BY Art Thiel 09:37PM 04/13/2012

Cameron has another moment of Mariners joy

Popular former Mariners centerfielder signed a one-day contract to retire as a Mariner, then threw out the first pitch to a rousing ovation at the home opener Friday night.

Mike Cameron returned Friday to retire as a Mariner and throw out the home opener's ceremonial first pitch./ Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The sabermetric people will be a little shy on any counterpoints, so we’ll go ahead and risk this assessment: Mike Cameron was the most personally popular Mariner since Edgar Martinez.

Ken Griffey Jr. was more celebrated, Randy Johnson was more accomplished, Jay Buhner was more locally enduring, but no one made teammates, fans and media feel better than Cameron, just by standing there.

Friday night at the home opener, it was the fans who did the standing, offering an ovation that lasted the entire time it look him to jog in from behind the centerfield fence to the mound for the ceremonial opening pitch.

Cameron soft-tossed a throw that bounced once before being caught by Ichiro, the only player remaining from Cameron’s Seattle career (2000-2003). The two embraced, adding some evidence to a pre-game contention offered by the successor to Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle’s center field.

“I brought him out of his little circle,” said Cameron, responding to what kind of a teammate Ichiro was. “He’s got a little regimen that makes him seem like he doesn’t want to be bothered.”

Cameron didn’t care. His charisma, enthusiasm and joy for the game blew down any stoicism by Ichiro or pretense by anyone else. It’s over now, and it’s a shame. At 39, after Cameron 17 major league seasons and eight clubs, he’s called it quits.

His last act as a player was to sign a one-day contract in Seattle so he could retire as a Mariner.

“It’s only fitting to retire as a Mariner,” he said. “This feels like home to me. It’s special.”

For a Georgia native, that’s a generous statement. But Cameron, traded by Cincinnati in 2000 as part of the deal for Griffey,  stepped into a dead man’s job and flourished, playing the outfield nearly as well as Griffey did, and without the moodiness and controversy.  His numbers weren’t bad either — in four years, a .256 average, .798 OPS, 87 homers, 344 RBIs and 106 stolen bases.

He was also a part of a huge run of success for the Mariners — four winning seasons, including the 116 wins of 2001 as well as two playoff appearances that reached the American League Championship Series.

But after 2003, worried about Cameron’s strikeouts and struggles to hit at Safeco, as well as his cost, the Mariners let him go into free agency, where he signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the New York Mets. The Mariners still haven’t found a durable replacement.

He had a four-homer game, and decided a 19-inning game with another dinger, and made numerous thrilling catches. But his highlight moment came in 2001, when he was a late addition to the All-Star Game in Seattle. It was his one and only All-Star appearance.

“It was one of the great moments of my career,” he said, beaming nearly as much as his trademark diamond-stud earrings. “It was neat to keep my my locker and dress next to Ichiro.”

Given his flair and passion for the game, it was hard to imagine he was driven early on in Seattle by apprehension.

“The thing I was most afraid of was failing,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the guy who failed to live up to the billing.”

Judging by the reception Friday, there was no recollection of any Cameron failure by anyone in the house.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    Guti could easily be the replacement for Cammy if he’d just stay reasonably healthy.  But Cammy was such a positive influence for the club that few have matched.  And he’s one of the few players who could get Ichrio to relax.  I think Junior was probably the only other teammate who could do that. 

    • Artthiel

       Right on both counts. Gutierrez has the tools just not the health. Cameron was such a positive influence that it was probably worth $6M just for the mental health.

  • jafabian

    Guti could easily be the replacement for Cammy if he’d just stay reasonably healthy.  But Cammy was such a positive influence for the club that few have matched.  And he’s one of the few players who could get Ichrio to relax.  I think Junior was probably the only other teammate who could do that. 

    • Artthiel

       Right on both counts. Gutierrez has the tools just not the health. Cameron was such a positive influence that it was probably worth $6M just for the mental health.

  • RadioGuy

    It was great to see Mike Cameron sign that one-year deal to retire as a Mariner, and especially to see 46,000 people rising as one to give Cammy his ovation.  Mike came into a very difficult situation as a replacement for a Hall of Fame centerfielder (and Ken Grouchy Junior should go in the first year he’s eligible), but Cammy certainly made the most of it.

    And, by the way, Cameron wasn’t a dropoff from Grouchy at the plate in terms of genuine production.  Look at the side-by-side batting stats Cammy and Grouchy had between 2000 and 2003 for the four years Mike was in Seattle while Grouchy was in Cincy:

    CAMERON:  554 H, 115 2B, 19 3B, 87 HR, 353 R, 344 RBI, 106 SB, .256 BA
    GROUCHY:  338 H,   62 2B,   6 3B, 83 HR, 208 R, 232 RBI,  10 SB, .271 BA

    I willingly concede that Grouchy missed a LOT more games than Cammy did in that period, but the numbers are what they are.  Who genuinely produced more for their team during those four seasons? Or, to put it another way, would the Mariners have been better served by an injury-prone player beginning his career decline who obviously didn’t want to play for them, or a player who missed just 38 games in four years at the peak of his career who was glad to be in Seattle?

    I think this ended up being a great deal for the Mariners, given both the circumstances leading to the trade and how things went for each player during the four years after it.

    • Artthiel

       Fair point, radioguy. Junior’sd physical decay came about partly because of the leg damage he sustained playing 11 years on Kingdome concrete, and partly because of poor training habits. His prime was behind him. Cameron was in his prime. If only he could have hit well with the Safeco batter’s eye.  He never adjusted.

  • RadioGuy

    It was great to see Mike Cameron sign that one-year deal to retire as a Mariner, and especially to see 46,000 people rising as one to give Cammy his ovation.  Mike came into a very difficult situation as a replacement for a Hall of Fame centerfielder (and Ken Grouchy Junior should go in the first year he’s eligible), but Cammy certainly made the most of it.

    And, by the way, Cameron wasn’t a dropoff from Grouchy at the plate in terms of genuine production.  Look at the side-by-side batting stats Cammy and Grouchy had between 2000 and 2003 for the four years Mike was in Seattle while Grouchy was in Cincy:

    CAMERON:  554 H, 115 2B, 19 3B, 87 HR, 353 R, 344 RBI, 106 SB, .256 BA
    GROUCHY:  338 H,   62 2B,   6 3B, 83 HR, 208 R, 232 RBI,  10 SB, .271 BA

    I willingly concede that Grouchy missed a LOT more games than Cammy did in that period, but the numbers are what they are.  Who genuinely produced more for their team during those four seasons? Or, to put it another way, would the Mariners have been better served by an injury-prone player beginning his career decline who obviously didn’t want to play for them, or a player who missed just 38 games in four years at the peak of his career who was glad to be in Seattle?

    I think this ended up being a great deal for the Mariners, given both the circumstances leading to the trade and how things went for each player during the four years after it.

    • Artthiel

       Fair point, radioguy. Junior’sd physical decay came about partly because of the leg damage he sustained playing 11 years on Kingdome concrete, and partly because of poor training habits. His prime was behind him. Cameron was in his prime. If only he could have hit well with the Safeco batter’s eye.  He never adjusted.