Baseball’s final weekend is full of implications and the most-anticipated Wild Card matchups…ever may not be determined until the season’s last out is recorded. But before we get to all that, a fond farewell to one of the all-time postseason greats, Jeremy Affeldt.
Jeremy Affeldt was the
current former San Francisco Giant I liked most. Could have been his sweet neck shave/chin strap/flavor saver. Could have been how he got up at the dais at SF city hall last year after he helped earn his third World Series ring with a Game 7 victory (yes, he got the W, not Bumgarner) and started saying what others wouldn’t—trying harder than a kid refusing to open his mouth for the dentist to not drop the f-bomb—that what he helped create…was indeed, a dynasty.
The Giants had the help of an array of workaday players to summit all three of those peaks over the last half-decade: Aubrey Huff’s Rally Thong, Cody Ross re-imagining his grinning, bald self into Willie Mays during the 2010 NLCS; Marco Scutaro controlling everything on the field as well as all the things falling from the sky in 2012; Barry Zito pitching for every single dollar of his contract in the NLCS elimination game of this century; Travis Ishikawa and his improbable walk off into history and Michael Morse dropping his greatest single ever in Kansas City.
But nobody, as a role player/cheerleader/competitor, came close to Affeldt in crunch time. He pointed it out himself in his recent column for SI: Affeldt leaves the game with a 0.86 post-season ERA—that’s third all-time holmes. Yep, third all-time from the guy you played high school baseball with who threw softer, ran slower and spent most of his time trying to surreptitiously tie your shoes together in the dugout.
Does Affeldt’s retirement mean the end of something for the organization? Absolutely. You can’t look back at an ordinary career that turned into an extraordinary life and not think that the clubhouse won’t be missing his little pouch of magic dust stashed behind the Tinactin.
But his passage should be celebrated. Here then, the five reasons I will miss Jeremy Affeldt:
5. The Parade King
I know you can’t say it Jeremy, so I’m gonna say it for you. NOBODY in baseball…nobody in the whole world is better at a parade than you. Note to EVERY SINGLE 4th of July/Labor Day/Squash Festival/Halloween Dog Costume/Shriner/Veterans’ Day/St. Paddy’s/Pride parade organizer ever, pick this guy to be your next grand marshal.
I first recognized Affeldt as the parade king on the back of a trolley rolling down Market Street in the fall of 2010. Actually, let me re-phrase that: I first recognized Affeldt as the effing No. 1 Parade King Ever as he was holding on to the back of a trolley like an extra in The Rock with slippery Bud Light-soaked hands, falling off like every thirty seconds in the fall of 2010. Depending on where he was on the route, parade security and police pretty much had to approach him in that slow/weird cop-trap circle creep until a Giants official with a walkie talkie and/or earpiece gave them the, ‘It’s OK, he’s with us’ hand signal. It was classic. It was perfect.
And I’m not inferring that Affeldt was any more lubed up on the intoxicating combination of low-point brews and the high point of his career than the rest of his teammates, it’s just that Affeldt was notoriously accident-prone and in that moment, he was walking on air when he wasn’t too busy tripping over it.
What probably wouldn’t have been classic is if Affeldt got his foot stuck on one of the tracks and got rolled over by the next trolley. Fortunately, that never came to pass. I think it’s because of Affeldt’s parade antics that the Giants went more straightforward parade style after the second and third victories and made him sit down on the back of a convertible (actually, I think they glued him to it.)
Nobody parades better than Affeldt.
4. The guy was great to fans
There’s this thing professional athletes don’t talk about because it’s understood they get paid a lot to perpetuate the veil staying put, but here it is: Fans suck. Fans are terrible people. Fans are slobs and judgmental and get in the way and, for the most part, we don’t smell too great. It is not cool having to deal with fans. It is not fun. It is a job.
Would you want people coming over to where you’re clocked in—hiding from your boss and sending emails to your ex—and standing behind you, telling you you suck—and by the way can you stop everything and sign something for me? And oh yeah, I know there’s a big meeting coming up for you but my grandpa has cancer and it would be really nice if you could just stop, put all your shit down, and take a selfie with me. And if you don’t, you’re ungrateful. An asshole. I need to go complain about you on Facebook.
