Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dear Mr. Jagr...

From the Desk of Drew...

Dear Mr. Jagr,

You were one of my favorite hockey players.  As a lifelong Pittsburgh Penguin fan (that's right, lifelong, not one of these post-Crosby half-wits), I remember seeing you patrolling the wing with the likes of Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Darius Kasparaitis, and Kevin Hatcher.  When I was eleven years old, I got a cat and named it Jaromir.

I collected every card of you that I could, eventually getting to 200 different ones.  Of course, even just as a Penguin, you probably had about eleventy billion different ones, so my goal of collecting one of every card of you would go for naught.  Especially once you got traded to Washington.

Well, maybe I should rephrase that.  That's the reason I say above that you WERE one of my favorites.  It takes a pair of brass ones to demand a trade in the first place.  It takes big brass ones the size of Saturn to demand a trade, get it, then tell your old team that they'll be sorry they traded you.  Well, either it takes nuts the size of Saturn or grade-A insanity.  Considering your lone NHL almost-fight consisted of you taking wild, gloved swings at Rich Pilon, I'm not certain on the nutular status.

Anyways, I can admit that you are one of the greatest NHL players-- even one of the greatest hockey players as a whole-- of all time.  But a great player should also know when his time is up and he should move on.  For you, that time is now.

Let's look at the records.  How many players-- in any sport-- became mercenaries in their twilight years and ended up adding to their careers in a positive way? Damn few. Let's take a look at a few negative examples, lifted from my old blog that ran from 2006-2008...

Bobby Orr - Chicago Blackhawks, 1976-79
It's hard for the greatest to give up their game, especially when it was taken away via injury and Alan Eagleson's crimes. But still, when you are risking life and limb to play the game you love, it's time to hand up the jersey. As a Blackhawk, you could see Orr still had the fire and the ability, but his knees wouldn't hold up for him. 27 points in 26 games is still a great number, but it's the fact he could only play 26 games in that time span that indicated that he should have bowed out as a Bruin.

Guy Lafleur - Quebec Nordiques, 1989-91
What exactly was the point of Lafleur retiring, getting elected to the Hall of Fame, and then unretiring, coming back to two different teams then the one he played on previously? His last season in the bleu, blanc, et rouge should have indicated he was done-- 5 points in only 19 games. And he accepted it. For about four years. In 1988, he joined the New York Rangers for a season, and then followed it up with the Nordiques-- his old Habs teams' local rivals through the 1980's-- for a final two seasons. From 1974-83 in Montreal, Lafleur was good for more than a point per game. It just wasn't the same seeing him in similar colors but a different jersey, struggling to reach even 30 or 40 points.

Brett Hull - Phoenix Coyotes, 2005-06
A lot of you know I'm not a big fan of Hull. His name will always be tainted for the No Goal in 1999. That being said, his best years were in St. Louis and Dallas. You might even see the occasional Flames or Red Wings Hull jersey, which wouldn't look completely wrong. But I can almost guarantee no one in their right mind would wear a Phoenix Coyotes Brett Hull jersey. The guy came to them after the lockout... and played a whole 5 games, getting himself an assist before opting to retire. It took Hull's buddy Wayne Gretzky to offer him a job playing. Brett, that should have told you something.

Paul Coffey - Boston Bruins, 2000-01
I can give a pass to Brian Leetch for going to the B's to finish his career, as he was raised in nearby Connecticut. But Coffey's arrival in the spoked B was just weird. Everywhere he played, Coffey wore either 7 or 77. Obviously neither was available in Boston (7 was retired for Esposito, 77 was on its way to retirement for Ray Bourque). That should have been a sign for Paulie, but no. He went onward, wearing #74. The former assist-machine for Gretzky and Mario Lemieux only tallied four of them in 18 games before realizing he was done.

Peter Forsberg - Nashville Predators, 2006-07
It was strange enough seeing Forsberg wearing a Flyers jersey instead of an Avs jersey after the lockout. But as the team fell apart in the 2006 season and it was obvious he was going to be traded, no one would have picked Nashville as being the team to get him. And seeing him in the baby-turd-gold and navy blue of the Preds just looked wrong. Scoring only two goals in 17 games (but adding 13 assists) just didn't look right either. And where did the former two-time Stanley Cup winner go in the playoffs? Out in the first round, that's where. Thankfully, Forsberg returned to the burgundy and blue for two final stints, with injury-plagued results similar to the short time he spent in Nashville. But at least the uniform looked right on him as he left the ice one last time.

