Chone Figgins Was Never The Problem, Says Chone Figgins

Jeff Sullivan · February 26, 2014 at 11:11 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Let’s cut right to the chase. Figgins is in camp with the Dodgers, trying to make a baseball team. Naturally, with Figgins around, reporters want to know what happened to him. You don’t have to drill deep to tap into Figgins’ vast reserve of excuses. Here’s the newest thing:

[Figgins] said the Mariners had competed well that season against the Angels and he thought Seattle would be good for him.

It wasn’t.

“It kind of says it all,” he said, “when you have just signed a $38-million contract [four years] and they pinch-hit for you in the fourth game.”

As several others have pointed out, Figgins was indeed pinch-hit for early, and he was pinch-hit for by Ken Griffey Jr., and Griffey delivered a crucial ninth-inning single in a game the Mariners won. I don’t remember reading anything about Figgins being upset at the time, but I was able to find this from Mike Salk:

He pouted when Ken Griffey Jr. pinch hit for him.

Obviously, Figgins wasn’t upset about the result — he was upset about feeling disrespected, about feeling doubted. If there’s one thing Chone Figgins is probably sick of, it’s being doubted, because, think about what he faced as a younger player, as a prospect. Think about how a ballplayer is perceived when he stands 5-foot-8 in a funhouse mirror. Figgins has had to fight for everything, proving doubters wrong at every turn, and in his head, he’s earned the right to not be doubted anymore. Remember when he blew up at Don Wakamatsu after he was removed for not hustling? Don Wakamatsu doubted Chone Figgins. Chone Figgins has never doubted Chone Figgins.

Every player has to be driven by something. Perhaps Figgins has been driven by his doubters. I want to point out that Figgins wasn’t blaming the pinch-hit removal for everything that happened afterward. It was just intended to be representative. But it’s the end of February, 2014. Griffey pinch-hit for Figgins in early April, 2010. Figgins still recalls the specific instance of feeling slighted, four years later. It still stings. Figgins can’t stand that he hasn’t proven his latest doubters wrong. The difference is, this time, the doubters are right. Figgins built a whole career on being better than he should’ve been. Now he’s 36, and I’m guessing when you’re 36, you still feel a lot like you did when you were 30. Figgins today isn’t too different from the good version of Chone Figgins, but he’s different enough, and the major leagues aren’t very forgiving.

This was Chone Figgins last year, when he was trying to make the Marlins:

Playing part time made it tough to shake the slump, he says.

“I’d go three weeks to a month not playing, going from getting 700 at-bats every year,” he says. “It’s tough. You sign a four-year deal, and the second year of the deal you’re sitting on the bench. That’s hard to swallow. But I stayed positive as much as I could. This is where it has taken me.”

Figgins missed one game in 2010. In 2011, he started 26 games in April, 22 games in May, and 18 games in June. He then started 11 games in July before missing the final two months with injury. He was a starter for the 2012 Mariners into early May, when the team finally decided it had had enough. Absolutely, that last year, Figgins mostly just stayed on the bench as highly-paid insurance. That was after more than a calendar year of batting under .200.

Figgins didn’t make the Marlins. The way he tells it, he was surprised — he didn’t know how he didn’t make the team after batting .308 in spring training. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Figgins highlighting his own 2013 spring statistics, as if they were in any way meaningful. He finished 8-for-26, with eight singles. In the same camp, Casey Kotchman went 18-for-45 with six extra-base hits. In the same camp, Kevin Kouzmanoff went 10-for-29 with six extra-base hits. They were regular-season non-factors. Figgins has to cling to that batting average, though, because it’s his only recent evidence that he can still play. There’s nothing from his record in Seattle. Figgins has to believe in last spring, because the alternative is being confronted by the big dark empty.

Figgins never doubted himself. Not publicly, in any case. His numbers, however, invited doubt, so Figgins has had to come up with excuse after excuse. He wasn’t batting in the right part of the order. He was forced to adopt an unfamiliar approach. He was bothered by his hip. He was bothered by organizational disrespect. He didn’t play enough. He shouldn’t have had to switch defensive positions. Figgins still wants to play, obviously, and he still believes he can play, and he’s never wavered, not once. He might be the most driven, now, because he’s the most doubted. I don’t know how much thought Figgins has given to the possibility that it might be him. Probably not very much. He was capable of everything before. Why not now? He feels like the same guy. Still runs fast.

