When I think about the game of baseball, in all its myriad joys, there are few players who come to mind as fully embodying this sport I love so dearly. I more frequently imagine a well-turned double play, a Vin Scully monologue, or the way the sun shines over a crisply mowed outfield on a summer day.
Baseball is a game played by a uniquely talented group of men, men who work their whole lives to spend but a short season of their total years on baseball’s hallowed dirt tracks. The faces change season to season, decade to decade, and it is not that often that you look to a single player and think “That man is baseball.”
We could say exceptionally talented players like Mike Trout embody the game, but men like Ian Kinsler come first to my mind when I think of people who are quintessentially the star stuff of baseball.
On Friday night, after several weeks of speculation, it was announced that after 14 years, Ian Kinsler was calling it quits in the majors. In spite of a year remaining on his two-year contract with the San Diego Padres — where he will remain employed in a front office role — Kinsler has decided his time on the field is done.
Since the numbers will be expected in a review of his career, Kinsler hit .269/.337/.440 over his 14 years. He has a career wRC+ of 107, though Tigers fans will fondly remember seeing it much higher in his time with Detroit. And what retrospective could resist the opportunity to mention that Kinsler — a 2018 World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox — has the 18th-highest JAWS of all time for second basemen, meriting him at least a little voting love when his chance at the Hall of Fame comes around.
But to me, the numbers of Kinsler’s career are not the story.
To me, Ian Kinsler is the unexpected return for the near impossible trade of Prince Fielder. He is the man who waved with chipped-shoulder, salty perfection at the Texas Rangers dugout as he jogged past them, hitting a home run for his new club on his old turf. Ian Kinsler is the man who does not need someone to explain the infield fly rule to him, as he is perfectly capable of intentionally dropping a ball to get a runner out, knowing there is no forced play at third. He is fake binoculars mocking Chris Sale. He is a broken-in-half thumbnail rubbed in the infield dirt. He is a ball of pure fire, cursing the heavens and earth-bound umpires alike.
He is imperfect, often voicing “play the right way” rhetoric at ill-timed moments. He is an ump show instigator.
He is, to me, the beautiful, raw, gritty, flawed, human model of what makes baseball the most wonderful sport in the world.
It took me three games of seeing Ian Kinsler in a Tigers uniform to know I needed to wear his name on a jersey of my own. And now that his career is over, I can’t help but feel an unbelievable sadness for the joy that the field will be lacking in his absence. And at the same time, I count myself so truly blessed to have witnessed him play.
No, Ian Kinsler is not Mike Trout. He is not a name the average person on the street will know. I can’t even say for certain if he is a future Hall of Famer. But he was one of the best parts of one of the best Tigers teams in my memory. And he made me love baseball in a way no single player before him or since has managed to do.
Baseball goes on, no matter which men are taking the field. It will carry on without Ian Kinsler, and so will we.
But for today, for now, I will take a moment to be grateful for getting to see the spirit of the game take the field in the form of one man.
Thanks for everything, Ian.