Monday, April 19, 2010

In Further Defense of Aurilia

Our most recent KCBS Sports Fans podcast included a spirited debate about the Giants' plans to retire the uniform number (35) worn by infielder Rich Aurilia, who's officially ended his career at age 38.

My esteemed colleague Steve Bitker and our occasional contributor Mike Sugerman take the (not entirely unreasonable) position that Aurilia's career stats don't merit elevation to the pantheon of Giants greats whose jersey numbers will never be worn again: the likes of Ott, Cepeda, Mays, McCovey and Marichal.

I argue there's every reason to retire Richie's number. I don't base my case on stats, which I argue often carry more weight than they should in baseball. Instead, I base my case on emotion. Rich Aurilia, the kid out of Brooklyn, was a 24th-round draft choice who lasted 15 years in the big leagues, 12 of them in San Francisco. He was a better-than-average player, but more importantly, Rich Aurilia was a gamer.

Fans loved his grit and hustle. He had the image of a good guy off the field. Something about Rich Aurilia always said "regular guy".

In our podcast debate, I cited the Dodgers' retirement of Jim Gilliam's number 19 as evidence that other teams have honored non-Hall of Fame players. There are other good-but-not-great players on the retired number list (Houston's Jim Wynn comes to mind), as well as a couple of guys whose numbers were retired simply because they died young. Houston's Jim Umbricht succumbed to cancer while Cincinnati's Willard Hershberger committed suicide during the 1940 season (his number 5 was later "un-retired", but retired again after Johnny Bench wore it).

But the guy whose case most resembles Rich Aurilia would be San Diego's Randy Jones--who wore the same number 35 as Aurilia. Nobody will ever wear "35" again in San Diego because of a guy with a sub-.500 career win-loss record. Jones had a couple of really good years in his 10 year career, but Randy Johnson he was not.

He's not even San Diego's all-time win leader, but Randy Jones was a Padre the same way Rich Aurilia was a Giant. In Jones' case, he was a point of pride early in the history of an expansion franchise, leading the league in ERA one year and in wins and innings pitched the next.

Jones was a crafty lefty, undersized but with a huge heart. He's still a big name in San Diego with his baseball academy and his barbecue sauce. Not a Hall of Famer, but a guy worthy of the "retired-number" honor.

Just like our Richie.

No comments: