The Legend of the Legendary Miguel Cairo

The impossible finally happened. Miguel Cairo retired. Cairo hung on for 17 seasons — he made his debut the season after Mariano Rivera. One would be hard-pressed to find one season in which he was much good. His highest seasonal WAR came in 1998 with the good ol’ Devil Rays at 2.7, and that was mostly due to 22 Total Zone fielding runs. That season and 1999 were the only seasons in which Cairo received more than 500 plate appearances, and he only got more than 400 in one other season — 2004 with the Yankees. Cairo could not really play shortstop, he was no defensive whiz at second, and as his career .264/.314/.361 (77 wRC+) line shows, he was, outside of a few lucky seasons, a pretty lousy hitter. Yet he hung on. And on. And on. And now he is going to be a working for the Reds. I think it is safe to say that teams liked and like having Cairo around.

Despite his limitations, over 17 years Cairo managed to have some very dramatic hits. In honor of his passing on to the next phase of his career of baseball, here are three of the biggest.

As usual with this sort of retrospective, I have used Win Probability Added to find Cairo’s three biggest hits, all of which came in regular season games.

Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff, Greg Vaughn, Miguel Cairo: the Hit Show comes to the Metrodome on April 6, 2000! Joe Mays was actually a good pitcher at one point, and started the game for the Twins. Dan Wheeler started for the Devil Rays. By the top of the ninth inning, Cairo had already had a big game, with two extra base hits and four runs driven in, but Tampa Bay was down 6-5. Greg Vaughn led off with a solo homer off of Travis Miller, which brought in Hector Carrasco to pitch. Despite an error by Denny Hocking, Carrasco managed to get two outs with a runner on third when Cairo came up. Cairo singled in Tony Graffanino for what turned out to be the game-winning run and .317 WPA.


Although I wrote earlier that Cairo was mostly bad during his career, he did have a few seasons where he was sort of legitimately useful, and 2011 was one of them. Although it was probably mostly due to sample-size based fluctuations, Cairo his .265/.330/.412 in 276 plate appearances for the Reds in 2011. On June 19, in particular, he had a huge hit when the Blue Jays came to visit during interleague play. Much of the game was a pitching duel between Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo and the Blue Jays’ Carlos Villanueva. Aaron Hill scored the Blue Jays only run when he launched a homer off of Arroyo in the fifth. However, Cairo was not going to let that stand, and in the sixth he jacked a donger of his own to drive in Joey Votto (Cairo drives in Votto, musta happened sooo many times) to finish the run scoring for the game and .350 WPA.


The prior games may not have been too memorable for those outside of the Miguel Cairo Fan Club (a.k.a., the united managers, past and present, of the MLB), but I bet I am not the only one who has pretty specific memories of the Yankees-Red Sox matchup onJuly 1, 2004. I even remember where I was when I watched it late into the night: Cape Cod. It was part of a big series in which New York soundly defeated Boston, and it seemed to be the end for Nomar Garciaparra in Boston, as he watched this game from the bench. This is the game during which Derek Jeter chased a pop fly into the stands in the 12th inning of the extra-innings affair and landed on his face while also getting the out. Yeah, I feel pretty safe saying other people probably remember this game. Bill Simmons even wrote a column about it after it happened. He pretty much nailed it:

Meanwhile, the Sox have taken a few steps backwards, thanks to declines in team defense, set-up guys, Millar and Nomar, Walker to Bellhorn, Nixon’s back, Nomar’s everything, the return of the Derek Lowe Face, even — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — Grady Little to Francona. Only Schilling, Pokey, Foulke and Papi making The Leap have salvaged this from becoming a .500 team. You want to know why the Yankees just swept the Red Sox? That’s why. They have a better team.

Yep, the 2004 Sox were doomed. They were never gonna get past the Yankees. Who even remembers those guys?

(Hey, I know I’ve certainly never written anything that seemed ridiculous with the benefit of hindsight.)