Babe Ruth - Boston Braves, 1935
By 1933, it was pretty obvious Babe Ruth's career was on the decline. For the first time since an injury-plagued 1925 season, Ruth's home run totals dropped below 35 (for the record, the last time that happened before 1925 was 1918, when he was mostly pitching for the Red Sox). His batting average was below .310, something that last happened also in 1925 and 1918. Still, 34 HR and a .301 batting average are pretty awesome, just not Ruthian. A 22-HR and .288 campaign in 1934 signaled the end of the Babe's career. However he decided to go one more season with the Boston Braves, batting .181 with 6 HR. It didn't do much to tarnish his legacy, but really, what good did it do him?

Harmon Killebrew - Kansas City Royals, 1975
When you think "Killebrew," you think "Twins baseball." You think the old powder blue uniforms and TC logo. You think 573 career home runs. But you don't think of the Royals. But that's where Killer finished his career, in the shadows of the Royals Stadium fountains. He was never known as having a high batting average, as a .256 lifetime hitter. But in that one season, he managed to go even lower, hitting a paltry .199 with 14 HR, and his Three True Outcomes numbers were dominated by strikeouts, rather than walks or homers. Should have just hung up the cleats as a Twin.

Rickey Henderson - San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers, 1996-2003
Buy your tickets now, come and see baseball's circus freak! By the end of his third stint in Oakland, Henderson was pretty much living the life of a sideshow wherever he stopped. While people paid the good money to see Ken Caminiti, Tim Salmon, Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Pedro Martinez, in their prime, they were also treated to the ageless wonder on the side. If Methuselah could steal bases, he would have been Rickey Henderson. It wasn't that Rickey didn't have anything left in the tank. He most certainly did. It was the fact that he became a mercenary that lands him on this list. It was like he was that guy who had a band in high school, and is living in his parents' basement, insisting that the band should get back together with the drummer quitting his job as a stock broker, the guitarist leaving the world of real estate, and the bass player who actually became a legitimate musician leaving it behind for someone else's dream. Rickey, your "M.B.P." seasons were behind you. He hit below .250 in all those years but one. He had fewer than 40 steals in all those seasons but two. Sideshow. Nothing more.

Greg Maddux - Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, 2006-08
Since being traded from Chicago, Mad Dog went 28-27 with an ERA around 4, and 238 strikeouts in 79 starts. A far cry from his 17 seasons in a row with 15+ wins, 15 seasons in a row with an ERA under 3.60, and 14 seasons in a row with 130+ strikeouts. Maddux will be forever remembered as a Brave and a Cub. Those last few seasons aren't going to do him any good. Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, two more great pitchers who didn't know when to retire and bounced around from team to team late in their careers, almost made the list as well.

Duke Snider - New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, 1963-64
I'll give the Duke a pass on the Mets. When you think baseball in the 1950's and 60's in New York, you think Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider. Or at least that's what we're told in the song, and it sounds better than Willie, Mickey, and The Chooch. With his season with the Mets, at least he's returning to where his career started, albeit for a struggling expansion team. His numbers were still decent, as he still had an OPS of .746 (best on the team, sadly), and only made 4 errors in 1340 innings in the outfield. But he should have just let it end there. It's just plain WRONG seeing a Dodger great in a Giants uniform, especially when he's become a bit player off the bench, hitting .210 with a .610 OPS

Patrick Ewing - Seattle SuperSonics and Orlando Magic, 2000-02
There's just something so wrong about seeing Ewing in anything other than a blue or white #33 jersey (I know the Magic wear blue and white; he wore #6 there). Especially when he's wearing that "something else" while also averaging under 10 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Hakeem Olajuwon - Toronto Raptors, 2001-02
Another moment of "That's just not right." Olajuwon finished out his career in bright purple. Granted, that's just not right on any pro athlete. But especially on one who wore red and yellow, then red white and blue for his career in Houston. Factor in his double-double-per-game career averages (20+ points and 10+ rebounds per game across all the years, plus 3 blocks per game) had shriveled up to 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks, and you have something that REALLY never should have been.

