Is This the End of Juan Uribe?

Searching for infielder Juan Uribe, last seen playing for the Cleveland Indians, has turned out to be quite a challenge. Most news agencies, including MLB Trade Rumors, have reported nothing since the Indians designated the third baseman for assignment back in August. The player page on Baseball Reference remains pretty quiet as well. On Twitter, one finds several “Juan Uribe” accounts, such as the obvious fake account @notjuanuribe, yet many haven’t been updated much since the player left Hollywood and the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, where he spent nearly five seasons of his career.

The Dominican has simply vanished. Due to the media’s lack of any apparent interest, Uribe’s whereabouts and antics are left to the imagination. We would like to think that Uribe is enjoying some time with his family and living it up on the nearly $60 million he’s earned since signing with Colorado Rockies amateur scout Jorge Posada, Sr. for $5,000 back in 1997. After earning two World Series rings with the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants in 2005 and 2010 respectively and nearly earning a third last year with the Indians, why shouldn’t he?

On the face of it, Uribe doesn’t deserve the coverage and should take those earnings and run. The infielder has never been a superstar, nor has he ever played in an All Star game. He has played more than 150 games in a season just twice, the last of which was way back in 2007. He hasn’t batted higher than .300 more than once in his career, nor has he ever hit more than 25 home runs in a season. In fact, according to Baseball Reference, he has only accumulated a WAR of 23.8 over 16 seasons. He’s played for seven different teams and has never signed a free agent contract for longer than three years. Physically he resembles a fireplug rather than an athlete. So why fuss over a seemingly mediocre player?

Yes, Uribe is 38 years old and is more than likely to retire. However it could be argued that Uribe is one of those players who is, as former big league outfielder and current Rockies radio color analyst Ryan Spilborghs puts it, a “glue-guy.” In a piece for MLB Trade Rumors, “The Importance of ‘Glue Guys,‘” Spilborghs argues that the value of these types of players can never be measured but should “always be respected,” reminding readers that baseball is still a human game in an era dominated by a growth of admiration for statistics. Yet if there is a statistic that all organizations understand, it’s the number of team wins. And over 16 years, having Uribe in the clubhouse has translated to quite a bit of team wins, with the infielder finishing on teams with losing records just four times. Amazingly three of those times were his first three seasons in the big leagues, all on the Rockies, who consistently don’t do much winning.

When the Rockies did in fact start producing some winning seasons, including a World Series run in 2007 and long after Uribe had left, Spilborghs argues that non-superstar, “glue-guy” role players such as Jamey Carroll, Yorvit Torrealba, Josh Fogg and LaTroy Hawkins were as much a factor as Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki. In 2008, after the front office decided not to bring back Carroll, Fogg or Hawkins, the team and clubhouse were not the same, producing a weak follow up year to the Rockies only World Series appearance. At the same time, Uribe was helping push the White Sox to their most recent playoff appearance, just a few short years after recording the final out of the White Sox first championship since 1917.

It is fascinating that if the Indians had indeed won the World Series last season, Uribe would have become just the 15th player in history to win three rings with three different franchises. Although he was released in August, Uribe still would have earned the ring, a feat which was last accomplished by outfielder Luis Polonia (1989 Oakland Athletics, 1995 Atlanta Braves, 2000 New York Yankees). Uribe could very well have won another ring just a few years earlier with some very good Dodgers teams led by manager Don Mattingly, who allowed Uribe to manage the last regular season game of 2014. This unusual action by Mattingly, which turned into a 10-5 Dodgers win, demonstrates Uribe’s important role with both players and management in the clubhouse. The fact that Uribe has earned nearly $60 million in his career demonstrates that front offices respect his off field abilities as well.

To its credit, the media has given us snippets of Uribe’s clubhouse shenanigans, demonstrating an awareness, if somewhat limited, of Uribe’s importance. An example of Uribe’s humor came last season after getting hit with the baseball in his groin and later being diagnosed with a testicular contusion, partially caused by the lack of using a sports cup. In response to a reporter asking why the infielder doesn’t wear a cup, Uribe said “I don’t think the trainers have my size.” Uribe’s playfulness over the years has come up as a topic for discussion during interviews with managers and other players. Last season, manager Terry Francona made comments regarding Uribe: “Everybody enjoys him. I mean, how could you not?” During his White Sox playing days, manager Ozzie Guillen would consistently joke that Uribe’s English was terrible, and his Spanish wasn’t much better.

If this is indeed the end of Juan Uribe, it would seem the media’s recent avoidance is the beginning of the baseball player’s silent retreat into the sunset, becoming nothing more than an obscure reference for future baseball enthusiasts. Whatever one’s attitude is towards statistics, the fact is numbers endure and those players, like Uribe, who produce mediocre stats at best, face an unfair mortality. That’s too bad. Hopefully there is an eventual statistic to measure the “glue-guy” factor, because in an era dominated by statistics, players like Uribe keep baseball alive and human.

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