Friday, February 16, 2007

Keith Foulke

Keith Foulke is hanging them up. Less than a day after arriving at Indians camp, the guy who put the exclamation point on the greatest two-week period of my life decided to retire after ten seasons. He had been talking about this since late last season when Red Sox fans/media were debating whether his option should be picked up. Because he seemed so distant as far back as the 2003-2004 off-season when he was negotiating with Boston and Oakland - even going so far as to say that baseball isn't his favorite sport (hockey is) - I honestly believed that he would retire rather than sign with another team.

So when he signed with Cleveland, it surprised me. It didn't surprise me that he left Boston, not after the fall-out from the "Johnny from Burger King" line (which I thought was hilarious, personally); he got shit on way too much out here. I believed him when he said he wanted to stay close to his Phoenix home, where he has Coyotes season tickets, if he pitched at all in 2007. It made sense, but I guess his agent got in his ear and convinced him to take the best offer he got, regardless of geography. I haven't heard any quotes from him since the announcement, but I assume his heart just wasn't in it to play another season.

I think this is what he wanted from the start, so I'm happy for him. I just wish he could have gone out on a higher note. He was torn apart in Boston for most of 2005 and parts of 2006, which is deplorable considering that he basically forfeited two years of his career to pitch on fumes in Game Six of the 2004 ALCS, and was the real MVP of the World Series. (Coincidentally, most of the underachieving World Series heroes got the same treatment from the fans - Bellhorn, Embree, and Millar stick out.)

He basically did what Curt Schilling did in that playoff run, albeit far less dramatically. He pushed himself beyond his limits, he got the job done against all odds, and then he paid for it down the road. But they won the World Series!!! In the afterglow, everyone (myself included) wanted to build statues of Francona, christen Derek Lowe Avenue, and send the Schilling cadaver to the Smithsonian. These guys could all do no wrong. Until 2005.

Granted, Foulke brought some of it on himself. He probably should have had knee surgery during spring training in '05, which the front office suggested. He pushed himself to come back too quickly, and he paid for it. But still, he gave up his body so his team could survive the Yankee bloodbath and still had enough left to make the mighty Cardinals look silly four times. I could never find it in my heart to boo the guy.

Good luck, Keith. May the Coyotes not suck forever, and may you someday get into the Red Sox hall of fame, so you can come back to Fenway and get the standing O you deserve, once the idiots who ran you out of town put what you did into perspective. And I hope you can spend some of your retirement with Mueller, Leskanic, Reese, and Kapler; the drinks are on me.


Warren said...

Back around 1999 or thereabouts, I had three non-Mets players that I rooted for - Kevin Brown, Jeff Cirillo and Keith Foulke.

I became a Kevin Brown fan because back in 1997 Ross and I had a little prediction contest, and he was my NL Cy Young pick. At that point, I was just regaining my baseball interest (I was totally obsessed as a kid, but kind of lost my way in high school), so I didn't know anything about Brown other than his stat line.

Jeff Cirillo was great at getting on base and was a very good player despite not a lot of power. I remember reading some quote from him about a .400 OBP being better than a .300 average or something and I developed a non-sexual man crush on him.

And Keith Foulke was one of those unheralded middle relievers that pitched more innings with a better ERA than most closers, yet got almost no press (he pitched over 100 innings with an ERA of 2.22 in 1998). He eventually got the closer's job in Chicago, only to lose it 2 years later after just a couple of bad outings. It was pretty obvious to almost everyone except the White Sox it was a mistake, and he ended the year with 2.90 ERA. Then the A's got him for the totally overrated Billy Koch, who had a fastball about 10 MPH faster, but who threw it as straight as an arrow and didn't really have much else. (As an aside, either because straight pitches appear faster or because his windup was forceful - kind of an anti-Rivera - Koch had what looked like the fastest fastball I've ever seen. Clearly that wasn't enough.)

In Foulke's prime (1999-2004), he was comparable to Mariano Rivera, and there's are few better complements you can give a reliever:

Foulke: 26-21, 171 SV, 522 IP, 2.43 ERA
Rivera: 25-21, 252 SV, 421 IP, 2.20 ERA

Foulke threw over 100 more innings than Rivera over those years with a similar ERA.

With all three players, it's hard to separate the memory of their decline from their peak. Brown was one of the most underrated starters of our lifetime, and I think even has a argument for the Hall of Fame, but he'll be best remembered for his big contract and for his terrible job in Game 7 against the Red Sox.

After some nice (but not great) years in Colorado Cirillo had two terrible years in Seattle (.249/.301/.328 and .205/.284/.271). He's had a nice resurgence back in Milwaukee that past couple of seasons.

And as you write, Foulke hasn't had the best time since 2004. He never got along well with the media - he seemed to be one of those players that could "handle" the big city, but just didn't like it. He should be able to look back and be very proud of his career.

I'll miss the palmball - what a great pitch.

Sully said...

Completely unrelated, I always thought Foulke looked a little like Charlie Brown on the mound the way he reared back in his wind-up and held still for a split second before coming forward with his delivery. It wasn't so much a wind-up as just him reaching back and then flinging his arm forward.

And, in the first playoff game I ever attended, the A's tried to get two innings out of him and he coughed up the lead in Game Four of the '03 ALDS to David Ortiz. To that point, I had never seen Fenway that crazy. Thanks for everything, Keith.