Thursday, August 6, 2009

Trying to Find His Way Home...

Imagine Andre the Giant teaching a ballroom dancing class. Or Shaquille O' Neal instructing a group of campers on the intricacies of the jump shot. How about Screech Powers leading the way during a bodybuilding exhibition?

While all these events would be of the utmost entertainment with the irony and comedy involved, they are simply far too unrealistic to ever be thought possible. After all, why would such men, so unfamiliar with their respective activities, ever be trusted to pass on knowledge that they have never in fact possessed themselves?

Andre the Giant was a behemoth of a man and a star in the ring, but the words "grace" and "agility" were not exactly his friends. Shaquille O' Neal is a future Hall-of-Famer with four NBA championship rings to his credit, but that doesn't mean he knows the first thing about sinking an open 15-footer. Screech Powers made us laugh time and again with his eccentric personality and zany antics, but the man was all skin and bones, and thus would be the last person you would choose to symbolize muscle men from all over the world.

These examples point out the obvious. When one is looking for a coach or leader for a particular sport or position, a main criteria is always, "Have you been down that road before?" Essentially, is this something you specialize in?

Have you made so many tackles during your career that being a linebackers coach would be second nature? Did you smack so many thousands of aces on the ATP tour that becoming a "serve and volley" coach for youngsters is the only place you belong?

All of these questions leads us to one man.

A man that is looked to by professionals at the highest level for guidance on where to go, and how to get there. The only thing is, he has never been there before.

Meet Razor Shines, the Major League record holder for most at-bats ever in a career without ever scoring a run...and currently, the third base coach for the New York Mets.

How's that for irony?

Anthony Razor Shines spent parts of four seasons in the bigs, all with the Montreal Expos. The first, 1983, was an ultra-short stay. Three games, two AB's, and one hit. The fact that he never got to experience the thrill of scoring a run in the Major Leagues that year surely did not affect him. "Just a cup of coffee...I'll get one next year," he must have thought.

The '84 campaign came and went with the same goose egg in the runs scored column. This time, he strode to the plate 21 times, collecting a respectable six base hits along the way. One of 'em was even a double, the only extra-base job of Shines' career. He was halfway home after that two-bagger...but the next hitter grounded out weakly to end the inning, leaving old Razor stranded. His dream was now on life support, slowly flickering away on the lonely Shea Stadium base paths.

1985 was our hero's big chance. A career high 54 plate appearances were awarded to Razor, but his once semi-respectable switch-hitting batting stroke was now starting to desert him. He racked up a measly six hits, to go with four harmless walks. And even though that '85 Expos squad was loaded with All-Stars like Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Hubie Brooks, it wasn't enough to bring Razor home.

Our man was called up to the big club one final time in the summer of '87. It was a brief stay, bringing just 11 trips to the dish. But as you could expect from a man known as Razor, he wasn't going down without a fight. He was determined to score a run in the major leagues.

Shines was slated to lead off the top of the 2nd that night in Fulton-County Stadium in Atlanta. Boom! Line drive single right back up the box. Now one extra-base hit brings him in. Or even a couple bloop singles. But Razor had grown tired of counting on others to complete his 360-foot journey around the diamond. He took his lead off first, watched the pitcher go into his windup, and made a mad dash for second base. The throw was late, and with that came the first and only stolen base in the illustrious career of Razor Shines. Perhaps it was finally time for that last zero to be erased from the back of his baseball card.

He was now confidently standing on second base with nobody out in the inning. This was his time...his moment...his run.

But the baseball gods decided otherwise.

The next three Expo hitters all struck out.

Razor's final appearance in a major league stadium came on May 14, 1987. The Reds, managed by Pete Rose, arrived to the Stade Olympique in Montreal for what would turn out to be a wild affair. Cincinnati trailed throughout the night, but exploded for five runs in the 9th to take a 10-9 lead. One last chance for the Expos in the bottom half...and if Montreal skipper Buck Rodgers had a heart, maybe even one final shot at redemption for our luckless journeyman.

Cincy closer John Franco retired the first two batters in order. Down to their last out, and in danger of losing a game they led 9-5 heading into the final frame, Rodgers summoned a pinch hitter. But Shines was shunned in favor of jitterbug utilityman Casey Candaele.

As luck would have it, Candaele wound up reaching on an error. The pitcher's spot was up next, meaning another pinch hitter. Gotta be Razor this time, right? Wrong. Rodgers called on cagey veteran Reid Nichols.

The manager was proved right a second time when Nichols lashed a single to the gap in left center, moving Candaele to third and setting up the final dramatics of the evening. For a third straight batter, Rodgers chose to use a pinch hitter, and he finally had nobody else to turn was Razor or bust.

If Razor could find some way to connect on a long ball and send one over the fences, it would make for the perfect Hollywood ending. A memorable game ending on a walk-off blast...and a player with an all too forgettable career finally finding a way to touch home plate, escaping one of the game's most ignominious records.

Razor dug in against Franco and took an emotional hack, trying to end a career's worth of frustrations in one final swing. In the movies, the ball would have went boomeranging off of his Louisville Slugger, flying out of the stadium, with fireworks exploding and fans rushing the field.

In real life, however, Shines poked an innocent little grounder over to the first basemen. The pitcher covered the bag, they recorded the out, and that was that. No postgame celebration...and most importantly, no run scored.

The Mets currently rank 23rd in the league in runs scored (out of 30). They are the worst offensive team in their division, even placing behind the sad sack 36-72 Washington Nationals. There are many possible explanations for the Mets' struggles to put crooked numbers up on the scoreboard this season.

Some would point to their nightmare injury list, which has housed the likes of Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Delgado. Others might chalk it up to their new home park, Citi Field, and its vast outfield dimensions. But in this case, there is only one answer.

The Mets have trusted a man, Razor Shines, with the most critical of responsibilities; making sure runs are scored. If a hustling baserunner is unable to locate the ball and needs guidance on what to do, it is Shines' job to bring him home. If an outfielder comes up throwing on a sharp one-hopper down the line, Razor has to figure out how to make sure that run still winds up scoring. But simply put, how much knowledge and wisdom can one impart when they have never before been through such an experience?

Razor Shines sauntered up to the plate 88 times during his career, and never quite made it all the way back around. He set a record he may not have wanted, and he is remembered for something he may want to forget. Amazingly, he has now devoted his life's work to making sure others do not suffer a similar fate. He never officially scored a run, but it's time to finally put that in the past.

Go home, Razor...wherever that may be.

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