Happy Trails, Mike Cameron

A solid, if not a bit underrated career came to an end as Mike Cameron called it quits over the weekend, exactly two months after inking a minor league pact to play in the nation’s capital. Cameron’s career ends after 17 seasons with eight ballclubs, during which time the fleet afoot center fielder nabbed three Gold Gloves, poked 278 homers, swiped 297 bags, collected exactly 1,700 hits, and played in just shy of 2,000 games.

Cameron’s BRef comps list — like any good comps list, really — is riddled with players in that exact same boat. Guys like Ron Gant, Jimmy Wynn, Bobby Bonilla, and Brady Anderson all appear. His WAR ranking company includes more modern company such as Tony Phillips, Moises Alou, Ellis Burks, and former teammate Ichiro Suzuki. He could be a charter member in a newly-formed Hall of Very Good if anyone had an inkling to create one — might I suggest Dyersville, IA — but a tweet from the past few days really got to me, perhaps a bit more than it should have, and really got my wheels turning about Cameron’s place in history.

Now I’m not here to rip on Jon Heyman; he’s good at what his primary objective is. But to love WAR is to know WAR — though not necessarily vice versa — and to take just a brief detour from our Cameron admiration, Heyman’s showing a fundamental misunderstanding here.

Cameron played 17 seasons, and in doing so compiled nearly 8000 plate appearances. Kirby Puckett only garnered about 50 fewer plate appearances, but did so in five fewer seasons. So as a result, Cameron may have gotten more bang for the proverbial buck, but he (a) debuted much earlier than Puckett age-wise and as a result (b) succeeded much earlier in his respective career and (c) was permitted to play out his career by the baseball gods. Another interesting note? They both played in the same number of 100-plus game seasons, at a dozen apiece. In that respect Cameron, who averaged only 115 games per season, sort of suffers from a similar affliction as Larry Walker in that respect and that respect only. In short, Cameron compiled when compared to Puckett, and I have no problem saying it.

To measure Cameron with the three Gold Gloves is folly as well. I’m no baseball historian, but he played in one heck of an era of center fielders, with Jim Edmonds, Torii Hunter, and Andruw Jones all coming into their own in his time frame. Oh, and the man Cameron himself was tasked with replacing in the Emerald City, that Ken Griffey Jr. fellow, too. Kenny Lofton and Darin Erstad made it interesting in there too, and Devon White was nothing short of legendary, either. Regardless, Cameron could have easily pulled a prime-of-his career sweep similar to Brooks Robinson* if he had played in leaner times, though injuries and changing teams certainly didn’t bolster his case, either.

On the all-time leaderboard defensively, Cameron checks in at 112.2, good for eighth all time in front of other greats such as Willie Wilson, Chet Lemon, and Tris Speaker. Obviously, if he isn’t remembered as a defensive great, he’s being done a great disservice.

And while it’s safe to say that most will remember Cameron for his defense, I will always remember him for his special day as a hitter, May 2, 2002. Cameron, batting third that day, popped four home runs and very nearly added a fifth in his final chance, as he flew out to right fielder Jeff Liefer on Comiskey Park’s warning track to end that particular threat. Cameron’s first home run came on the heels of a Bret Boone longball as part of a huge first inning which saw the Mariners chase the White Sox starter after just one out (a sac fly) was recorded. Cameron’s second also came in identical fashion (again back-to-back with Boone), still in the first inning, this time off reliever Jim Parque. By the time the dust had settled in that opening frame, 10 runs had come across and the White Sox were officially buried for the day.

The starter that day? None other than current Mets middle-reliever Jon Rauch.

But that didn’t stop Cameron, as he drilled a solo shot off Parque in the third, and another of the identical ilk in the fifth. Mike Porzio relieved Parque in time to walk Boone and plunk Cameron in the seventh, denying him his first chance at immortality before his second fell just by the wayside in the final frame.

It was a legendary game for a man who played his career with the same smile despite changing teams on a constant basis, along with the added pressure of replacing a legend in Seattle. May the game never forget one if its best center fielders of all time.

*Obviously important to note that 3B and OF Gold Gloves aren’t created equal.

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

23 Responses to “Happy Trails, Mike Cameron”

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  1. Guy Smiley says:

    I was at his 4-HR game and would have had a good shot at his 5th HR ball had it not died on the warning track. I still have a picture of the scoreboard and a ticket stub from that game.

    Cammy definitely had a good career. Nice tribute.

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  2. well says:

    Heyman is quite frankly an idiot. A close-minded sports writer that should not have a job. I usually don’t like to criticize people, but he is just terrible at his job.

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  3. JimNYC says:

    1. Mike Cameron will always be remembered primarily for a steroid suspension before any on-field accomplishments come to mind.
    2. Way to bury the lede — Tris Speaker, all but universally regarded as the best defensive outfielder of all time, comes in WHERE on this defensive metric?

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    • Cameron doesn’t measure up, which is why I didn’t mention him. I only used CF from his era, and those around him in the leaderboards.

