“And they're STILL cheering Mike Cameron...”
I'll always remember Mike Cameron for one thing.
It wasn't how he was dealt for two great players: Paul Konerko (straight up) during the 1998-99 off-season and Ken Griffey, Jr. (as the main part of a package) during the following 1999-2000 off-season.
It wasn't for the itinerant nature of his career. In 17 seasons he played for eight teams, and his stay in Seattle, four full seasons, was his longest. The Washington Nationals in 2012 would've been his ninth club but he called it quits today at the age of 39.
It wasn't for his numbers, which were nice if unexceptional: .249/.338/.444. He won three Gold Gloves, made one All-Star Game (I was there) and is currently 8th all-time in career strikeouts with 1901. Admittedly, he was nearly a 300-300 guy, with 278 career home runs and 297 career stolen bases, and admittedly he had that day, in May 2002, when he did what only 12 previous players in baseball history had done when he hit four home runs in a single game. But that's not what I'll remember him for.
I'll remember him for my first impression of him.
Back in 2000 I was still writing the player profiles for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, and this is what I wrote about our new acquisition:
Michael Terrance Cameron (44)
Height: 6'2,“ Weight: 195
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Born: 1-8-73 in LaGrange, GA
Family: Wife, JaBreka, and two children, Dazmon and T'Aja
Acquired: If you don't know, you've been in a coma all winter
Major League debut: August 27, 1996, with Chicago White Sox
This was Cameron's second off-season trade in as many years. In November 1998 he was swapped by the ChiSox to Cincy for 1B Paul Konerko. Then in February 2000... Well, you know. In Cameron's one season in the NL he didn't perform poorly: .256 BA, .357 OBP, 34 doubles, 21 HRs, 37 SBs. Plus a helluva glove. His one major drawback is strikeouts. He piles great gobs of strikeouts onto his plate: over 100 each of the last three seasons, and 146 in 1999 (fourth most in the majors). The one place you don't want to bat him then is second, since the second spot is designed for moving the runner along, and strikeouts tend not to do that (unless Lou Brock is on the basepaths). So where are the M's talking about batting Cameron? Second. We say lead him off.
It was a bad time to be a Mariners fan. It would soon get good again (in 2000), and then great (in 2001), and then bad again (October 2001-present), but we didn't know that. We also didn't know that the guy we got for Griffey would, in his four years with us, outhomer Griffey's first four years in Cincinnati, (87-83), that he would drive in more runs (344-232), that he would steal more bases (106-10), that he would win more Gold Gloves (2-0). We didn't know he would charm us. We just knew our franchise guy, the ”All-Century“ player, the guy everyone thought would break Hank Aaron's homerun record, was gone. We were bitter. I know I was. Some magic seemed to have gone from the world. And to Cincinnati of all places.
Was it my first game of the season? The M's had already played three home games when the defending-champion New York Yankees, the team we loved to hate, and used to crush, sauntered in on a chilly Friday night, April 7, 2000. The pitching matchup didn't favor us (Andy Pettitte vs. John Halama), and our lineup, which used to feature a modern murderer's row, now included the likes of Charles Gipson, Joe Oliver and David Bell. A-Rod batted third, Griffey's slot, and hit a homerun. Cameron led off and went 1-4: a two-out double in the 4th with nobody on. He didn't score.
For a while, the game was a back-and-forth affair. M's went up 2-0. Yanks tied it and went ahead 3-2. We tied it and went ahead. In the top of the 8th, it was 6-3, us, but the Yankees had the top of their lineup against reliever Paul Abbott. Chuck Knoblauch flew out for the first out.
Then this happened.
We went nuts. We gave Cameron a standing 'o' after the catch, we gave him a standing 'o' as he trotted in, we gave him a standing 'o' as he batted the next inning, and we gave him a standing 'o' as he walked back to the dugout after striking out on three pitches. ”I don't think I've ever seen anyone get an ovation for striking out," Lou Piniella said with a smile after the game. But how could we not? How else do you thank someone who lets you know it's not over? How else do you thank someone who's restored a bit of magic to the world?
Cameron, robbing Jeter, April 7, 2000.