Phillies released him toward the end of spring training, where the Mets jumped in and was delighted with adding his veteran leadership.
For this season, Abreu ended up getting into 78 games with the Mets, mostly as a pinch-hitter (39 PH appearances), and batted .248, with 33 hits, one home run, nine doubles, and 14 runs batted in. And of course, he walked 20 times, as he was known to have a careful eye around the strike zone.
His final season included stints in the minors (Las Vegas) and being released by the Mets in August (a pure roster move), but he resigned with the team four days later after he cleared waivers.
The lefthanded slugger was one of 321 native Venezuelans to make it to the majors. He wasn’t the first. That honor goes to Alex Carrasquel back in 1939. And Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio also hailed from Venezuela.
Many former Mets called Venezuela home, including Edgardo Alfonzo, Johan Santana, Henry Blanco, Roger Cedeno, Marco Scutaro, original Met Elio Chacon, and current Met Wilmer Flores.
Abreu didn’t retire with the fanfare of a certain shortstop up in the Bronx, but he did retire proudly as a New York Met, and the organization was made that much better by his presence.