Placido Polanco got his 2,000th career hit last night. I believe his name is Spanish for “Serene Pumpkin Head”.
2012 is the 36-year-old Dominican infielder’s 11th season as an everyday player in the Major Leagues. He began his career with the Cardinals, went from St. Louis to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Detroit, and from Detroit back to Philadelphia. Between 2001 and 2011, Polanco led the league in fielding percentage in eight seasons. Five times as a second baseman and three times as a third baseman. Playing second for the Tigers, Placido received Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2009. Last season, 2011, his work at third for the Phillies got him a third Gold Glove. This made him the second player in Major League history to garner Gold Gloves at more than one position and the first to do so at multiple infield positions. These numbers tell a part of the tale, but fail to paint a full portrait.
Placido Polanco is an honor to have on the field. He is the baseball equivalent of a safety blanket. Pitchers adore the guy. There is nothing flashy about how he plies his trade. It is rare to see anything that looks as though it required exceptional effort. But, try to replace him with anyone else and the difference in the quality of play makes his worth starkly apparent. If Placido’s career batting average hovered somewhere around .220 or .230 he would likely get 120 or 130 starts per season due entirely to his defensive acumen.
You could likely guess, based on the first sentence of this piece, that his career batting average is significantly higher than that. Before play begins today, May 15th, Polanco’s career average sits at .301. At the plate, Placido does all the little things. He might not get a hit, but he will move runners, he will work counts, and, if he does make an out, he makes the pitcher earn it. The man very rarely strikes out. In his entire career to date he has only been K’ed 494 times. Polanco led the league in at-bats per strikeout for the three seasons from 2006-2008. He has ranked 5th or higher on that list each season since. Never in his career has he been lower than 7th.
Legend has it, and by “legend” I mean that I once heard Vin Scully tell this story, that during Spring Training while Polanco was still with the Cardinals, a young relative of Tony LaRussa was visiting camp. The youngster asked TLR what he should do if he wanted to make it into the Majors. Tony brought the kid out to the field where the Cardinals players were going through ground ball drills, pointed to Placido Polanco, and said, “Watch that guy. Do everything he does.” As Vin put it, “So, that’s what he thinks of him.”
Placido got to 1,999 hits two games prior to getting number 2,000. During the game in between, against the Padres, he was twice robbed of a hit. Last night, in his first three plate appearances, he walked once and reached base twice by fielder’s choice. In his fourth plate appearance he decided to leave nothing to chance and put a 1-0 fastball from David Carpenter into the seats in left-center. He received hugs from some teammates in the dugout and gave the crowd the curtain call they demanded. Overall, he seemed sort of bashful about the whole thing. Which is in keeping with his character.
Placido Polanco is not a superstar. He is not a Hall of Famer. He is not an MVP candidate. He is not flamboyant. He is not outspoken. He shows up. He does whatever he can to help the team win. He goes home. It would be laughably inaccurate to call him a utility infielder. In the real world, anyway. What I will say is that Placido Polanco will always be THE all-time utility infielder of my heart.
Though his playing career is nearing its end, I don’t think that will be the last we see of Polanco in uniform. I bet he will make some franchise very happy as a manager. I mean, think of all the baseball knowledge he has stored in that enormous cranium.
Way to go, Polly.