Chone Figgins is back and might just catch on with the Dodgers
PHOENIX — The question of whatever happened to Chone Figgins will be answered Wednesday afternoon. There will be a first pitch of Arizona spring training thrown in three parks, and Figgins will be facing one of them.
Yes, we are talking about that Chone Figgins, once an Angel from Anaheim who, in retrospect, wishes he had never left.
Figgins is a Dodger now, a Dodger with his fingers crossed. He is 36, sat out all of last season and is at the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch on a minor league contract.
Wednesday, in a spring opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Talking Stick Stadium, Figgins will play shortstop and bat leadoff. To most big league players, opening day of spring games is merely the start of a long grind. To Figgins, this is heaven.
“I’ve thought about it lot already,” he said Tuesday. “If one pitcher goes, I’ll do one thing. If it’s another guy, I’ll do something else.”
It has come to this for Figgins. His talent and history in the game will no longer carry him. He has to make the team by performing, starting with that first pitch Wednesday.
He knows it. There is no sulking, no hint of entitlement. The quiet, hustling personality that made him so popular in Anaheim has not changed. His perspective has.
On Jan. 15, he worked out in his hometown of Tampa, Fla., for officials of most of the major league teams. When he finished — “It was like a high school workout. I ran two 60s, threw from home, from shortstop, third, from the outfield” — he told all of them, “What you saw in Seattle is past. Go back, tell your bosses you have a player who played in the big leagues and can still play.”
The Dodgers called the next day.
On paper, this looks like a good match. The Dodgers have great talent and also some holes. Figgins has a .277 career batting average, with 337 stolen bases. He has played every position in the majors except pitcher, catcher and first base. In 2005 with the Angels, he played two positions in the same game 24 times.
That is astounding versatility.
“Almost played catcher once,” he said, laughing. “The Angels had three catchers then, Bengie and Jose Molina and Josh Paul. One game, Bengie is sick so Mike Scioscia starts Jose. Then he pinch-hits for Jose and Paul has to catch. Pretty soon, he has to pinch-hit for Paul, meaning he has to call the clubhouse for Bengi to come out and play sick.
“Bengie goes to the plate and immediately gets hit by a pitch and goes down. Now, I see Scioscia, leaning on the rail in the dugout, turning slowly and looking down the rail right at me. Garret Anderson is laughing and saying I better ask for more pay if they make me catch.
“I’m pretty sure Scioscia was thinking about it, but Bengie stayed in.”
Figgins has played 630 games at third base, 349 in the outfield, 274 at second base and 27 at shortstop. His last game with the Angels was Oct. 25, 2009, when the New York Yankees won Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. He had almost been the hero in Game 2, driving in the lead run in the 11th inning. But Alex Rodriguez hit his infamous home run off an 0-and-2 Brian Fuentes pitch to tie it.
“I remember thinking, I might get on the platform [for TV interviews] for the first time,” Figgins said.
There was a memorable picture that ran in many newspapers after one of the defeats in New York, of a distraught Figgins, sitting alone in the dugout.
“I probably sat there for 20 minutes,” he said.
He knew a season ending for the Angels would probably be an Angels ending for him. He said he knew the organization had high hopes for upcoming third baseman Brandon Wood (who never made it) and said he understood that. He said the Mariners had competed well that season against the Angels and he thought Seattle would be good for him.
“It kind of says it all,” he said, “when you have just signed a $38-million contract [four years] and they pinch-hit for you in the fourth game.”
He was happy to elaborate.
“I was in Seattle for three years,” he said, “but it feels like it was just yesterday that I left the Angels.”
He hit .308 last spring training for the Miami Marlins and was released March 20. He sat out the year and said it was near torture.
“It drove me crazy,” he said.
Tuesday morning, after regular workouts, he worked with Dodgers legend Maury Wills at Wills’ bunting station. Wills said, in Figgins, he expected somebody having played in the majors and now on a minor league contract to have a chip on his shoulder. Instead, he got a hard worker.
“I think he’s got a real chance,” said the 81-year-old Wills.
Figgins once hit for the cycle. He once had six hits in a game, and 53 in one month. He once led the majors by facing 3,058 pitches in one season. His batting average is .299 with runners on base, .293 with runners in scoring position.
In 2009, he played in the All-Star game.
Now, chances are, he’d trade a lot of that for a line-drive single in his first at-bat Wednesday, and maybe a three-for-four day.
A few more like that and the question will change. What happened to him will become how much can he help the Dodgers.
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