I first told you about Vance Albitz in the fall of 2011. As if to prove my point that he’s a scrappy player who will do what it takes to win, he’s worked his way up to Memphis in the Cardinals system. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted and only got a contract in a major league system because a low minor league team ran out of players late in the season.
He’s not putting up big numbers at the plate, but judging from this video (link sent to me by his father), he deserves a shot at the show on defensive play alone.
Vance Albitz, Batavia Muckdogs shortstop, moves toward a ground ball in the ninth inning of a game against the Auburn Doubledays, Sept. 4, 2011
Going back at least as far as the Tim Flannery era of the San Diego Padres I’ve been a fan of the kind of player who isn’t the vaunted five-tool prospect but the guy who just finds a way to get the job done.
This is the guy who owes his career not so much to exceptional talent (though to make it to pro ball at any level, you must have some special gifts), but to his willingness to work hard, make things happen and play within the game. These are the guys that give full effort and attention on every pitch with one single goal: help their team win.
Flannery, for example, was an artist when it came to getting hit by a pitch. If a pitcher was going to try to get one past Flannery low and inside, the pitch was going to hit Flan’s thigh — each and every time. Flannery often led the league in getting hit by pitches, a title usually reserved for four-spot hitters.
In that spirit, let me introduce you to Vance Albitz.
Albitz played only 12 games for the Batavia Muckdogs this season. His contract was purchased from the Lincoln Saltdogs (an independent team) late in the season after injuries depleted the St. Louis Cardinals farm system of low-level shortstops.
Albitz was hitting .315 at Lincoln and impressing the hell out of the fans there with his defensive play.
Originally from Torrence, Calif., Albitz was a star in high school, but not highly recruited by college scouts. He wound up at UC San Diego, a university better known for its science and technology prowess than its sports programs. Albitz helped lead Tritons to a birth in College World Series play and was twice named that nation’s top defensive shortstop.
Undrafted in June 2010, the 5-8, 160 lbs Albitz signed with the Lincoln team and placed on a roster of mostly last-chance minor leaguers who were fighting just to stay in the game rather than just win games. Each new player was a threat to take your job away. For good.
It wasn’t until his third week on the team that he got a chance to start. As luck would have it, he caught some bug the same day.
“I was shivering, then sweating, then shivering again. I was having problems in the bathroom, couldn’t eat.”
“Here it is, my first chance to start, and I’m sick as heck!”
Albitz wasn’t about to beg out of his first professional starting opportunity. He suffered through a miserable night and morning in the hotel, barely able to put anything in his stomach. Come game time, Vance took medicine to mask the symptoms and ran out to third base.
After the game, it started all over again, but even worse. The shivers, the night sweats.
For seven days, from Wichita to Sioux City, Albitz suffered and played silently. He batted .270 during the stretch and made only one error in the field, but his body was in full rebellion. Vance lost weight, couldn’t keep any food down, couldn’t do anything but be sick, then take medicine and play baseball, then be sick some more.
“It wasn’t like we were at home, where I could have just walked in to see the team doctor. We were in hotels. Plus, I was finally playing.
He got a hit in five of the seven games on the road trip. In his final game in Sioux City, Vance knocked in his first (and only) run of the season. Then there was nothing left.
“Finally I came in and told coach I’m too sick to play today, I’ve got to go to the hospital.”
“Turns out, I had played the entire week with pneumonia.”
That tells you something about the kind of heart Albitz has, a love for the game that is a throw back to the baggy plus fours and loose fitting double knits Albitz favors on the field.
The statistical record is incomplete, but it doesn’t look like Vance is a Moneyball player. His OPS with Batavia was only .744 and in 2010 at Lincoln it was .610, though at UCSD in 2009, it was a more impressive .956.
