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Mike Cameron well entrenched in the Hall of Very Good

Feb 19, 2012, 1:23 PM EDT

Mike Cameron Getty Images

A Hall of Famer he obviously wasn’t, but Mike Cameron, who announced his retirement Sunday at age 39, might be the game’s most underrated player of the last 20 years.

Cameron nails just about all of the factors that makes a player underrated. He hit for low averages, he struck out a lot, he spent much of his career in pitcher’s parks, he changed teams frequently and he didn’t get the kind of defensive reputation early on that would have let him coast to Gold Glove awards like Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki did.

But when Cameron was at his best, he was one of the top players in his league. Unfortunately, his two best seasons happened to come in Safeco Field in 2001 and in Petco Park in 2006. In 2001, he was the AL’s seventh-best player, according to Baseball-reference’s WAR. In 2006, he was the NL’s 13th best.

Cameron was more about consistency, though. From 1999-2009, he had OPS-pluses between 104-123 every year. He was a pretty exceptional defender right up until the end of that stretch, and he played in 140 games in nine of the 11 seasons.

Unfortunately, because of the kind of hitter he was, Cameron was typically typecast as a No. 6 batter. He never hit even .270 in a full season. The only time he ever led a league in anything was when he fanned 176 times for the Mariners in 2002. He drove in 110 runs in 2001, but his next highest total was 83. In 2004, he managed to drive in just 76 runs despite hitting 30 homers for the Mets.

So, no, Cameron wasn’t a superstar. He wasn’t necessarily the guy a team wanted up with the winning run on second in the bottom of the ninth (though he wasn’t exactly unclutch; he hit slightly better with runners on and with RISP than with the bases empty over the course of his career). He struggled mightily in his four postseasons, hitting .174/.309/.272 with one homer in 92 at-bats.

But as a third banana, he was quite an asset. WAR rates him the 24th best player of the aughts (2000-09), and I wouldn’t quibble with that. He comes up short just looking at his statistical line — he finished his career with a .249 average, 278 homers and 297 steals — but there were just so many pluses outside of that. He earned three Gold Gloves and deserved at least a couple of more, he was a terrific baserunner and he rarely grounded into double plays. There’s no doubt he won more games for his teams with those skills than he lost with the strikeouts.

  1. Beau - Feb 19, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    and he once hit four homers in the same game!

    • winkandthegun - Feb 19, 2012 at 5:43 PM

      I was at that game – he almost had 5. it was awesome.

  2. Gonzo - Feb 19, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    “Cameron nails just about all of the factors that makes a player underrated. He hit for low averages…”


    • Jack Marshall - Feb 19, 2012 at 2:27 PM

      Meaning that since casual fans still look at BA rather than OBA, a player who hits for consistently low averages will be pigeon-holed, unjustly, in the public’s mind as mediocre. The statement was clear and accurate.

  3. crpls - Feb 19, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    I bet Ryan Howard would have had 150 RBI on the 2004 Mets.

  4. cerowb - Feb 19, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    I’ll concede that he was underrated, but still not sure he makes Hall of Very Good status…maybe the Hall of Meh

  5. crpls - Feb 19, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    One of the better players for a decade is meh?

    • professor59 - Feb 20, 2012 at 12:18 PM

      It might have been helpful to see who else was in the mid-20s of the list.

  6. gwhempel - Feb 19, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    I got to watch a lot of Mike Cameron in his two years in Milwaukee. I totally took him for granted. Didn’t really realize what the Brewers had until he was gone. Wonderful player. A+ defense, 20-25 homers, patience at the plate, and a leader in the clubhouse. Sign me up for one of those at every position.

  7. nightrain42 - Feb 19, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    Loved watching him play. Terrific defensive outfielder

  8. dirtyharry1971 - Feb 19, 2012 at 4:49 PM

    good fielder but the guy never had a good average and he was a strikeout waiting to happen at the place. I dont see how he was under rated

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 19, 2012 at 4:59 PM

      Because bating average and strikeouts are terrible measures of a batters worth, or pretty much what jack Marshall said above.

      • dirtyharry1971 - Feb 19, 2012 at 8:12 PM

        batting ave and strikeouts are terrible ways to measure a hitter? Since when?

      • cur68 - Feb 19, 2012 at 8:40 PM

        Reading fail, ‘harry. Church said “measure of worth” not as a hitter. Surely you know the difference.

  9. baseballisboring - Feb 19, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Congrats on a great career. I loved it when the Red Sox signed him to that 2 year deal…at the time, anyway.

  10. Old Gator - Feb 19, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    Now he gets to cash in all his frequent flyer miles. Somebody warn the flight attendants’ union.

  11. schaffershokai - Feb 19, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    He’d be better off doing this:

  12. jerseyshoregiant - Feb 19, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    I liked him when he was on the Mets.

  13. nworca - Feb 20, 2012 at 2:55 AM

    If a ball players job is actually to thrill the fans, I have to point out that Mike Cameron made the Seattle fans forget a legend, Ken Griffey, with his catches in center field. Enjoy your retirement Mike!

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