The media coverage of Darin Erstad's signing with the White Sox has read like one eulogy after another, overwrought memorials to his intangible qualities.
From the L.A. Times:
The Angels lost another link to their 2002 World Series team and a big chunk of their heart and soul Tuesday when Darin Erstad agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Chicago White Sox that includes an option for 2008.
The deal, which is pending a physical this week, ends an 11-year Angels career marked by highlight-reel defensive plays, a spectacular 2000 season, several years of injury and frustration, and an endless reservoir of grit and determination.
"He's almost the last real gamer we have," Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke said. "I don't mean the other guys aren't gamers, but Darin is the old-school type, like David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy. He's probably the biggest gamer I've been around as a coach. He really doesn't play for personal success. He plays to win the game."
Another piece of the 2002 World Series squad has been lost as Darin Erstad signed a one-year deal with an option for 2008 to play for the White Sox....
Tim Salmon retired at the end of last season and Adam Kennedy signed with the Cardinals. Other key players from the Angels' championship season to have moved on include David Eckstein, Jarrod Washburn, Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina and Scott Spiezio, but Erstad will be remembered by most fans for his leave-nothing-on-the-field approach to the game.
Note the repeated usage of the word "lost" as well as phrases like "a big chunk of their heart and soul"..."an endless reservoir of grit and determination"..."the last real gamer"..."his leave-nothing- on-the-field approach to the game."
Gee, do you suppose he's the type of player who would play the game for free?
When both fans and reporters love a guy, it's unsurprising his departure from a team feels like a death of sorts. It would just be nice to keep the guy off the obituaries page while he's still alive.
UPDATE: Also unsurprising: Fire Joe Morgan puts it much better than I ever could:
This is the power of personality and perception in sports. With virtually any other guy, you get hurt as much as Erstad did and play as poorly as Erstad did with that fat contract and you get absolutely crucified. You're stealing money from the club! You've got no heart! You're a bum!
But with the Punter, guys'll bend over backwards to say good things. Hey, he wasn't playing well, but he wasn't healthy -- and he's a leader in the clubhouse. Well, no, no he didn't really say much, but he didn't need to. He just lived the part. He was just there. Living. Breathing. Looking tough. Having stubble. Dirty hat-ting it. Smelling like sweat, like only a football player could.
I guess we could find someone to replace his smell ... but I doubt it.