Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Farewell Neifi

Hi, it's me. I've been gone for a while. Sorry I haven't written. I'll try to be better. For the past month (or so) my muse (the Cubs) have not given me much to write about. Oh sure, there was the trades of Greg Maddux and Todd Walker, but they happened at a very busy time for me. But things have slowed down a little and now it's time to say goodbye to Neifi Perez.

I always viewed Neifi and Dusty Baker as being attached at the hip. This view was only reinforced when Hendry gave Neifi a 2 year/$5 million contract last year. After all, Neifi was a journeyman, a utility infielder. Five million dollars was a lot to spend on a guy like that. But considering that Neifi was Dusty''s boy, it made some sense.

In 2004, Neifi stepped in for Nomar and did an admirable job. Dusty said that Neifi saved the season for the Cubs. I always thought that was an odd thing to say about a player on a team that didn't make the playoffs. I mean, what did he save them from? Being dropped from MLB. I guess a little hyperbole never hurt anyone. In this case, that hyperbole meant $5 million for Neifi.

In 2006, Neifi became the poster child for a failed season and a failed organization. Even though Neifi was never thought of as anything but a bench player, he was nonetheless playing every day. When Derrick Lee went down to injury, instead of replacing him with a first baseman (read: John Mabry), Dusty moved Todd Walker over to first and played Neifi everday at second. It was an odd move to say the least, but it was vintage Dusty. Even when Hendry stumbled and bumbled his way to acquiring Phil Nevin (an experienced first baseman), Dusty still often played Walker at first and Neifi at second. Even on days when Nevin played first, Dusty would sit Walker in favor of Neifi.

Neifi also spent an inordinate amount of time playing shortstop, even though Ronny Cedeno was willing and able to play. It was on these days that it became crystal clear that Dusty was just looking for any opportunity to get his friend Neifi some playing time.

Perhaps most abhorrent to Cubs Nation was the frequency with which Dusty batted Neifi second in the lineup. Bloggers went nuts over this travesty. Dusty became public enemy number one. Every day, bloggers railed against Dusty and the ammunition they used was his use of Neifi.

But then a strange thing happened. Through no fault of his own, Neifi became the hated one. People called him the "worst hitter in MLB history." They claimed he had compromising photos of Dusty and that was why he was playing so much. They longed for him to be traded, sent down to the minors or DFA'd. And when Neifi was finally traded to the Tigers earlier this week, they rejoiced. They celebrated. Some even congratulated Jim Hendry for making such a brillant move.

All of this misplaced anger towards Neifi has always confused me. Every day, Neifi showed up ready to play. It didn't matter where Dusty played him in the field of batted in the lineup, Neifi always gave it his all. You never saw Neifi not hustle. You never heard him say a negative word to the press. You never heard about him being a cancer in the clubhouse. By all accounts, Neifi was a great teammate, both on the field and off.

Neifi was a victim of the way Dusty used him. But unlike Corey Patterson, Neifi overcame the misuse and played to his full potential. Of course, as MLB players go, Neifi didn't have that much potential. Even so, you knew the guy was going to play his best everyday. No excuses. I, for one, always appreciated that about Neifi.

Goodbye, Neifi. I hope the fans in Detroit treat you better than they did in Chicago.