It’s pretty apparent that Chone Figgins was unhappy in Seattle. This is his latest excuse. And I don’t doubt it for a second. Figgins, then, believes that he can get back to being himself with a change of scenery, now that he’s put that chapter behind him. For Figgins, Seattle just wasn’t a good fit, for a whole lot of reasons. Figgins has identified each of them, and they’ve contributed to his having been unhappy. The happy Chone Figgins is a successful Chone Figgins, so he just needs to get back to being happy, to get back to being his old self. It all makes sense, except for the cold truth: the biggest driver of Chone Figgins’ unhappiness was that he wasn’t playing like a good player. He felt attacked on all sides because he wasn’t performing, and as long as he isn’t performing, he can’t be happy as a player again.

So he can boost himself up in February and March. No one else is going to do it for him. In Figgins’ mind, he’s still a good player, and that can’t be proven false until he’s playing in games. Even then, struggles might not mean anything to Chone. They’d just mean something to his employer, and then Figgins would find a new excuse. It just wasn’t a good fit, he might say. There’s still a lot of ability in there, he might say. Figgins would talk about wanting the right opportunity, but the reality is that there hasn’t been the right opportunity for five years. Not a lot of perfect fits for unproductive baseball players.

Eventually, Chone Figgins is going to stop coming up with excuses. Maybe, at that point, he’ll have come to terms with the reality of his career. Or maybe he’ll just quietly seethe, seethe for many of the rest of his days, because everybody around him was a doubter, and he was still a hell of a baseball player, god dammit, and all he needed was another chance to prove it.


25 Responses to “Chone Figgins Was Never The Problem, Says Chone Figgins”

  1. TherzAlwaysHope on February 26th, 2014 11:32 am

    Perfect. Nevertheless, I hope he gets his dream.

  2. Dogball on February 26th, 2014 11:52 am

    I admire persistence. However, I don’t admire victimhood, and Chone Figgins isn’t going to be happy anywhere because if he doesn’t play, he is a victim of others’ doubts about his abilities.

  3. hailcom on February 26th, 2014 12:04 pm

    A thoughtful essay and a good read. You are one talented writer, Mr. Sullivan.

  4. Badbadger on February 26th, 2014 12:52 pm

    I actually feel kind of sorry for Figgins. That run he had with Seattle… man that had to be humiliating. I mean yeah, he got paid a big sack of cash but I wouldn’t take being booed and hated by all the sports fans of a large city for anything. It’s not that pretty to see him blaming everyone but himself but at least he’s not jumping off a bridge or something.

  5. Westside guy on February 26th, 2014 12:54 pm

    Thanks for another great read, Jeff.

    For what it’s worth, Griffey was exactly the same way at the end of his career. It wasn’t him… it was just a slump, he just needed to tweak something, etc.

    It seems like for most of these guys it’s hard for them to admit when it’s over. I suspect even being supremely talented isn’t enough to succeed at the pro level – you *have* to believe in yourself, otherwise the inevitable slumps get into your head and eventually you just can’t compete at that level because you constantly second-guess everything.

    I know there are guys like Buhner who manage to say “okay, I know I’m done”… but that sure seems to be the exception, not the rule.

  6. Eastside Suds on February 26th, 2014 1:47 pm

    This game, baseball, is so incredibly unpredictable and without comparability to all the other team games. A spotlight on the individual in a slow moving game within a team concept. Figgins’ flaws, his inept OBA, his slumps from both sides of the plate, his increased K rate along with nearly a hint of the man he was in Tinsel Town was shown to the masses. Bottom line is that he was given more chances than most. He didn’t succeed.

    This isn’t an indictment of the man himself as Chone clearly hints at. You can feel sorry for him, but baseball won’t. It’s a simple game. Run, hit, throw & play well or you will be yesterday’s news. Figgins blames everyone but himself for his poor performance and nobody cares. He didn’t produce after the Mariners made him a multi-millionaire. End of story Chone. End your lucrative career with dignity and quit blaming the game. Millions of boys both past, present and future would love one day in your shoes. So, look in that mirror and come to reality Chone. It’s not the Mariners, or Marlins, or Griffey or Wakamatsu at fault here. It’s all you pal!

  7. GLS on February 26th, 2014 2:29 pm

    I agree with what Eastside Suds just said. You really can’t compare baseball to the other sports. It just doesn’t work.

    My take on Figgins is that the near complete lack of a power tool is basically what did him in. He got just a tiny bit older and lost some imperceptible amount of his ability to make solid contact and that was all it took at the major league level to expose him and make him a black hole of despair at the plate.

  8. miscreant on February 26th, 2014 3:47 pm

    Think if Richard Sherman had Figgins attitude. Sherman would be working a 9-5 right now wondering what could have been. But instead of blaming others, Sherman grew a chip on his shoulder, busted his ass and is now a Super Bowl Champion. And Figgins is crying to anyone who will listen and hoping to make it as a bench player on the Dodgers.