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    • Eric White says:

      I beg to differ on your first point. Perhaps you should qualify that statement with “In my opinion…”

      I happen to think the fans of the teams that got to watch him on a daily basis will disagree.

      Actually, that fact that you are from NYC tells me all I need to know…

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      • JimNYC says:

        Has nothing to do with me being a Yankee fan — the first thing that comes to mind for ARod, Clemens, Giambi, Pettitte, Knoblauch, etc. etc. is steroids — not their skills or production. That’s just the way it is. And none of them were even suspended.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        pettitte does not instantly inspire thoughts of steroids because he never took steroids. his crime was to get two doses of HGH to help him recover faster from an elbow injury. as in he took HGH while on the DL, never while playing. that’s a far cry from years and years of steroid abuse from the other guys you mentioned.

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    • Nate says:

      Mike Cameron was never suspended for steroids. He received a suspension for stimulants.

      Here’s the story: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3088062

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  4. Sam says:

    I’m confused. Sometimes comparing apples to oranges makes me go bananas. The paragraph that leads with a sentence about Cameron’s 17 seasons seems focused only on muddying already Amazonian waters. I get that Heyman’s point is, in reality, superficial. But he’s also right. WAR gives the impression that it’s only a counting stat. Indeed, it is sold by the baseball intelligentsia as that–and a whole lot more! It remains opaque why the author finds Heyman’s use of WAR lacking in this instance though. I think I know, but who knows. If nothing else, this article unintentionally articulates the weakness of career-compiled WAR and the need for something like WAR totals with a denominator of “seasons” or “games.” If that is, in fact, a point, then Heyman’s tweet made it.

    Also, I can’t tell if this story is a slam of short-lived Kirby, a slam of long-lived Cameron, or a slam of “leaner” times. It might also slam defense back in the day. EIther way,

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    • It is a counting stat, which naturally hamstrings players whose careers were ended.

      Mike Cameron juiced every bit of talent out of his body, Kirby Puckett didn’t. Thus, HOF voters with any semblance of intellect extrapolated his career out.

      So I don’t think it’s necessarily ‘sold by baseball intelligensia as that’. To put myself into that grouping, we think of it as a better counting stat, but obviously are aware that 50 WAR from a 10-year vet is TOTALLY different than one from a 20-year vet.

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  5. joeIQ says:

    I saw this and thought Dave Cameron was quitting. relief. Though I was also a Mike Cameron fan.

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  6. Breadbaker says:

    Somewhere I have a picture of Mike Cameron at the first spring training game in 2000 wearing no. 8 before he traded with someone for 44. The really key thing about Cammie was he had to replace a legend; there is no better way to replace a legend than to make an over the fence catch taking a homer away from Derek Jeter in your fourth home game. From that moment on, he was just himself, not “the guy who was traded for Griffey.” Mariners fans loved the lemonade made out of the lemon of Griffey’s trade demand.

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  7. Mike Savino says:

    I’ll always remember him for his balls to the wall style of play and for the collision in San Diego that forced him to get facial reconstructive surgery. The man played outfield and he played it as hard as he possibly could.

    He was one of the more underrated players of our time–pretty good slugging, pretty average OBP and great defense in center. A joy to watch.

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  8. Nadingo says:

    I’ll always remember him for the way the Mariners fell off a cliff in 2004 after they let him leave. He was a huge bargain for the team, but they failed to appreciate his strengths (defense, getting on base, power, and speed) and only focused on his weakness (striking out too much).

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  9. Mike Cameon is just one of those situations where the saber-fan will likely not be able to convince other fans of his value because he did not have a big reputation, was overshadowed by some others, and did some things that aren’t always valued. In other words he wasn’t a HR and RBI guy or a player with a high BA.

    In situations like these the saber-fan has to just be content knowing he had value whether others see it or not.

    Also, we often interpret playing for a lot of teams as being “unwanted” where I see it as teams wanted to acquire him as a starter, but not necessarily their long-term solution at CF.

    Mike Cameron was a good player. Period.

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  10. Craig says:

    My favorite Mike Cameron moment (Brewers fan) was in some game where a high fly ball was hit to center field in Miller Park. I was watching Mike Cameron and he was headed toward the ball so smoothly as if it was a lazy fly ball for an easy catch. Instead, he effortlessly jumped in the direction of the angled CF wall at MP and robbed the batter of a home run. No panic, no rush, no miss jump, he just timed it all perfectly from the start and made a home run robbery so easy that I was shocked the catch turned out to be so difficult. Even in his late 30s, he still played CF as if he knew he could cover the whole area.

    I just watched the Jeter robbery highlight, he looked exactly the same with the Brewers. Amazed to see his defensive skills carry on into his later years.

    Here’s the brewers play (notice the score was 4-4 and there were 2 outs so it was quite the clutch play as well):

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    • Ronin says:

      I love these kind of posts where someone reminisces then also provides the link so we can watch it for our self. Much thanks Craig!

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