Monday, August 02, 2010


Wall Of Flake

I'm sitting at home right now, watching a replay of the already-classic Don Mattingly gaffe game (or the Dodger Fail game, as I like to call it) from two weeks ago, which is nicely keeping my mind off of the fact that the Giants roll into Coors Field tomorrow. As elated as we are about the Giants' recent play, we all know the horrible, horrible things that happen in Colorado. Better not to think about it right now. Hey, Andres Torres just doubled in two runs on the TV. Yep, this works just like frickin' endorphins.

This weekend the Giants elected two more players to the Giants' Wall of Fame, which sits right outside Mays Field. Rich Aurilia and Shawn Estes, two key players from the Giants' 1997-2002 glory years, were enshrined on Saturday, seemingly cementing their statuses as Giants immortals. In order to make the Wall, a player has to either play at least nine seasons with the team, or play five seasons and have one All-Star berth. Both players made one All-Star appearance, with Estes making the team in 1997 (and serving up a bomb to Sandy Alomar Jr., no less), and Aurilia in 2001.

Aurilia's inclusion on the wall is a no-brainer. He is arguably the best shortstop in San Francisco Giants history and his 2001 season was one of the greatest for any shortstop in NL history. Plus, anybody sporting such a rocking goatee should be placed on any Wall of Fame just by default.

Estes, on the other hand, gives one pause, at least at upon initial reaction. After his awesome breakout 1997 year, in which he won 19 games with an ERA+ of 130, his lack of control and general flakiness got the better of him, and he fell off a cliff in the next two seasons. In 2000, he had an apparent resurgence, but his 15 wins were largely the by-product of pitching in front of an historically great offense and having an insane 40 double plays turned behind him. By 2001, the Giants had tired of his high walk totals and eventually turned him into The Man With the Orange Wristbands. Oh, and he once went on a joy ride with a stolen police bike. Genius, he may not be.

I can't decide. Do Giants fans generally remember Estes fondly, or with some animosity? His 1997 performance was a thing of beauty (I'll never forget listening to this game in my car as I left for a long Fourth of July vacation), but my lasting image of him will probably be him hobbling off of second base with the ball in play and being tagged out in Game 2 of the 2000 playoffs against the Mets. That kind of boneheadedness was sadly typical of Estes's career, and it's what drove us Giants fans up the wall. As good as his stuff was, he was just bound to implode in a sea of walks at any moment, and he was pretty much the last guy you wanted pitching in a big game. By the time he was traded away, I don't remember anyone being too sad to see him go.

So is he Wall of Fame-caliber? Well, I think the point of the Wall is more to pay tribute to Good Giants rather than simply legends like Willie Mays or Barry Bonds. If we're honoring players who made a legitimate impact on the franchise for an extended period of time, then Estes definitely qualifies. No one can talk about the magical 1997 team without mentioning the year Estes had, and there's no way in hell the Giants win the NL West without him. Plus, how can Estes not be on there when there's room for Randy Moffitt? Or Atlee Hammaker? Or Johnny Lemaster?

The day Livan Hernandez is enshrined, though, I'm outta here.

--As a postscript to the Estes talk, I would like to take all the credit for his All-Star 1997 season. During the previous offseason, Estes came to Sacramento for an autograph signing. Geeked up by his strong finish to the '96 season, I was there with my glossy 8' x 10'' photo and my baseball and a glimmer in my 14-year-old eye.

After Estes signed both of these items, and as my dad carted me away, I yelled "good luck next season" at him. He looked at me like I was insane and possibly intent on causing harm, but wouldn't you know it, he went on to have his best year in the majors. So yes, I consider myself Estes' good luck charm. The baseball he signed still sits on my shelf, but the photo sadly died a horrible death by being chewed up by cats.

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