Melvin Mora doing Melvin Mora things for the Baltimore Orioles.
After 13 seasons, Melvin Mora's hanging up his spikes. What do you remember about Mora's career?
We must include the qualifiers because because there's not been an official ceremony, and also because Mora's career might actually have ended last summer when the Arizona Diamondbacks released him. Mora's end was ignominious, as so many are. One year ago, he signed a one-year, $2.35 million contract to play third base for the Diamondbacks. But he lost his job to Ryan Roberts, and before long his roster spot, too.
He was 39. These things happen.
You gotta hand it to the guy, though - He spent most of 13 years in the Major Leagues, which is probably eight or nine years longer than a lot of people expected.
Sometimes a player retires after a goodly career and you don't remember much about him at all.
That's not Melvin Mora. For as long as I'm cogent, when Melvin Mora comes to mind I will remember July 13, 2000.
Mora was in Fenway Park, playing shortstop for the New York Mets.
So was I.
Not playing shortstop for the Mets. But I was in Fenway Park. Grandstand. Section 30. Row 13. Seat 18.
The Red Sox were in the middle of a three-team battle, with the Yankees and Blue Jays, for first place in the American League East. The Mets were trailing the Braves in the National League East, but leading in the Wild Card standings.
Pedro Martinez started for the Sox, so the game was an event. And he pitched sort of brilliantly, striking out 10 Mets and walking just one in seven innings, allowing two runs. But Pedro got lifted after throwing 104 pitches, and in the eighth inning Lance Cormier got touched for an unearned run, thanks for Carl Everett's error in center field.
That made the score 3-2, and it was still 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. With Mets closer Armando Benitez on the mound, Jason Varitek led off with an easy ground-out. Ed Sprague was due next, but Ed Sprague was finished and Scott Hatteberg -- who was on his way to being a movie star, sort of -- came through with a pinch walk.
Which brought up Jose Offerman. Which gives me a chance to repeat an old joke, from earlier in Offerman's career, when he played shortstop...
How do you spell Offerman?
I don't know. How?
See, because when Offerman played shortstop for the Dodgers he made a lot of errors.
Offerman hit a ground ball right to shortstop Melvin Mora. Easy double play. Game over.
Except Mora fumbled the ball, and didn't have any play at all.
Jeff Frye followed with an easy fly to center. Two outs.
Anybody remember Brian Daubach? In 2000, Brian Daubach often batted third for the Boston Red Sox, and Morgan Burkhart often batted fifth. Yeah, some things have changed.
Daubach lined a fastball over Derek Bell in right field, and the ball just stuck under the padding out there. Pinch-runner Manny Alexander jogged home, and Offerman sprinted home with the winning run.
The fans went nuts, of course. Hell, I went a little nuts. But I wasn't so nuts that I didn't keep an eye on Mora, who looked utterly crushed. At that moment, I was sure that he wouldn't ever become a decent shortstop in the majors, and I was pretty sure he wouldn't last long in the majors at all.
Melvin Mora was tougher than I thought. Less than 24 hours later, he hit a two-run homer in the Mets' 6-4 win.
Granted, he never did become a good shortstop. In fact, the Mets were so disgusted by his defense that two weeks later they traded him and three prospects to the Orioles for Mike Bordick, a real shortstop. And with the help of Bordick, the Mets wound up in the World Series.
But in Baltimore, Mora found his niche; first as a super-utility player, and later as an every-day third baseman. He made a couple of All-Star teams, and in 2004 he somehow led the American League with a .419 on-base percentage and slugged .562.
If you look at Mora's career, his 2003 and '4 seasons look like another, better hitter took over for a couple of years. He never did anything like that before, or after.
Still, 13 seasons. I should forget the stupid error, and remember Melvin Mora for all the wonderful things he did later.