  9. henryv on February 26th, 2014 3:56 pm

    Who the fuck is Chone Figgins? I remember a guy that hit a lot like Eric Byrnes, but can’t remember his name. Wasn’t very good, and got a shitton of money to play bad baseball and then go away.

  10. TomC on February 26th, 2014 4:18 pm

    > Who the fuck is Chone Figgins?

    He was one of our regular out makers every few innings a couple of years ago. You probably have repressed memory syndrome.

  11. amnizu on February 26th, 2014 5:18 pm

    >Now he’s 36, and I’m guessing when you’re 36, you still feel a lot like you did when you were 30.

    I can tell you with a fairly biased opinion that 36 feels way worse than 30. So much so that I am really not looking forward to 37.

  12. Gormogon on February 26th, 2014 8:48 pm

    The MLBPA should allow players to rescind their contracts. If they did, these types of horrible players would lose a lot of their excuses. You don’t like how you’re being treated? Fine, we will dissolve our contract.

    Essentially, these types of players are f’ing whiners who need to figure out how to respect themselves and others.

  13. Slippery Elmer on February 26th, 2014 9:10 pm

    Replace “Chone Figgins” with almost every baseball player’s name and this will probably still be applicable.

    “It’s the circle of life …”

  14. roosevelt on February 26th, 2014 10:41 pm

    It’s clear to me that he got screwed by the “man”….
    Enjoy your millions of unearned income—chump!

  15. LongDistance on February 27th, 2014 4:33 am

    True to nature, Figgins never loses an opportunity to find a way to disappoint.

    Don’t go away mad. Just go away.

  16. LongDistance on February 27th, 2014 4:36 am

    True to nature, Figgins never loses an opportunity to find a way to disappoint whether on or off the field.

    Don’t go away mad Chone. Just go away.

  17. Nate on February 27th, 2014 8:05 am

    Hey Jeff, to quote someone much wiser than myself: “thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?”

  18. JasonJ on February 27th, 2014 8:29 am

    Chone was a turd. No excuses he makes can hide that fact and everyone knows it. He couldn’t make the Marlins roster, enough said.

  19. OldFan on February 27th, 2014 9:01 am

    Figgins’ in Dodgers first Cactus League game: 0/3, 1 LOB.

    Wonder what his excuse is for that performance, or lack thereof?

  20. vj on February 27th, 2014 9:05 am

    Chone had a pretty good career, in particular when you consider his tools. I have no indication that his flopping with the M’s was due to lack of trying on his part. He’s getting more vitriol in the comments, here, than he deserves. Overall, he should be remembered as an overachiever, not as a whiner.

  21. currcoug on February 27th, 2014 10:20 am

    This ranks right up there with Eric Byrnes saying Safeco Field ruined his career (on MLB Network TV). Of course, Byrnes bragged about retiring to a softball team (Dutch Goose)…and being paid $ 11,000,000.00 at the same time.

  22. smb on February 27th, 2014 9:15 pm

    I would probably respect him more if he just said Safeco killed his career and he wonders what might’ve been had he signed with an NL team in a warm climate.

  23. Hunter S. Thompson on February 27th, 2014 9:18 pm

    I’ve never got the Chone Figgin’s hate. Yes he was a bomb as a free agent signing. The fact that it may have lead this front office to change approaches is also bad.
    But Figgin’s he’s a professional athlete, almost every athlete is cocky and has an inflated ego, its what allows them to do what they do.
    Earlier someone said if Figgin’s had Sherman’s attitude. Figgin’s and Sherman have the same Attiutde only Figgin’s skills are gone. Sherman already blames a bad moment on the refs BS (when it is obviously not) PI calls.

    Long story short we only hate Figgins because he was a bust. He hate’s the M’s because that is where he failed, if he has any hope at contiuing he has to blame someone other then himself so he blames the place he failed.

    This is a non story, this is spring training in the MLB.

  24. vj on February 28th, 2014 1:29 am

    One thing I wonder: Both Ichiro and Figgins got bad rather quickly. Ichiro to a lesser degree and not quite as abruptly. His 2010 season (4.4 WAR) on the surface looks pretty normal for him although I recall at the time Jeff observing evidence of declining skill masked by random luck (don’t remember the particulars).
    Anyway, could it be that players who combine high speed and low power are inclined to fade rather quickly?

  25. downwarddog on February 28th, 2014 8:30 am

    I really hope he makes the Dodgers, mainly because I really can’t stand the Dodgers and they deserve him.

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