The Heroes of October
On the final day of the regular season, when the Giants won their way into the Wildcard Game, the Giants’ announcers at game’s end talked about how excited Conor Gillaspie, in particular, was about playing in his first pennant race. One has to think that Gillaspie is even more excited now that he has etched his name permanently in San Francisco Giants’ history. As with Brian Johnson in 1997 and Travis Ishikawa in 2014, Gillaspie will always be remembered for this one shining moment in what has otherwise been a pedestrian major league career.
For a player with a good head on his shoulders, it must be particularly satisfying to return to the team that originally drafted and developed you and have such an out-sized impact on the biggest game of the year so far. By the time Gillaspie and Ishikawa had returned to the Giants, they both well knew that MLB is a business where nobody is too big to be traded.
Even so, most players probably have a sweet spot for the team that originally drafted them, because this was the first and arguably most significant time that a major league team said, “We think you have the potential to be a major league player,” something almost all professional baseball players have dreamed about at least since the age of seven or eight. It also must be kind of gratifying, once you have gotten over the hurt feelings that almost always occur the first time a player is traded, to find out that your original team still wants you back later in your career.
Until last night’s game, Gillaspie’s career had been something of a disappointment in light of the fact that he was once a late first round draft pick. He wasn’t able to establish himself with the Giants, and he was a regular for a couple of seasons only because a bad team (the 2013-2014 White Sox) was absolutely desperate for a less-than-dreadful player to play the hot corner. Gillaspie is a good pure hitter, but he doesn’t have enough power, and his 3B defense is below major league average, at least before this season.
Gillaspie seems to have accepted whole-heartedly his role as a platoon/bench player for the Giants, which is what a player of his type absolutely needs to do. It is, in fact, a great time in baseball history to be a bench player, at least so long as you hold your roster spot throughout the season, because in this day of 12- and even 13-man pitching staffs, bench players get to play a lot. In today’s game, there is no longer a 25th man on the roster who plays only in emergencies.
While Gillaspie only had 205 regular season plate appearances, he appeared in 101 games for the 2016 Giants. Surely, Gillaspie would like to be the everyday starter at 3B, but playing this often means you are contributing to the team and your skills are not atrophying for lack of opportunities.
Now we wait to see if Gillaspie can manage any more post-season magic against the vaunted Chicago Cubs.