Underappreciated Giants: Volume Four

Remember, the Clio-winning Underappreciated Giants series takes a look back at players. We’re not really interested in what the players did after their careers were over. If, for example, a player became an on-air personality that makes you want to take a miter saw to your inner ear, that would be irrelevant to this discussion.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had a problem with this Underappreciated Giant in the broadcast booth. I’m not going to let some unwashed, faceless internet collective control my likes and dislikes. Take your faux outrage and shove it. If you could please click on an ad before you leave, though, that would be a big help.

Back to the subject of the post. The 1999 Giants finished in second place, behind a Diamondbacks team that featured all-time greats Jay Bell and Luis Gonzalez. Remember, though, that only Barry Bonds took any sort of PEDs. Certainly not Bell or Gonzalez. Whoops, how did that hyperlink get there? This isn’t TMZ. I’m not in the business of scurrilous rumors. Forget that you ever clicked on it and formed an opinion based on a single photograph. Players wake up after they turn 30 and discover that they’re superhuman hitters all the time.

Back to the subject of the post. In 1999, the era of the Great Internet Baseball Nerd Enlightenment was under way. People got all excited about walks and on-base percentages, and they paid attention to players who earlier might have escaped notice. F.P. Santangelo wanted to get on base. He didn’t care if he walked, got drilled in the face, or hit a bloop single; he wanted on base. He led the team in HBP, and he had one of the ten best walk-to-plate appearances ratio in the league among players with more than 200 plate appearances. Heck, he even worked in a catcher’s interference call for good measure.

Santangelo was gritty this, gamer that, blah blah blah, and his managers loved the gritty gamerness of the gritty sparkplug of a utility player who was gritty. Oh, and blue-collar. Oh, and who knew what it took to win. Oh, and gritty. Oh, and ‘roided up to the gills. I didn’t care about the mythology of the gritty, gritty utility player. I just enjoyed that the Giants had a player on their bench who walked up to the plate thinking only about how he was going to get on base. It was a nice card to be able to play in the late innings.

Santangelo played six positions for the Giants that year, so he gave Dusty Baker all kinds of flexibility. No one in the starting lineup was bad enough to pinch-hit for in close situations, so a lot of Santangelo’s value came with his ability to spot-start for everyone in the outfield or infield. He’d usually hit at the top of the order, and he knew that his job was to stick an elbow out when Ellis Burks was on deck, or when Barry Bonds was in the hole. He wanted to crouch down, Rickey-style, and work a walk in every at-bat. Every bench should have a guy like that. Every minor league system should have ten non-prospects trying to be that one guy.

Then Santangelo left for the Dodgers, and his soul molded up like a four-month-old orange. Because his decision made God hate him, Santangelo never hit above .200 again, and he was out of the league just two years later. For one year, though, the Giants had a bench player whose walks brought all the OBP-fetishists to the yard. There really hasn’t been another benchie like him since then. Will Juan Uribe play six positions and finish with an on-base percentage over .400? Only time will tell.

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