Rick Rizzs Catches Up With Carlos Guillen
A feature we are excited to share with you is guest blogger Rick Rizzs. Rick is entering his 27th season in the broadcast booth for the Mariners, and is synonymous to Mariners fans with catch phrases like Goodbye Baseball, Holy Smokes, Happy Totals and Everybody Scores! Throughout spring training, and the 2012 season, Rick will take a stroll down Mariners memory lane and share with you his thoughts. Today he shares his memories of a Carlos Guillen, and talks about his retirement from the game earlier this week. We hope you enjoy!
It’s hard to say good-bye.
Especially to something like playing the game of baseball since you were just a kid and then had the good fortune to play the game at the Major League level. And after years of doing what you’ve loved doing for so long, you realize that one day you can’t lace up the spikes one more time. You just can’t.
The mind is willing, but the body isn’t.
Carlos Guillen came to the harsh reality earlier this week that all good things come to an end. Here in Arizona as the Mariners are preparing for their 36th season of baseball, Carlos was hoping for just one more season in the sun. Just one more chance to try and end his career where it started, but this time he realized he couldn’t fool “father time”.
So, on a quiet morning, just like he’s done season after season, Guillen drove to the ballpark, but instead of putting on his uniform which he methodically has done thousands of times, he announced his retirement from the game of baseball after 14 years in the Major Leagues.
With tears welling up in his eyes, Carlos tried his best to put his emotions into words.
“It’s hard,” he said. “It was a tough decision for me and my family. I wanted to end my career where it started, I tried to comeback, but I just couldn’t. I’m hurt. I thought this was the best decision for the team too.”
Carlos knows all too well about being hurt. Over his 14 years in the big leagues, Guillen was placed on the disabled list 11 times and played with countless injuries.
In just his second season in the big leagues with the Mariners in 1999, he suffered a torn ACL in his knee in only the 5th game of the year and was out for the season. He knows about disappointment. He could almost write the book.
Over his final three years with the Detroit Tigers, Carlos played in only 81 games in 2009, just 68 games in 2010 and a mere 28 games last season, 2011.
But, year after year, he never gave up hope. I believe the biggest compliment you can give any athlete is that they were able to leave everything on the field of play. I watched Jay Buhner do that and many others who wore a Mariner uniform. And, Carlos did the same. Whatever he had, he gave it all to the Mariners and Tigers.
His tank just ran out. It happens.
But, looking back on those 14 seasons, despite the aches and pains, Carlos can be very proud of what he accomplished.
Carlos was with the Mariners from 1998-2003 and with the Detroit Tigers from 2004-2011. Over that time, he had a career average of .285, hit 124 home runs and had 660 RBI in 1,305 games.
And, on the games biggest stage, Carlos hit .353 for the Tigers during the 2006 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
From 2004-08 with Detroit, Carlos was a 3-time All-Star and during that span hit a combined .308 with 75 home runs and 361 RBI!
Guillen made his Major League debut with the Mariners in 1998 and later in 2001 he would become one of the key players in the Mariners “magical” run that produced a major league record 116 wins. Carlos, along with David Bell, Brett Boone and John Olerud combined to form one of the most productive infields in the history of the franchise.
And during that time, Carlos was known as one of the best “clutch” hitters in the American League. If you don’t believe me, just ask any pitcher he faced.
Carlos Guillen also came up with the biggest “little” hit in the history of the Mariners. A bunt.
The Mariners were looking to sweep the Chicago White Sox in Game 3 of the 2000 American League Division Series. With the scored tied in the bottom of the 9th inning and Rickey Henderson on at third base representing the winning run, Guillen laid down a bunt that got by first baseman Frank Thomas for a hit that won the game. The crowd at Safeco Field went crazy!
Carlos remembers “Oh, that was one of the best moments in my career. I was young, but Lou Piniella had a lot of confidence in me. Lou wanted me to bunt the ball to first base to score Rickey. But, I was thinking…hit a fly ball to win the game.”
“So, the first pitch comes in and I swing and miss” Carlos said, “then I look over at the dugout and Lou says…”Hey Son, What are you doing? Hit the ball to first!” So, I said, “OK…OK!”
“Well, Keith Foulke of the White Sox is pitching and I’m thinking he’s throwing pretty hard,” said Carlos, “and if he throws me a fastball away, it’ll be tough to try and pull it to first.”
