In many ways we never deserved Esteban German. And by "we", I mean Major League Baseball fans. His speed, his on-base ability, his positional versatility, his infectious smile, his enthusiastic bat-flip - it was all ahead of its time.
Esteban German entered our lives on December 8, 2005. He had served a tour of duty with the Oakland Athletics, exemplifying their "Moneyball" mantra with a 102 walk season in 1999, and on-base percentages routinely above .400 in the minor leagues. That combined with his high stolen base totals, made him a prototypical leadoff hitter, and the future was bright. In 2001, Baseball Prospectus named him the 18th best prospect in baseball.
But German's rise came at the height of the Athletics success, and he was blocked at the Major League level by great defenders like Mark Ellis and Marco Scutaro. Defense it seemed, was Esteban's Kryptonite. In 2004, the 26-year old German was allowed to depart Oakland as a minor league free agent.
German signed that winter with the Texas Rangers, spending virtually the entire year in AAA, putting up another sensational .313/.400/.423 season. Despite this, he was not in the Rangers long-term plans.
At about this time Royals General Manager Allard Baird was fighting to keep his job. He had just begun reading the works of a young columnist by the name of "Rob Neyer" and was hypnotized by this flannel-wearing scribe. Neyer posited the radical theory that getting on-base led to more runs scored. Intrigued by this possibility, Baird began to scour the Earth for hitters that could get on-base. Fate led him to Esteban German.
In the winter of 2005, armed with a Rule 5 pick, the Royals boldly acquired German from the Rangers in exchange for Rule 5 pick left-handed pitcher Fabio Castro. German was immediately a huge fan favorite. A gaggle of young enterprising fans gathered in left-field as "Germans Germanos" (their second group name after "German's Third Reich" was banned by Royals authorities).
Finally given a shot at what he could do in the Majors, German would post a line of .326/.422/.459. His 128 OPS+ is still the Royals single season record for a second baseman who spent at least a quarter of his time playing second base, and had at least 200 plate appearances - perhaps the most hallowed record in franchise history next to Billy Butler's "consecutive hits in a series" record.
German would slump to .264/.351/.376 the following season, although his on-base percentage was still good enough for third on the team. But by 2008, the magic was gone. Esteban hit a disappointing .245/.303/.338. The following spring training, the Royals released him. Baseball can be a cruel business.
The Rangers, realizing their earlier folly, picked German back up to play for their AAA affiliate for a few seasons. German toiled away, never complaining as the Rangers won pennant after pennant.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Rangers decided to add German to their World Series roster in October of 2011, knowing his days as a Royal had prepared him to vanquish the evil Cardinals. German was not expected to play a major role for the American League Champions. But in Game One, in the seventh inning, with two runners on and the Rangers trailing by one, manager Ron Washington in a dazed panic, called on German rather than catcher Yorvit Torrealba, to pinch hit for pitcher Alexei Ogando. German struck out, but it was his enthusiasm that lifted the Rangers to within a strike of winning a World Championship.
Today, Esteban German signed with the Seibu Lions of the Japanese league. German will experience riches and fame in Japan bigger than he can ever imagine, but those dizzying highs will pale in comparison to the adulation he enjoyed in Kansas City.
Godspeed Esteban German. This bat flip's for you buddy.