It’s a small thing, but I’m impressed that Vance has a complete LinkedIn profile. That’s a bit of professionalism I’ve not seen in a low-level minor league player before (I’m sure other players are using LinkedIn, too, but in dozens of searches for players over the past few seasons, this is the first one I’ve found — lots of Facebook pages, but LinkedIn, not so much). Vance is a financial services consultant in the off season and, showing a fine sense of self-awareness, Albitz runs a baseball school in Torrence called “Scrappy Baseball.”
It’s a long, long way from short season Class A ball to the majors, and a position player wearing number 56 is never considered a prospect, but here’s to hoping the St. Louis Cardinals give Albitz every chance to see how far he can go, maybe even a return to Batavia in 2012.
Major league executives, whose teams were often torn apart by drug use, had the least power to act. Ballard Smith was president of the San Diego Padres when they advanced to the 1984 World Series. Two key players on the team, Alan Wiggins and Eric Show, developed addictions. They were let go and later died as a result of their drug abuse.
The cases of Alan Wiggins and Eric Show are completely different.
Wiggins had a drug problem that first became public in April 1995, when he failed to make the starting line up for a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers (assertion based on personal memory). In June of that year, he was traded to Baltimore. Within a year or two, he was out of baseball. He died at age 32, but not from drug abuse. Wiggins had contracted AIDS.
Eric Show, who was a friend, didn’t start using drugs until several years later. Show’s addiction started with a team doctor’s pain killer perscription when he was with the Oakland A’s. He didn’t start abusing illicit drugs until he was out of baseball (or so it was reported at the time of his death; I’ve been unable to find a confirming link).
So, Lee Jenkins has made a few mistakes here. First, he implies that Wiggins and Show developed addictions while they were on the team. Probably true for Wiggins, but not for Show. Second and third, he seems to be saying that both Wiggins and Show were released because of drug addiction. Wiggins was traded (not released, or “let go”) in 1995, but Show was with the Padres for another six seasons before going to Oakland for one season. Fourth, Wiggins died from complications related to AIDS, not drugs. In Show’s case, sadly, it was drugs. Show had been out of baseball for three seasons at the time of his death.
As I was writing this post, I noticed that this story originally appeared in the New York “Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of A Good Story” Times, so I shouldn’t be surprised that so much here is so wrong.
UPDATE: Here is the response from the NYT to this post.
Dear Mr. Owens:
Thank you for your email, which was forwarded to me by the public editor’s
office. I certainly don’t want to quibble over the circumstances of
anyone’s death or their use of drugs, and we don’t want to be wrong about
As I’m sure you understand, the paragraph that you pointed out truncates
history to get to the larger point of the story. But, despite the
inferences you drew, I don’t share your belief that the paragraph is
After double-checking record books and Internet sites, it seems to me that
it’s fair to say that both Wiggins and Show were “let go” in the sense that
Show was let go as a free agent (and then signed with the A’s for a
substantial pay cut) and Wiggins was traded for a minor-leaguer at a time
when he had one of the biggest contracts in baseball.
Wiggins did die from complications related to AIDS, but it was contracted
through the use of drug needles.
That leaves the question of when Show was caught in the grip of drug
addiction. Frankly, I’m not sure how to prove it one way or another and if
we can find evidence that we were in error, we would publish a correction.
But we can’t publish a correction without certainty that we were wrong and
I haven’t been able to find it.
I’ve attached a link below that gives the best synopsis I’ve seen of their
The New York Times
I think with the Times’ resources, resources I don’t have, they could access the archives of the Union-Tribune and maybe even the San Diego Reader to the coverage of Show’s death. Also, Show’s family could clarify the record. Finally, I don’t buy the concision argument. I know journalists do it. I know I used to do it. But it’s never an excuse. Even in concision, you have an obligation to be accurate. The Times may not want to face reality, but the paragraph as written creates a record that leaves a false impression. As somebody who considered Show a friend, I’m particularly offend at the implication that he had a drug problem earlier than has ever been reported before, especially since by the Times’ own admission, they can’t substantiate it. Note: I’ve chosen to leave out the links Tom sent along because they are both easy to find and really don’t add anything to the discussion — the information provided is just the same kind of concision the Times is justifying.