Okay, I realize this might be a little early, but I still felt like doing it. My look back today is on the very recent former Cub, Michael Barrett. Why, so fast? Because I like him and I know that a lot of other Cubs fans do, or did, too. Plus, I sort of feel bad for the guy. Seriously. I realize that saying that may draw some heat, but I can take it. Regardless, I’ll get back to that stuff in a minute or two.
I grew up in the Rockford, Illinois area. From 1988-1993 Rockford had a single-A team in the Midwest League called the Rockford Expos and they were a Montreal affiliate. During that time in my life I worked for a man who was a big sponsor, so I was around the ball park a lot and got the pleasure of meeting several up and coming ball players. Because of that, I followed the Expos fairly close for the following five or six years. I was always curious about the fate of some of the guys that I knew. So with a little extended Expos knowledge, I ended up knowing a little bit about Michael Barrett long before he was a Cub. The little that I remembered was that he could hit and that the Expos regarded him as a pretty good all-around athlete. When the Cubs acquired Barrett back in ’03 I remember being fairly positive about it and telling some friends that he might bring a little offense to the bottom of the order.
The Expos thought very highly of the young Michael Barrett. They drafted him as a shortstop in the 1st round of the 1995 amateur draft, straight out of high school. Barrett had led Pace Academy to three straight Georgia class A high school championships in 1993-1995. His short stint in the minor leagues lasted only about three and half years and his debut was on September 19th, 1998 as a third baseman. After just eight games in the big leagues, Barrett was sent back to AA Harrisburg. That year, he would go on to post gaudy hitting numbers and claim the Montreal Expos Minor Leaguer Player of The Year Award. Playing most of that time as a catcher. Along with his award, he earned a roster spot for the 1999 Expos opening day roster. He would battle ups and downs in his hitting and defense, and for the remainder of his Expos tenure Barrett tried to find a permanent position. After trying him at catcher, shortstop, third base, and even first base the Expos finally decided he was their permanent catcher in 2003. Further inconsistency and eventually injuries, would finally lead to Montreal trading Barrett in the off-season of 2003. He was first traded to the Oakland Athletics, and then traded again the next day to the Cubs for Damian Miller and cash considerations.
His history with the Cubs is still recent enough that I won’t bother bringing up numbers and stats. Let’s just say that overall, his numbers as a Cub were pretty good. In the past his offensive numbers had been good enough to cover some up some of his other deficiencies. Not this year though. Along with the rest of the Cubs, Barrett started this season in a funk. Barrett became an early target for blame as his lack of defense became glaring. Barrett also showed an unusual lack of focus that led to miscues both behind the plate and on the base paths. All of those factors, along with a sudden ineptitude in handling the pitching staff made it tough to watch Barrett fail over and over. It seemed to be grinding on everyone, including Barrett himself. Then, it came to a boil. I still laugh every time I see the replay that shows Barrett pointing to the 13 hits on the scoreboard as Big Z goes from mad, to raging in less than one-tenth of a second. Zambrano is a hot head and Barrett is too, but to see Barrett stand up to the mighty Venezuelan was both honorable and stupid all at once.
I, like many, liked Barrett for just those reasons though. Because outside of his numbers he was tough and had a little chip on his shoulder. It made him an instant hit with the Wrigley Field faithful when he took on Roy Oswalt in 2004. Then Barrett cemented his legacy when he punched AJ Pierzynski in his fat head in 2006. While I didn’t quite agree with Michael’s explanation/rationalization of the ‘Pandemonium at the Plate’ incident, I did thoroughly enjoy it. It seemed to be pure retribution and frustration rather than the feeble self defense that Barrett claimed it to be. Either way, I am sure that Barrett received anonymous Thank-You cards from all over the league for that one. All in all, I liked Michael Barrett because he played hard, even if not always well. He did always appear to be trying and giving it his all. How can you say anything else about a guy who played through an intrascrotal hematoma for his team!? For those not versed in medical jargon, that injury is also know as a busted nutsack. His public comments and perception made it well known that Barrett respected and enjoyed being a Cub. Because of that, I think that Cubs fans respected and enjoyed Michael Barrett too. From all accounts he was highly regarded in the community and the clubhouse. His involvement in numerous charitable events, children’s baseball programs, and Derrick Lee’s Project 3000 all point to Barrett being a decent human being outside of baseball.
That is partly why I stated that I feel bad for him at the beginning of this post. It seems unfair that the focus of the Cubs early troubles, and the subsequent “turning point” was initially pointed towards the significance of Michael Barrett leaving. The Chicago media did what they do. They weren’t very complimentary upon Barrett’s departure and he became a bit of a scapegoat. Then the Cubs began to turn around their season. Coincidence? It’s hard to say. Maybe partly, but now the focus of the turnaround has been shifted to Uncle Lou’s tirade. Funny how something like that can go from being called a meltdown to magical. I’m just glad that Barrett got out from under that stigma.
Barrett’s year continues in San Diego just as it was in Chicago. His offensive numbers have dropped a little, but his defense has tightened up a bit. Barring any contract extension, Barrett will be a 30 year old free agent at the end of this season. He has made comments that he would like to stay on in San Diego. That may just be lip service. What the Padres intend to do with him will probably be directly dependent on how they finish this season. Personally, I think Barrett would be a great fit for an AL club. I think he would make a pretty good DH and part time catcher/first baseman. We will never know when we might see Michael Barrett at Wrigley Field again. October versus the Padres? You never know. Whenever that time comes, I hope that the Cubs nation will give the man a deserved ovation for three tough seasons of gutty determination and entertainment. He deserves at least that much.
As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.
Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.