For whatever reason, I don’t think Affeldt just tolerated fans, I think he actually kind of got them. Maybe it’s because he’s one of the rare ones who actually weathered 14 years of professional baseball and came out on the other side clean like Andy Dufresne, still liking the game. It’s hard to do. Nearly impossible. Think of doing what you love most but under the most unimaginable pressure situations, with people you don’t necessarily like and doing it while tired/injured/not knowing where you are waking up or what day it is pretty much all of the time. Now think of how much you’d still ‘love’ to do it year after year after year. Hit monkey. Throw monkey. Catch monkey. Now a quote about how poorly you just performed, monkey.
But there was Affeldt. Still signing when guys were coming out of the showers. Still laughing (like really laughing) at an eager fan’s too-long story. Still asking kids what their names are and who their favorite player is, and when they didn’t say his name (which was 99-plus percent of the time) promising he’d try to go find that guy. I caught glimpses of Affeldt doing all of this and, yes, it’s possible to catch anyone on a good day/bad day, but he, more than any player I’ve observed over a sustained period—seemed to have a little more good in him.
3. Wit and candor
Some people can just talk. And Jeremy Affeldt is a talker. I’m sure he will spend a much-needed calendar year at home in Spokane getting to re-know his family, but after that, it’s a headset and necktie for this guy. The thing is, the guys who talk most don’t always have the most to say. That’s not the case for Affeldt. The Giants, maybe only second to the Yankees, have an honored tradition of sticking with their own. Just think about venerable first basemen Will Clark and JT Snow, both of whom have spent their post-playing days as scouts, special assistants and coaches for the organization and now have had to clear shelf space for three rings as partial reward. I doubt Affeldt will return anywhere below club level, however. With Kruk, Kuipe, Miller and Flemming, there’s not a lot of elbow room to the left of the press box, but Affeldt doing what he does best—and bringing a little color (not to mention his Hunter Pence impression) to the booth, is probably less than two seasons from happening.
2. I want to buy Affeldt a beer
After the first World Series parade, I went out in the city with a bunch of buddies. We kind of hit the usual spots (Lil’s, Green’s, Cresta’s and then down to Chestnut for whatever reason). It was there we ran into outfielder Pat Burrell, who was being Pat Burrell all over the place. Along with making fun of one of my friend’s long faces (my buddy wasn’t sad—he literally has a long face) calling him the “No pussiest-getting motherfucker of all time”, Burrell refused to let us buy him a beer/a shot. “Do I look like I need another beer?” The answer, rhetorical as it may have been, was definitely a no. As Burrell was leaving with a couple, um, lucky fans tailing—a dude from another group said something like, “Where’s Affeldt? I want to buy him a beer.” Burrell turned around and got real serious on the guy. He paused for a second and looked the way someone does when you don’t know whether they’re going to fight or faint. A record-needle scratching moment in the bar. Then Burrell got himself together and shouted at the guy, “Hey,” everyone stood at attention. “You see that guy. You see Affeldt and you DO buy him a beer. You buy that guy a beer.”
And since then, I’ve always wanted to buy Affeldt a beer.
1. I’m pretty sure he’s got a great heart
I’m not a religious man. Affeldt is. But I think for him it goes a step beyond his faith. I don’t want this to sound backhanded, but for some professional athletes, for most perhaps, faith is a convenient and necessary guidepost. It’s wanting to believe in something because, well, you’re in a profession where there’s a lot of nothing to mess with you all the time. Down time. Strange towns. Faceless people. And that’s if you stay out of trouble. Two weeks on the road with the same kind of notoriety or celebrity as a ballplayer, even a shitty one, and I’d be Chris Farley minus the tolerance and the endearing giggle. So, like many, Affeldt tethered himself to his faith. But here’s the other thing: He’s a true believer. Walking the walk as they say. I appreciate anyone who’s backed it up with what they actually did, what they actually do. Time will reveal whether that’s totally true of Affeldt, but he’s done pretty OK so far. And that’s pretty remarkable—especially for someone who talked the talk as much as he did.