One of the best Angels
of the 2000s, Vladimir Guerrero threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Monday. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
On Opening Day, the Angels gave their fans a chance to say goodbye to one of their great players. Vladimir Guerrero, who starred for the team from 2004-2009, signed a one-day contract so that he could retire as a member of the Angels.
Given that Mike Trout is now wearing his 27, retiring Guerrero's jersey number was off the table, but the Halos did have him throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Don Baylor, the only other player in franchise history to win an MVP award. Alas, Baylor apparently suffered a fractured femur and had to be helped off the field:
Signed as a free agent back in January 2004 after spending the first eight years of his major league career with the Expos, Guerrero quickly took a shine to Anaheim and vice versa. He hit .337/.391/.598 with 206 hits, 39 homers and 15 steals in that first season, including a .363/.424/.726 showing with 11 home runs in September. Those numbers helped the Angels overtake the A's to claim the AL West flag, which played no small part in his winning the AL MVP award. He followed that up by earning All-Star honors in each of the next three seasons, placing third in the MVP voting twice, but his play inevitably declined as he reached his mid-30s, and he spent an increasing amount of time as a designated hitter or on the disabled list.
In all, Guerrero hit .319/.381/.546 and averaged 29 homers a year for his time with the Angels, whom he helped reach the playoffs five times in six seasons. The postseason notwithstanding, that's a slight step down from the .323/.390/.588 he hit in Montreal, where he averaged 37 homers over his six full seasons (1998-2003). Once he left Anaheim, he spent one-year stints with the Rangers (2010) and Orioles (2011), making his lone trip to the World Series with the former. He made a brief comeback attempt in the Blue Jays system in 2012, but opted out of his deal when they couldn't find room for him on the big league roster. A planned stint in the independent Atlantic League fell through last year amid family issues, and he finally announced his retirement last September. He finished his career with 449 homers and 2,590 hits, the latter a record for Dominican-born players.
As to why Guerrero chose to retire an Angel, the Orange County Register's Pedro Moura summarized his response via Twitter:
Ouch. It might have taken a bit of creativity, but Guerrero could have held a retirement ceremony at Montreal's Olympic Stadium given that the Blue Jays and Mets just played a two-game exhibition series there in front of more than 90,000 paying customers (in honor of that, I chose an All-Expos team that featured him in rightfield). It would have taken skipping the formality of the one-day contract and jostling for room with the pregame tributes to Gary Carter and the 1994 squad, but it surely would have meant a great deal to the Montreal fans to honor the departed franchise's last great player on his home turf.
Since he last played in the majors in 2011, Guerrero will be eligible for election to the Hall of Fame on the 2017 ballot, one that's certain to be crowded
with other strong candidates including holdovers and fellow newcomers Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez. As noted in the link from last September and here
, I'm of the opinion that he won't waltz in immediately, and could actually face a long wait, but that he'll wind up in Cooperstown eventually.