A Note On Chone Figgins, Stathead Orthodoxy, and Me

 

I can still remember the first time I saw the name Chone Figgins.

 

It was 2002, and I was living in a weird apartment that was on the second floor of an auxiliary building across the parking lot from a Catholic church. The building had been a small convent once and was now used for offices, meetings, and included a little school, which I think was mostly a daycare. It may not have been a "convent" proper, but in any case, there had once been nuns living there. It wasn't at all Gothic. Instead, the building dated from the middle of the last century, one of those tile floor and square brick dos.

It was in a bad neighborhood. It wasn't Cabrini-Green or West Baltimore, but it wasn't really a place where you wanted to actually hang out at the park. One way of describing it would be this: the grocery store down the street closed at six o'clock, although it was a chain grocery that was typically open late or even continuously in other locations. One time, in what was probably a really stupid move, I gave a guy who approached me at a gas station a ride home. I knew where he wanted to go when he said the street, which stunned him. During our ride this guy started waxing poetically, or drunkenly, about how great America was because people of different backgrounds could be cool.

The church was absolutely gigantic and in its glory days had served a large Eastern European Catholic community that no longer existed. I never attended a Mass that was more than 30% or 40% full. My building was incredibly scary at night, as I had to walk through the entire first floor of the building to get out, and they were pretty thorough about turning off all the lights at the end of the day. Of course no ghost or monster or drifter ever grabbed me from a side room. There were five or six other people who lived in the building with me and they all seemed very weird. It was absolutely the cheapest apartment I have ever rented: two rooms and a bathroom, furnished, for $290 a month.

Anyway, before heading over to a friend's or maybe the library one Sunday night, I did a quick check of ESPN.com. The Red Sox blew a game late to the Angels. On the front page, they had a picture of a dude sliding at home. Typical baseball picture. Only, the caption said that the player scoring was named "Chone Figgins". Chone. Figgins. I kept thinking about the name and later that night I remembering emailing my friends about it. Chone. Just an incredible name. A sublimely stupid name that seemed to be based on a metallic side product. Well after we smelt the copper we collect the excess chone and sell it to a plant down in Mexico. Maybe that's not fair, but that's how I felt about it. I started making Chone one of my standard internet account login names.

Remember, this was 2002. The internet was a different place. Baseball-reference was around, but I didn't know about it, and I don't think it had much on it. As it turned out, that August game at Fenway was Chone's first Major League game. That meant there was nothing on his ESPN or Yahoo page or whatever. Eventually, I found a weird, Geocities-esque fan page that seemed to have been put up by a cousin. It had pictures of Chone in the minors, with great captions like, "Chone hits the ball!" On that page I learned that his name was actually Desmond DeChone Figgins. This made me sad. I liked Chone as Chone, not Chone as bizarre (or inspired) approach to spelling "Sean", already a name that was being spelled about a thousand different ways. That fall, during the playoffs, announcers alternated between pronouncing his name "Chone" and "Sean".

So... I hate the Angels. As a young stathead, I always rooted for the A's. I hated the ways the Angels played and I hated the way their style of play was deified. But I liked Chone... I thought there was no way he could make a career out of his hitting skills (which to my eyes were non-existent). But he did. Which I was happy about. Only, soon after that, people started raving about Chone as part of their old-school baseball religion. In 2004, 2005, and 2007, Chone got down-ballot MVP votes, which I was horrified by.

But things changed. For one, the stathead orthodoxy changed. We started to value defense and baserunning more. For another, very importantly, Chone started to turn into a useful hitter. In his last three seasons, Chone has posted a .301/.386/.382 triple slash line. He's established a good defensive reputation, and in 2009, had a huge (if somewhat unsustainable) defensive season according to UZR. His defensive numbers have gone from iffy to good. I'm no historian of the Angels system, but I'm pretty sure no one had Chone Figgins developing to this extent. Yes, it was silly for John Kruk to famously praise him for his bunting and base-stealing (which he's actually not great at) and for hitting and running. Let's not overlook that. Still, when a guy plays multiple positions well and can post an OBP over .370. Yea, I'm in.

So things change. In 2009, my life is also different in innumerable ways. The days of rent for under $300 dollars a month are gone. I'm more mature now, and I stopped giggling about "Chone" about six years ago. Whatever. Being a stat-inclined fan is also different. This year, I had Chone 5th on my MVP ballot. Yesterday, he reportedly agreed to a $36 million dollar contract and everyone thinks this is more or less a fair price. Crazy.

And now that's going to be a Mariner, we're now setup for Chone's sunset years taking place in Kansas City. Full circle.

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