Michael Jordan - Washington Wizards, 2001-03
Self explanatory. I don't need to go into any detail here. Michael is a Chicago Bull, period, bite me, end of story.

Bobby Knight - Texas Tech 2001-07
Now I know it wasn't really Knight's choice to leave Indiana. But let's look at what happened to Indiana after he left, and to Knight after they fired him. Indiana struggled after 2002 (a team largely made up of Knight's players), and got caught with egg on its face in 2007, with Kelvin Sampson's recruiting violations. Knight on the other hand, kept running a clean program at Texas Tech and turned a dismal program into a team that was suddenly still alive in March every year. But still, Knight is synonymous with Indiana basketball. Successful in Texas or not, it's just not the same seeing him on any other sidelines.

Robert Parish - Chicago Bulls, 1996-97
One more time: when you think Robert Parish, you think Celtics green and white. No one remembers his time in Golden State, and no one cares about his tenure in Charlotte with the Hornets. But there's just something egregiously wrong about seeing him in red and black. Especially when one considers that he was behind Bill Wennington and Luc Longley on the depth chart. When you think of great centers, Parish will be on a list far ahead of Longley or Wennington. NBA Champions that season or not, he shouldn't have retired as their backup.

Johnny Unitas - San Diego Chargers, 1973
The Chargers brought in the 40 year old Unitas to try to boost their poor attendance: purely a publicity stunt gone awry. Johnny U only appeared in 5 games, completing 44% of his passes, throwing three touchdowns to seven interceptions, and a passer rating of 40.0. Rookie Dan Fouts replaced him, starting a Hall of Fame career.

Joe Namath - Los Angeles Rams, 1977
Obviously, neither Namath nor the Rams learned from the Unitas-Charger mistake four years before. Namath still had his arm, but his legs were pretty much useless by this point in his career. But yet, the Rams took a chance, and predictably, Namath flopped. He appeared in four games, throwing three TD's and five interceptions, was sacked seven times, and completed only 47% of his passes. His passer rating was 54.5. Soon after, he was replaced by Pat Haden, and the Rams finished the season 8-2, making the playoffs.

Thurman Thomas - Miami Dolphins, 2000
When you think of Thomas, you think of the great early 90's Bills teams that played in four Super Bowls. You think of a small running back who ripped off eight 1000-yard seasons with 88 TD's on the ground or through the air. But what you don't think of is a Miami Dolphins uniform, and only 136 rushing yards and 117 receiving yards in 9 games. Such were the numbers of Thurman Thomas in 2000.

Tony Dorsett - Denver Broncos, 1988
The name Tony Dorsett just screams "Dallas Cowboys" and "Pitt Panthers." Like the aforementioned Thomas, TD was a small back with eight 1000-yard seasons with his most famous team. And like Thomas, he finished his career with another team, rushing and receiving for barely 300 yards combined.

Vince Lombardi - Washington Redskins, 1969
Again: Lombardi, Packers, linked forever. Vince retired at the top of the game, winning the the 1965 NFL Championship, plus Super Bowls I and II. Could have stayed put and just left the game behind, his legacy untarnished. Then came the Washington Redskins. Perhaps if it wasn't for cancer, Lombardi could have turned the Skins into the next big dynasty. But as it stands, you say "Vince Lombardi," and everyone says "Packers," never "Redskins."

Brett Favre - New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, 2008-2010
The original reason for this list's existence, Favre wasn't too bad as a Jet or in his first year as a Viking.  But seriously, Brett Favre is a Packer.  To retire and unretire multiple times, and then finish with your longest team's biggest rival is a huge slap in the face.

So, Mr. Jagr, consider the above. You are a Penguin. And a Ranger. Not a Flyer, Star, Bruin, or Devil.  Enough is enough.  If you want to keep playing, do it as a Ranger or a Penguin. But frankly, you're probably better off just hanging up the skates.


P.S. You still can't win a Cup without Mario Lemieux.

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