David Eckstein, the infielder known for his small stature and his clutch hits for the Angels and Cardinals, hasn't appeared in the majors this season, but that doesn't mean he's through as a big-leaguer. Eckstein tells the L.A. Times that although he is still interested in playing, he has declined offers from the many major-league teams that have tried to get him to sign since the end of the 2010 season.
The reasons aren't entirely clear, but believe it or not, it seems that Eckstein believes teams that have contacted him don't properly appreciate his scrappy ways.
Much of David’s value goes far beyond statistics—his grit and desire, his knowledge of and instincts for the game, his clubhouse leadership, his willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the team by advancing runners with ground-ball outs.
It appeared several teams focused on Eckstein’s statistics, which are not overwhelming—he had a career .280 average, .345 on-base percentage and 1,414 hits in 10 big league seasons—and not his overall value.
"I think in this game you get to a point where you know what you can do, and you want to be in a situation where people believe in you," [David's brother] Rick Eckstein said.
"David has been a great attribute to baseball for 10 years. He brings a certain element to every team he’s been a part of, and at some point, what he brings, people don’t see it as a value. So, he’s decided [he won’t play]."
The Times quotes Eckstein's brother saying that "if the right situation presents itself," Eckstein would play.
There's a deep irony here, in that the notion of Eckstein as a romantic figure is predicated upon the idea that he performs when the rest of the world doesn't believe in him.
His detractors thought he was too small, too skinny. That he couldn't possibly be a major-league shortstop with that noodle arm, or that a scrawny guy like that couldn't possibly hit grand slams in back-to-back games. And yet he did, and was a big-leaguer for a decade, despite looking more like a department-store clerk than a ballplayer.
Now, a decade after he started proving himself, he still feels he's undervalued, but instead of gritting his teeth and running out onto the field and showing the naysayers that they were wrong yet again, he's taking his ball and going home.
It's likely that Eckstein still thinks he deserves plenty of playing time at the major-league level, while most major-league teams feel he doesn't. (And they're probably right - he was passable for the Padres the past two years, but that's all, and at age 36, most teams probably want to try more productive or higher-upside options.) But the David Eckstein I know would be working his tail off to be the ultimate team player, accepting a bench role, and giving advice to youngsters, while using every ounce of his determination to prove to those robots in the front office that hustling and bunting and hitting behind the runner are all things that really matter.
Instead, it appears he's simply decided he's had enough.