Gonzalez limps away with LVP of 2000s
Juan Gone got paid, but did little else and earned himself the decade's highest dishonor
First off, let me announce that I understand that picking a Least Valuable Player for an entire decade is an awesome responsibility. After all, the LVP of the 2000s is not an honor you can bestow casually, the way you'd pass on, say, a virus.
It can't be just about the ability to string together production-free numbers, or else Neifi Perez would have won. And it can't be only about guys such as Derek Bell, who come up with catchy slogans like "Operation Shutdown" to explain away how it is they went into the tank, or else Derek Bell himself would have won.
No, friends, to win an LVP requires a certain level of expectation, of building up hopes and then squashing them, like a tractor running over a cantaloupe. So with that in mind, we're handing out this much-uncoveted LVP of the '00s non-trophy to
No, Juan Gone didn't play all 10 seasons of the '00s. Only six of them, unless you count his cameo spring-training appearance with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008. But I handed him an LVP award in two of those six seasons. So it's clear he has a body of LVP work to make a case for himself, and that's important.
In the first of those two LVP seasons, as a Kansas City Royal in 2004, Gonzalez grabbed his side after a May 21 trot down the first-base line -- and then managed to miss the next 4½ months of the season with a tight back that was initially described as a "day-to-day" issue. So let's think about this. He cashed his $4.5 million in checks that year even though, over the final 130 day-to-days of the season, he got as many at-bats as Arthur Bryant, Jan Stenerud and Christian Okoye. In other words, ZERO. Nicely done.
Then, the next year, Gonzalez wangled a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians, put on just enough of a show in spring training to vest his $600,000 opening-day bonus -- then asked out with a strained hamstring THE NEXT DAY. He did grit it out to return two months later -- for one courageous at-bat -- then headed right back to the DL to collect his paychecks.
The ability to steal money is a quality I always look for in an LVP. And clearly, that became one of Juan Gone's specialties. He had one season in the '00s (2001) in which he hit 30 homers and drove in more than 75 runs. Yet he managed to parlay that season, and past reputation, to a total of $46.925 million worth of paydays in the '00s.
Yep, $46.925 million. That's more than Chase Utley, more than Miguel Cabrera, more than Hanley Ramirez, more than John Lackey. More than David Wright, Joe Mauer and Prince Fielder combined, for that matter. Yikes.
It's also more than the salaries of the five AL MVPs from 2000 through 2004 put together. And it's more than the opening-day payroll of 56 different teams in the '00s. So how impressive is that?
But it always adds to a man's LVP credentials when he has, ahem, "other" issues. And don't forget that this man was also a major star of the Mitchell report -- thanks to a duffel bag full of syringes and substances that never quite made it through customs in the Toronto airport in 2001.
Amazingly, Juan Gonzalez raked in $29.15 million after that season, without ever earning much of it. But that's not all he accomplished in that time.
He also guaranteed he'd be the runaway leading candidate to be the LVP of the '00s. And now, officially, that journey is complete.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.