Thursday, December 08, 2005

I'll Miss J.T.

by BH

On Wednesday night, the San Francisco Giants declined to offer salary arbitration to J.T. Snow, their longtime first baseman. While the Giants move was not unexpected and was made easier by Snow's declining production over the past few seasons, it is still one of the saddest days I have felt as a Giants fan.

Snow first came to the Giants in a trade with the Angels in the winter of 1997. He was part of the new, refirbished infield that came as part of Brian Sabean's first year with the team. Not much was expected of that Giants team. They had traded away their most popular player in Matt Williams, in return receiving Jeff Kent and Jose Viscaino. Mark Lewis was going to be the new everyday third baseman, and Snow was going to be their first real first baseman since Will Clark had left following the 1993 season. The '97 Giants won 90 games and an NL West title. I will never forget a two-game series in late September against the Dodgers. The Giants had led the division almost the entire season, but found themselves entering this series trailing Los Angeles by two games. I was a sophomore at Shasta College, and my friend Rob and I decided we were going to drive to Candlestick and buy bleacher seats. Evidently, about 20,000 people had the same idea and when Rob and I got to the stadium, were forced to buy $40 scalped tickets instead. J.T. had quickly become my favorite player. He was amazing on defense, teamed with Barry Bonds and Kent to form a frightening 3-4-5, and played the game hard every night. Rob liked him too, so prior to the game we had decided that Rob would paint a "J" on his chest and I would sit next to him sporting a giant "T." Candlestick was packed and roaring 20 minutes before the first pitch. Long-time Giants fans know that a Candlestick crowd was a lot different than a Pac Bell crowd. More die-hard. They'd come to the park to actually watch the game. Anyway, in the top of the first, with Woody on the mound, J.T. dove for a hard liner and got the out, giving Rob and I sufficient reason to expose our chests. In the bottom of the first, Bonds hit a two-run shot off of Chan-Ho Park, did the pirouette we still see on highlights from time-to-time, and the Giants won the game 2-1. The Giants went on to pull off a miracle win the next day, taking the west a few days later.

J.T. Snow is not going to the Hall of Fame. He will not have his number retired by the Giants. He hit .268, with 1500 hits, 189 home runs, and 873 RBI's. If there were a defensive Hall, he'd be in. If he had continued playing in New York, he'd be talked about as the best defensive first baseman in history. Now he receives only passing mention in that category, and even that talk is fading away. He gave Giants fans some memorable moments though. I can remember his bomb off of Armando Benitez in game 2 of the 2000 NLDS. I can remember jumping around like a maniac in the lobby of the Vail Village Inn, giving my friend Kendrick hugs and high fives when it happened. I'll never forget his play in the 2002 playoffs when he fell while trying to catch a foul pop, only to recover and catch the ball. The torrid pace with which he hit over the second half of 2004 reminded all Giants fans what he had been for so long and why he was our favorite. People used his collision with Ivan Rodriguez in the 2003 playoffs as a metaphor for J.T.'s declining skills, but they got it wrong. It was a metaphor for how he played the game. What better a representation of Snow's character than going down fighting?

In the end, J.T. got old. He spent much of the past few season on the disabled list. Despite his defensive value, his lack of offensive production made him a subpar first baseman. I hope he retires and becomes a coach for the Giants. I don't want to see him in a Royals uniform. I kind of feel like I did when Joe Montana left for Kansas City. There are certain guys you know you'd hate if they played for another team. Bonds and Kent are those kinds of guys. Snow is not. Even if he plays for a team facing the Giants, I can't imagine wanting to see him fail the way I do when I watch Kent. For now, we will be looking for the next great Giant first baseman, the way we did when Clark left for Texas. Maybe Lance Niekro will be that guy. Maybe not. J.T. Snow was.

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