“So, I had to find a way to hit the ball to first base,” Carlos recalled, “so, I covered the plate and laid down the bunt, it got by Frank Thomas and we won the game. It was a great moment for me and a great moment for everybody, especially for the fans.”
Long before the bunt that “shocked the Puget Sound”, Carlos began his professional career by signing as a free agent with the Houston Astros. But, then he received a phone call that would change his life.
Randy Johnson was winding down his time in Seattle and there was a lot of talk of a trade during the 1998 season for the future Hall of Famer.
“I was playing for the Astros Triple-A team in New Orleans and we heard that Houston might get Randy Johnson,” said Carlos. “So after the game that night, I got a phone call from one of the Mariners coaches, Sam Mejias. He’s speaking Spanish to me and it was Sammy who told me I was traded to the Mariners, that’s how I first found out.”
“I also heard there might be 1 or 2 other players going with me to Seattle and when I saw Freddie (Garcia), he came up to me and said “Me too! Me too!” Carlos remembered. “We were both very excited because I didn’t think I was going to play for Houston. John Halama was also in the deal too.”
“Later the next day,” Carlos said, “I get a phone call from Lou Piniella and he says, “What position do you play? And, I said shortstop. He says we have a shortstop, Alex Rodriguez and we have a third baseman, Can you play second base? So, I said I never played second base before, then he says…”Ok you’re going to Triple-A!”
“The next day at 7:30 in the morning, Freddie and I are on a plane to Seattle….and flying First Class! We were so happy.” He added. “I was a Mariner.”
Besides the big hits and the big moments on the field, Carlos spoke fondly of his time in Seattle on a personal note.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to come back to the Mariners this spring, “ he said. “ Was because my two boys, Alfonso and Isaac were born in Seattle. We had so much fun in Seattle.”
I asked Carlos how long he was thinking about winding down his career.
He said, “The last few days I’ve thought about it. My family wanted me to keep playing, especially my kids. It was so hard to make this decision. You make this decision only one time in your career and your life.
“I’ve been through a lot of injuries in my career, “ Carlos said. “You have to keep your head up. I tried to keep going, but your body tells you it’s time to quit.”
I’ve tried so hard in this story to stay away from the word “quit” because it’s the furthest thing from the truth that describes this man. The truth is that Carlos never quit…his body just gave out. No mas.
Even one of his best friends in the game tried to talk him out of retiring, Felix Hernandez, but to no avail. Carlos had his mind made up.
So, one of the first things Carlos did on his last day in professional baseball was to address his teammates alone in the clubhouse.
Here’s what he said. “I told the team I see a lot of talent here. I reminded them that a lot of this game is up here (as he pointed to his head), you have to be strong mentally as well as physically.
“If you are strong, you can play this game for a long time, but my time is over.”
Carlos wrapped up his talk by explaining, “It’s so hard you know. I just don’t feel ready to retire, but I can’t play anymore. I had such a great time in Seattle, so that’s why I told those kids on the team to go out and have fun.”
Carlos was asked if he was going to stay in the game.
“It’s hard not to be involved in the game in some way,” he said, “I feel like I’ve got a lot of experience to share. I like to teach kids to be better players, to be a better person. You have to be a better person to be a better player.”
Carlos Guillen was that and a whole lot more.
“I would like to coach and help my kids become a ballplayer someday, you know,” Carlos said.
I’m telling you right now, if those kids turn out to be anything like their dad, then I want to be their agent.
What is he going to miss the most?
“A lot of things,” Carlos said “the fans cheering for you, people praying for you to be on the field. I will always remember being around the players and the people who work here. I’ll miss that. That’s going to be tough.”
Before he left Carlos said, “Man, it’s so hard to leave this clubhouse.”
I’ll tell you what was tough for me.
Looking back after everyone left at an empty clubhouse and seeing Carlos Guillen, alone, packing up his baseball gear in a duffel bag. As he left a half empty locker, I was reminded of all the exciting moments he left with us.
From all the home runs and the great plays….to the little “bunt” that propelled the Mariners in the play-offs…Carlos Guillen left everything on the field. And for that, he should be very proud.
Mr. Guillen…thanks for the memories.