"He's such a good guy, I wish he was a better player."
That's the line or something to the effect of it that one of my bosses - a huge Kansas City Royals fan - often heard from his friend and one-time co-worker Bob Dutton, the Kansas City Royals' long-time beat writer about a few different Royals players.
Which Royals player? Well basically all of them not named Zack Greinke or Joakim Soria.
And it's a line that I've often thought about with numerous players you come across when you cover a big league team. You often find yourself saying it for guys that are riding the shuttle between Triple A to the Major Leagues. A guy that lives that life often lacks of the pretension of a superstar since birth.
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One of those good guys is first baseman Bryan LaHair, who I was happy to find out today, signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs.
LaHair was one of the most easy-going likable guys on the Rainiers. When I first came to the TNT, he was always accommodating, easy to deal with and very thoughtful about baseball and life outside of it . He had to be easily the most well-liked of his teammates on the Rainiers. But he was according to most, a AAAA player - good in Triple A, but not good enough to play in the big leagues.
He wasn't ever considered a big-time prospect. At least I didn't consider him one. He was named the Mariners Most Valuable Player of the entire minor league system after combining to hit .309 with 58 runs, 22 doubles, 16 home runs and 74 RBI between AA and AAA.
But in 2007, he struggled hitting just 12 homers and slugging just .431 in 138 games for the Rainiers - not exactly the power numbers you want in a first baseman.
In 2008, he got his one and only chance at the big leagues, getting called up after the all-star break after the M's got rid of Richie Sexson.
I remember I got a mini-scoop on him being called up after I ran into him at the Ale House in University Place. I remember how excited he was talking about it. I think I even bought him a beer as congratulations.
But that didn't exactly go well. He played in 45 games, hitting .250 with three homers and 10 RBI, but he also struck out 40 times and looked lost against left-handed pitching.
LaHair later admitted that he was playing through an assortment of injuries, including a hernia, a stress fracture and torn ligament in his foot.
At the time, I thought he might get another chance to show something at the big league level for the Mariners, but I knew it would be a slim one.
But when the Mariners picked up Mike Carp, I pretty much figured last season would LaHair's last as a Mariner, unless he put ridiculous numbers that left them no other choice than to give him another chance.
He tried. Completely healthy for the first time, he put together a season in which he was named the Rainiers’ offensive MVP and a PCL All-Star, hitting .289 with 28 doubles, 26 homers and 85 RBI with an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .883.
But he didn't get a September call-up, which I wrote about here.
LaHair pretty much knew he was most likely done with organization during the season. That was the glaring reinforcement.
So now he'll go to spring training with the Cubs. He's got an invite to big league spring training. Obviously, he's a longshot to make the 25-man roster. But perhaps a new start and the National League will give him another chance to live the big league lifestyle, even if its just for a half a season.
He's a good guy, and I hope he proves to be a better player.