On this night, Miguel Cairo (who had another one of his [relatively speaking] good seasons for the Yankees with a 101 wRC+) was one many heroes for New York. The game was tied 3-3 in the top of the thirteenth when Manny Ramirez came to the plate against Tanyon Sturze. You aren’t going to believe this, but Manny hit a home run to make it 4-3, Red Sox #cantpredictball, amirite?). Sturze managed to get through the rest of the inning without giving up any runs, although he did his best (walking David McCarty?).

The Yankees had one last shot in the bottom of the thirteenth against Curtis Leskanic (remember how the big market teams used to take all of the Royals’ best players? It made me so mad.) Leskanic struck out Jorge Posada then got Tony Clark to ground out. Ruben Sierra then got a single, and up strode Cairo, who hit a double to drive in Sierra and tie the game up. The Yankees actually won the game when the next hitter, John Flaherty, their backup catcher and the last bat left on the bench, singled in Cairo, but Cairo’s hit was actually more significant according to WPA, .506 to .386.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Big Jgke
Member
Big Jgke
3 years 4 months ago

What are the chances he plays this long without Dusty Baker as his manager?

AC of DC
Guest
AC of DC
3 years 4 months ago

I always found Miguel Cairo rather likable, and I never even met him. He had an unassuming charm that must have been all the more effective in person. “Here is a pleasant, elfin man,” one says while watching Cairo work and play, “He exudes scrap, and leadership.” In another life, he would be an industrious house sprite, laboring through the cold night to repair your only pair of shoes — he wipes the sweat from his wrinkled brow, and beams that crinkled smile of satisfaction — then disappears before the dawn. You are awestruck by this tiny miracle, and committed that your benefactor shall start at Second Base.

samuelraphael
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

His hustle was so gritty.

Brandon O'Keefe
Guest
Brandon O'Keefe
3 years 4 months ago

Hustle + Grit = He played the game the right way.

Or he can sign a free agent deal with the Diamondbacks.

Brandon O'Keefe
Guest
Brandon O'Keefe
3 years 4 months ago

Hustle = (Body Mass Index / Top Running Speed)
Grit* = (Total Accumulation of Dirt on Uniform Over 162 Games ) x (Number of HBP)

*Bonus for excessive pine tar on the batting helmet and/or lack of batting gloves.

I have yet to determine what numerical value should represent “The Standard” for playing the game the right way. Or is there a player who best represents the lowest standard of playing the game the right way, yet because he plays the game the right way, he is above 94% of all other players?

samuelraphael
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

Fact: Cairo had 40+ HR power…

(Over the course of 17 years)

tz
Guest
tz
3 years 4 months ago

Didn’t realize Cairo’s career overlapped with Denny Hocking’s. Talk about a combo.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 4 months ago

Hangs on this long, marginal ability, …… sounds like a coach in the making. He has to have something (and ability wasnt it) that he may be able to pass on.

Dobbs
Guest
Dobbs
3 years 4 months ago

If I recall correctly (and I’ve done my best to forget), he was the #2 hitter and starting 1B for the Mariners on multiple occasions in 2008.

Carl Allen
Guest
Carl Allen
3 years 4 months ago

We was the starting 1B and #4 hitter on the Reds as recently as 2011. Yeah.

Breadbaker
Guest
Breadbaker
3 years 4 months ago

Just think how much fun we’ll have in five years when he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot. Or if he gets a vote.

Aaron Sele
Guest
Aaron Sele
3 years 4 months ago

Worked for me.

big red machine
Guest
big red machine
3 years 4 months ago

“…he jacked a donger of his own”??????

I think you meant “dinger”? lol

Cuban X Senators
Guest
Cuban X Senators
3 years 4 months ago

The last active original Devil Ray, right?

Loop D
Guest
Loop D
3 years 4 months ago

Maybe the best roid dealer around…..or a “coach” type as they often say. Also crazy ears.

K
Guest
K
3 years 4 months ago

Um, what?

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