What would possess me to feature a Larry Bigbie card tonight? Well, I want to talk about Eric Byrnes, but I don't have any cards of him in an Orioles uniform. But the O's did trade Bigbie to acquire him at the trade deadline in 2005. It's a long and winding road that runs through my brain, but it gets you where you need to go.
Byrnes had been a productive major leaguer for a few seasons prior to his arrival in Baltimore, seeming to really come into his own with a .283 average, 20 homers, and 73 RBI in 2004. But he had been scuffling in Oakland in '05, and didn't light the world on fire in the two-and-a-half weeks he spent with the Rockies (.189 in 53 at-bats). The Birds must have hoped that the third team was a charm (or they were desperate to unload the fragile Bigbie), but they were off the mark. He didn't hit for average (.192), power (.299 SLG), or work the count (.246 OBP). He was 4-for-55 (.073) after August 31. Plus, the team cratered both on and off the field, having completed an in-season first-to-worst mini-collapse. So my first prolonged exposure to the man dubbed "the Human Crash Test Dummy" (for his reckless disregard for his own body in the outfield) was altogether unpleasant.
That offseason, Eric signed with the Diamondbacks. That's when he really started to bug me. He looked like a whole different player, putting up 67 doubles, 47 home runs, 162 RBI, and 75 steals with a .277 average in the 2006 and 2007 seasons combined. It was bad enough that he was producing while we were suffering with the likes of Jay Payton in left field, but he also started showing up on offseason and postseason ESPN and FOX baseball broadcasts as a loud, uninteresting, mop-headed color analyst. I particularly remember him camping out in a kayak in McCovey Cove during the 2007 All-Star Game. It was as hilarious as it sounds.
Of course, the Eric Byrnes I was familiar with from that two-month stretch of 2005 reared his ugly head soon after signing a three-year, $30 million contract extension with the Snakes. Injuries limited him to 136 games over the past two seasons, and his batting line was a grisly .218/.271/.382. This prompted Arizona to eat the last year of his contract, whereupon Seattle snapped him up on the cheap. The now-34-year-old hit rock bottom for the Mariners, scraping together three hits in 32 at-bats (.094) and going out in a blaze of baffling glory last Friday night. With Ichiro on third base with one out in the 11th inning of a scoreless tie, Byrnes was called upon to squeeze bunt. For no apparent reason, he pulled the bat back, leaving the incoming runner dead to rights. After the ball reached the catcher, Eric inexplicably squared to bunt again! Ichiro was easily tagged out, and opposing manager Ron Washington of the Rangers was ejected for arguing that the pitch should have been called a strike. A few pitches later, Byrnes struck out anyhow.
After the game, the floundering outfielder did not stick around to answer for his bizarre decision. Instead, he exited the clubhouse and rode his bicycle through the hallway, passing a group of reporters and Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik along the way. After sitting out Saturday's game, he went 0-for-4 on Sunday and was released shortly thereafter. It remains to be seen where he will land next, but I can only hope it's not anywhere near my television.