As a young LA Angels fan, my first memory of Vladimir Guerrero came at The Big A.
Early on into my journey with baseball and the LA Angels, I sat in the bleachers with my family around me, and waited in between innings for my favorite player, Darin Erstad, to come up to the plate.
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However, my favorite player would soon meet some competition. A child’s tune by the name of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” began playing throughout the stadium. Even at a young age it seemed like an odd choice for a walk-up song for me. Then, on the video board Vladimir Guerrero was shown swinging at pitches at his head, his shoulders, his knees, and his…well, you can figure it out.
From that moment on, Vladdy and Erstad were the guys I loved watching the most. Erstad had the grit, the hustle, and everything a young kid should aspire to possess as a ballplayer. However, Vlad had something…extraordinary.
Before he came, and after he left, Mike Scioscia ran a tight clubhouse. That is not a negative thing, but personalities were set aside for a bunch of guys who are there to “play hard and win some ballgames”. There was energy, but between 2004-2009, Vladimir Guerrero brought something…special.
I’m not talking about the .319/.381/.546 slashline throughout his Halos career. Nor am I referencing the three Top 3 MVP finishes, including winning the award in his inaugural season in Anaheim. Four Silver Sluggers, four All-Star game appearances, and five AL West championships were great too, but are not the best way to describe Vladdy.
He was one of the best players in baseball. He could hit a ball whether it was at his head, or bounced before it got to the plate. Seriously, just ask the Baltimore Orioles. If that isn’t impressive enough, there’s another three minutes of him hitting balls low, high, outside, and inside.
Obviously Vlad had the talent. He’ll be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame this weekend, and will be the first player in MLB history to don an Angels cap while being immortalized with the best to ever step foot on a diamond. He won an MVP, and could have arguably won three others.
Vladimir Guerrero was not just the heart of a lineup that was one of the most consistent in the MLB during his time with the Angels, though. He was the heart of the clubhouse, and the heart of the city of Anaheim. He had the smile of an (forgive me for this) Angel. He played better when it mattered most, (.318 average, 52 big flies, and 197 RBI’s in games considered late and close).
Vladimir Guerrero, much like the Angels as a team, could never be counted out. For the Angels, winning the World Series in a season where your division rival won 103 games, and there were roughly 3-5 better teams in the playoffs was their never say die moment. For Vladdy, hitting a pitch several feet outside of the strike zone, whether it be over the wall or a bloop single, was his way of never giving up. And in that way, the two will always be linked.
He was a free agent signing that nobody regretted. Before the days of Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and CJ Wilson. He showed Angels fans, and an adolescent me, what baseball is all about. Come into the stadium every day ready to compete. Play your heart out, and never consider yourself out.
Most importantly, though, Vladimir Guerrero taught us every day that having fun and smiling are the two most important things in baseball and life, and they are what he will always be remembered for. He is the best Halo of all time, and the perfect player to introduce the team to the Hall of Fame.