Casey Blake announced his retirement Tuesday, ending a 13-year career that saw him become a regular in the majors when at the ripe age of 29. He played for five teams in his time—he was originally drafted in the seventh round by the Blue Jays but ended up playing in all kinds of places, from Minnesota to Los Angeles. But to me Casey Blake is, was, and always will be a Cleveland Indian.
Blake ends his career with a 107 OPS+ and averaged 21 homers per 162 games—respectable and slightly above average. That’s pretty much what Casey was. His time on the Indians was his peak, with his 2004 season being his best (28 homers, .839 OPS). He was pretty darn good from 2006 to 2008 too, hitting .275/.346/.457 and helping the Indians in their 2007 playoff run. He was a solid contributor in the postseason too, as he logged a .909 OPS in that ALCS against the Red Sox with a rally-starting homer off Tim Wakefield in the Game 4 victory. He was a steady force on the diamond at third all those years, and his positive career UZR backs the good vibes you got when he was out there.
But more than some key hits and some decent fielding, Casey was just one of those guys. You never heard from him. He went out there every day, gave a good at-bat and never caused trouble in the clubhouse. A very good Eric Wedge player, never too high and never too low. Casey helped the team however he could. He played right, first and once the Andy Marte experiment failed he became the full-time third baseman. Heck, he even helped the Indians when he got traded—that was deal in which the Tribe nabbed Carlos Santana from the Dodgers. He gave Los Angeles a boost in the postseason too, and though the Tribe was in the cellar it was nice to see Blake out there in October.
On a personal note, when I went away to college in 2007, the Indians were riding high and I didn’t know anyone. The guy across the hall from me just happened to have a beard exactly the same as the one Casey had. Somehow that subconsciously drew me to this fellow new college student, and we became fast friends. I can’t help but think Blake had something to do with that.
Plus, because of him, Casey At The Bat references could run rampant every game. With Kotchman coming to the Tribe this year, it’s like we’re in a golden age of literary allusions again. Come to think of it, Kotchman likes to sometimes feature a beard. Who knows what could be coming.
He had a solid career in the major leagues and he was always a great addition to a team on the cusp. Like another Indian from Iowa (think Van Meter) Blake left an indelible mark on the Tribe in his time. He was someone you could count on in the good times and bad. You need guys like that to win a championship as much as the stars, and though it wasn’t just because of him, the Indians struggled once he left.
Baseball is a little worse off without Casey. We’ll have the memories though, and the images of bearded chins dancing in our dreams.