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.