Chone Figgins Was Never The Problem, Says Chone Figgins
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 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.