ANAHEIM, Calif. – They leave with dignity or they go with a sad, futile fight.
Regardless, the game slips away, then ends. That is undeniable. A ballplayer – a man – must decide how he'll travel those final few steps.
The problem is, one man's dignity is another's prideful, multi-lingual hissy fit, the eye of the beholder and all that, which is to say that the Los Angeles Angels and Bobby Abreu would seem to be at odds over how this is supposed to end.
The one thing they would seem to agree upon: It probably should happen elsewhere.
Assuming reasonable production from their outfielders and good health from Kendrys Morales, Abreu is not among the Angels' best nine. If the second half of 2011 and the current spring training are any indication, neither is he among their best 25.
Abreu perhaps views it otherwise, through the prism of nearly 2,400 hits, a career on-base percentage just shy of .400, and a remarkable ability to stay on the field, season after season. A rough few months is only that until they rub up against one's 38th birthday, and then one's employer gives in to second thoughts, which is about when dignity and hissy fits start rolling around in the grass behind home plate.
Twice now Abreu has confided in Spanish-language publications that this might not be the place for him anymore, not how it is currently situated, a sentiment with which the Angels are in accord.
Twice, that we know of, the Angels have gone far enough in trade talks – first with the New York Yankees and then the Cleveland Indians – that negotiations have reached the bottom line of Abreu's contract. That's apparently why, a half-week from opening day, Abreu remains an Angel.
If he is an Angel on Friday night, when the club opens against the Kansas City Royals, it will be because GM Jerry Dipoto could not offload enough of the $9 million Abreu has coming. Or, because Dipoto and Mike Scioscia have seen just enough of Abreu lately – "If you saw his last six at-bats you're very confident with where he is," Scioscia said Monday – to hope his heart and swing have mended. Or because Arte Moreno hasn't yet agreed to swallow the 9 mil. Or because the Angels don't have any great alternatives in camp.
Very few of those, you may have noticed, have much to do with the Angels and Bobby Abreu wanting or needing each other.
For the moment, then, and it could be a fleeting moment, Abreu is still in their clubhouse, if not necessarily their lineup. A teammate of Abreu's said Abreu has seemed better lately, more at peace with a role that could mean fewer than 500-and-some plate appearances for the first time since he was 23 years old.
Frankly, this all was going to be a problem the moment the Angels signed Albert Pujols and got Morales upright, and one certainly couldn't blame the Angels for making a borderline bad offense respectable. And perhaps Abreu should consider the unemployed out there – Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui among them – and come to the conclusion he's got a pretty good gig as a bit player on a winner in SoCal.
But that's not often the way it works. I've had one former ballplayer tell me the end of a career comes with a grieving process, so why would the beginning of the end of a career be any different?
I mean, if you believe it's the beginning of the end, which Abreu clearly does not.
"My head is fine," he said after batting practice and before he'd clean up for Morales at designated hitter in the late innings against the Dodgers. "I'm fine. What can you do? There's nothing you can do about that."
As for his new place on the team and his acceptance of it and the drama surrounding it, Abreu said, "You get used to it. I'm fine."
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And maybe he is.
The organization and Scioscia have a track record of offing malcontents, and perhaps Abreu hasn't yet risen to that level. More like minor annoyance, thus far.
"Bobby wants to be part of this team," Scioscia said. "He wants to contribute. It would be counterproductive for us to have Bobby play every 10 days. He's going to get at-bats as we outlined before. Obviously, after that it comes down to production. Bobby is very confident his production is still in him."
It's that sort of perspective that made him a very good ballplayer. And that perspective that makes it difficult to accept what his numbers and age suggest he has become. And, finally, that perspective that makes it possible he has some game left in him.
No matter what, at or near the end of a wonderful career, he has a few final steps to take. What they'll look like is up to him.
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- Bobby Abreu