Over the course of my time at South Side Sox, I’ve likely overshared my experience as I poor, provincial bumpkin growing up in an impoverished little backwater AAA town, with no MLB team to call my own. I’ve mourned aloud over watching terrific young players alight, ever so briefly, evanescent, on their way to someplace bigger, someplace better, someplace with a television package, never looking back. I’ve keened plaintively over the hollowness of the I-knew-them-when attached to such as George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Bernie Carbo, and then later Andres Galarraga, Randy Johnson, Mike Stenhouse. They shoot across the sky, shine brightly for a moment or two, long enough to tantalize the hicks, and then they’re gone, nothing more than a memory and highlight on Sportscenter. Where, where are our stars? Our icons? Our heroes?
OK – here’s one. Let me share some career MLB stats with you:
And now, some MiLB stats:
Both of these players have White Sox ties, though in very different ways.
Player A was an 18th round pick by the Montreal Expos in 1978. He spent most of his career, MLB and MiLB, at first base, where he was adequate, but no more in the field. Hence how he was able to rack up his impressive -0.8 WAR in only 68 games. After his playing career, he went into coaching, initially at the high school level, but quickly moving (back, if you like) to the minors, where he eventually coached or managed at Kannapolis, Birmingham, and Charlotte. In 2007, he coached third base for the Sox.
Player B was drafted by the White Sox, twice, first out of high school in the 19th round in 2005, and then in 2008 in the seventh. He was a defensively solid outfielder, capable of playing all three spots. He had decent speed, and could run some on the bases. He is still active, technically, and currently a free agent. It’s possible, but I don’t predict a coaching career for him.
Player B, of course, is Jordan Danks. Player A is, also of course, the beloved Razor Shines.
I can’t say that Shines was a childhood hero for me. I was a grown man by the time he made it to Indianapolis, but I think it is fair to say that for a generation of Indy kids, he was a hero. He spent the better part of nine years with the Indians (1984-93) and led them to five, count ’em, five, American Association championships (1984, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989) in six years. But he was more than just a good player in some good teams. He was loved in Indianapolis and, these many years later, still is.
It was more than just a cool name, which, by the way, is his real name: Anthony Razor Shines. Maxim magazine (whatever it’s worth) once proclaimed his the most badass name in sports history. They were (whatever it’s worth) right. And it helped some of the rain of attention given Shines, I’m sure. But what made Shines a hero and icon in Indianapolis was a combination of longevity (an incredible rarity in a minor league city), talent, personality and loyalty.
Shines had all those qualities. A gregarious, good-natured man, he seemed to enjoy the fans as much as they did him. He signed autographs tirelessly and was a fixture in Indianapolis, even making it his home during the offseason and for years after he retired as a player. He hustled, running out pop-outs and grounders, going after every ball within his (rather limited) range with gusto, and could’ve been a model for Moises Sierra-like cheerleading.
And he was around. On a team that rarely saw players stay for the team for more than a couple of years on their ways up or down, Shines became a fixture. I can only imagine that he did so with at least a certain amount of chagrin. Obviously, he must have wished those cups of coffee with the Expos had stretched into full meals, but he never outwardly expressed frustration or animosity. Like most of us, he likely came to realize what he could and couldn’t do, and seemed to accept and embrace it. He always seemed to like being Razor Shines.
And it’s also to the Indians’ and Expos’ credit that they kept him aboard, long after it became fairly clear that he was, what we these days call, “organizational depth.” By 1986 or 1987, they had to know his MLB future was close to nonexistent, but they kept him anyway, a solid AAAA player – never quite good enough to stick at the big league level, but capable of leading a AAA squad. I don’t suppose he was blocking anybody in the system, but even so, it meant an awful lot to Indy baseball fans to have him around, so we could grow to love him.
And this brings us to Jordan Danks. Like Shines, he proved himself to be a lifetime (as it were) AAAA player. His defensive abilities gave him a much longer rope at the big league level, but, as Adam Engel reminds us, that rope only extends so far. But also like Shines, if to a far lesser degree, he shows us how much a fixture can mean to a AAA fan base. Like Shines, he became beloved in Charlotte. Like Shines, he got a bobblehead for it.
Guys like Shines and Danks are afterthoughts and footnotes to MLB. They were good enough to hang around and make a living for a long time, but never good enough for glory. Most casual Expos fans, like most casual White Sox fans, won’t recognize their names. Danks, maybe, but only because he’s more recent. Give it 15 years, and only diehards like us will remember him at all.
Here in Chicago, like there in Montreal, they got the regular “he sucks” and “why haven’t they DFA’d his ass yet?” and “watching this guy makes my eyes bleed.” But baseball fans in Indianapolis and Charlotte will remember, and they will cherish. And those of us who got to know and appreciate, and even kind of love them, will do so fondly, whatever their f-ing WAR might have been.