Minus Star Status, Ellis still Earns Special Place in A's Lore

Sigh.

I was almost nine years old when Charlie Finley traded Reggie Jackson to Baltimore on April 2, 1976, exactly 26 years before Mark Ellis put on an Oakland A's uniform for the first time.

I sat on my mom's bed on the last day of that '76 season listening to my sister's transistor radio while former World Series stars- Bando, Rudi, Campaneris, Fingers, and Tenace- said goodbye to Oakland; their foray into free agency officially closed the curtain on one of baseball's greatest dynasties.

I remember my younger sister Tricia practically shrieking when our brother Abel bolted into the kitchen with the news that Tony Armas had been traded to Boston following the 1982 season.

I can recall the sickening sense of déjà vu I felt when it was announced that the A's had dealt Rickey Henderson to the New York Yankees.

I will never forget listening to Bill King trying to explain to confused listeners that Jose Canseco had been pulled from the on-deck circle and told he was traded to Texas, and the endless phone calls to family members that ensued.

"I haven't even looked at myself in the mirror," Canseco said last Friday in a Yankee Stadium press conference before his first game in a Texas outfit. "I feel like I'm playing in an All-Star Game, where you wear the uniform for a day and go home. Only this time you don't go home."

I was less shocked, but similarly saddened, when the A's shipped Mark McGwire- and his 34 homeruns- to St. Louis in the summer of '97.

And who can ever forget the two transactions in the matter of 48 hours that broke up the Big Three and tested our trust in Billy?

If you are an A's fan (hell, if you're a sports fan), you understand that it comes with the territory to see your team's most storied players sent packing.  It only seems to happen more often in Oakland.

Mark Ellis is not on the level of the aforementioned players.  And yet he is.  His trade to Colorado does not measure nearly as high on the hurt meter as so many of those previous moves.  And yet it does.  Why?

Because sometimes the man transcends the numbers.

***

I have always discovered it is easier to write a retrospective piece on a player from my childhood than on someone who plays today.  It helps to have a connection with an athlete that makes us to want to study their every move and memorize the backs of their baseball cards.  As you grow older....well, you might become attached to a certain player, but the hero-worshipping part has faded.  A little.  But it doesn't make saying goodbye any less painful.

I am ten years older than Mark Ellis.  He played his first major-league game a couple of weeks before my 35th birthday.  I do not have a signature Ellis moment to call my own (unfortunately, I missed out on this game).  At no time in his ten or so years with the Oakland Athletics was he my favorite player.  So it would appear that I am not qualified enough to wax nostalgic on Mark William Ellis.

And yet I am.

***

I had just gotten off BART at the Coliseum station on my way to yesterday's ball game when LoneStranger texted me:

"Mark Ellis traded to COL for RHP and PTBNL."

The message was short, to the point, and disturbingly free of any emotion.  This for a guy who had worn an A's uniform for more games than all but 29 players in the history of the franchise.  Such is life, I suppose, in the electronic world.

My first thought was, "Poor ‘shoes." (Such is life, I suppose, when you spend a good portion of your time befriending people on the internet).  My second thought was, "Wait.  Didn't notsellingjeans predict this over three years ago?"  (OK, I didn't really think that.)

I felt compelled to tell someone, anyone, of this news.  So I chose the couple in front of me.  It took me about two seconds to regret my decision.  The way that woman clutched at her chest, I thought I might have to perform CPR.

A second text from wacchampions told of Ellis standing in line serving root beer floats when he was pulled aside and told that he was Colorado-bound.  I shared that story with my goddaughter Christina- whose younger son's middle name is Ellis- and she replied "You lie!"

Maybe I'm just not fit to deliver bad news.

***

Mark Ellis has never won a gold glove.  Apparently he wasn't a good enough hitter to earn one. You see, baseball in all its splendor, can be pretty stupid at times.  But we who had the privilege of watching Ellis work the leather on a daily basis know that he was plenty golden.  Is it his fault he made playing second base such an effortless endeavor?

I lied.  I do have a signature Mark Ellis moment.  It's one I'd prefer to do without. On my first-ever trip to Spring Training, I watched in horror as he collided with Bobby Crosby, injuring his right shoulder and forcing him to miss the entire 2004 season.

Any concerns over what effect the injury would have on Ellis were emphatically erased when he hit .316 with a then-career high 13 homeruns during the 2005 season.  Not surprisingly, he was not named the Comeback Player of the Year.  That honor went to former teammate Jason Giambi.  Figures.

***

Sometimes the numbers speak for themselves.  Like the league-leading .997 fielding percentage posted by Mark Ellis during the A's last post-season run in 2006.  Or the .993 that paced all American League second basemen in 2008.

Those seasons were sandwiched around what may have been Ellis' best overall campaign in the bigs: 150 games played, .276 batting average, a career-best 19 homeruns, and his typical wizardry at second base.

A superstar he was not.  He was neither flashy nor scrappy.  Substance over style.  Never rubbed elbows with controversy.  In that sense, it is easy to see how Mark Ellis could be overlooked.  The guy simply showed up to work and not once did he cheat the time clock. And all the way to the tear-filled end, Mark Ellis was the consummate professional.

Sometimes the man transcends the numbers.

***

It was painful to watch Mark Ellis at the plate this season.  Of course you can say the same thing about most of his cohorts, too.  But after hitting .291 last year, this was quite unexpected.  Rumors begin to swirl that he might not last the season in Oakland.  Then came the trip to the DL, coinciding with the emergence of Jemile Weeks, a player who oozes energy and excitement the way Mark Ellis oozes class and cool.  It helped that Weeks happened to not hit .217.

The writing was on the wall, and Mark Ellis knew it.  We all knew it. What I didn't know was that while sitting at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night that it would be the last time any of us would see Mark Ellis in an A's uniform.  Fittingly, he drove home an insurance run with a bloop single in the ninth inning in what turned out to be his final at-bat in the green-and-gold.

Come to think of it, I just found my signature Mark Ellis moment.

As A's fans we know this all part of the gig.  We get used to it, even become numb to it, until it happens again, and then it feels like the first time we had our hearts broken. It should never be a shock, but it is.  In the case of Mark Ellis- with as much advance notice of his pending departure we had received- it certainly should not have hurt so much.

And yet it did.

I mean, it does.

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