Skip Schumaker was never a very important Cardinal. The former fifth round pick in the 2001 amateur draft was a career .290/.354/.385 hitter in 2,959 plate appearances in the minor leagues, and to date, he’s a career .288/.345/.377 hitter in 2,687 plate appearances in the major leagues. In short, he’s been the same unexciting player he is now for his entire professional career, and there was never reason to project any more out of him than he’s provided. He’s never made a lot of money or won any awards, and his career WAR total according to FanGraphs (we stopped going to Forbes for WAR, so get over it, okay?) is a mere 5.6.
So why are we dedicating an entire post to such a non-pivotal piece of the Cardinal franchise? Why didn’t we write up something similar in the Blake Hawksworth deal, which incidentally was the last time the Cardinals traded a player to the Dodgers for a middle infielder with no talent? What’s the difference? Well, firstly, StanGraphs didn’t exist yet when Hawksworth was traded, smart guy, but even if we had been around, we wouldn’t have written anything about it aside from a brief analysis piece. So what’s different about the Schumaker deal? What makes us feel the need to post this little career retrospective of sorts? It’s not because Skip is such a great guy, although — as Brian said yesterday — I’m sure he is, and it’s certainly not because he’s one of our favorite players. No, we’re writing this because, face it, you caught yourself thinking a little about the past when you heard the news, and this is a post about the past.
So you stopped and thought for a moment when you learned Skip was a Dodger. Don’t get me wrong; you went right back to your day afterwards (personally, I was in the middle of baking some delicious brown sugar brownies, and I sure as hell went right back to that), and you weren’t that affected by the news, but you still thought about it. After all, Skip has been around for quite a while, and you’ve gotten used to him. You’re allowed a little nostalgia here. Most of us are pretty simple, actually. If you put us around the same person every day, we’ll find accidental ways to form a bond with him. Maybe it’s not a pleasant bond; maybe it’s one borne out of genuine irritation, or maybe this person simply exasperates and amuses you by displaying a variety of bizarre idiosyncrasies that gradually grow into something endearing. Even in the worst cases, there is always some comfort in familiarity, and even the people you don’t mean to think well of may accidentally begin to charm you in unexpected ways.
As a player, Schumaker just never struck me as especially useful. I know his wRC+ of 97 indicates a player that’s not at all without merit, but his skill set never felt right to me. His bat wasn’t good enough for corner outfield, but his glove wasn’t good enough for middle infield, so he was always stuck somewhere in between. As Brian posited yesterday, he doesn’t have the defensive wizardry to keep around as a utility-man, and make no mistake about it, I never wanted the guy on the team back when he still had to claw his way onto the roster every year and La Russa always obliged him.
Yet Schumaker is not without his charms, and over time, yes, he grew on me. Back when he got on base at a decent clip (2008-2009), I didn’t mind him as the team’s leadoff hitter, even if seeing him in a corner outfield spot made me cringe considering his complete lack of power. This is why I was genuinely hopeful he could be the team’s answer at second when La Russa decided to give that experiment a try before the 2009 season. Schumaker even had his moments for me as a statistically-minded fan. Earlier this year I stumped for Matheny to make him the starter at second, at least against right-handers, where his offensive production was considerably more robust than the other options.
Then there’s the tenure. My God, the tenure! How such an unimportant player can managed to have stuck around so long is beyond me. I was all of 20 years old the first time Skip set foot in a regular season major league baseball game, and there aren’t many Cardinals that feature that kind of longevity. We’re getting into inner circle players when we stretch back that far, guys like Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and… Chris Carpenter. Even Wainwright and Molina were babies back then; the latter was a baby-faced 22-year-old in his first full season after taking over the job previously held by his current boss, while the former was a tall, lanky top prospect struggling to put up the numbers he should have at Triple-A — he would throw only two innings at the major league level that season.
Think about everything that’s happened for those two since that time period. The accolades have piled up; both players have been all-stars, won gold gloves, established themselves as team leaders, and yes, become two of the best in all of baseball at their respective positions. Think of everything that’s happened for the Cardinals as a whole. Three division titles, five trips to the playoffs, two World Series championships, watching the best hitter of this generation depart via free agency. Now think of everything you’ve been through in that same period. If you don’t get a little sentimental thinking back on all the memories in your life that have taken place over the past nearly eight years, what the hell is wrong with you? Schumaker’s departure may not mean much for the 2013 season (he’ll hardly be missed at all on the field), but it should absolutely unleash a tidal wave of nostalgia upon Cardinal Nation, because we’ve been all through a lot together, Skip and us. We can celebrate anyone who’s played for our favorite team for nearly a full decade, and Schumaker deserves recognition for that much.
I could go on about all the baseball related things at this point. I could talk about what every other Cardinal fan thinks of with Skip: how he selflessly threw himself into the second base assignment even though it proved downright embarrassing for him at times, how he grew to become respected immensely within the clubhouse, how he worked tirelessly with Mark McGwire to be a better hitter. All these points are true and worth discussing in their own right, but they aren’t what came to mind when I first learned Schumaker was no longer a member of the Cardinals. From a baseball standpoint, I really couldn’t care less. From a much more complicated emotional standpoint, however, I’m actually quite sad about this development, if only because now I have to look back on the last eight years — and all the baseball filled summers in between — and wonder what the hell happened to them, and how they always manage to go by so damned fast.