Adam Everett and Jack Wilson’s best major-league seasons came before defensive superiority was appreciated – or at least quantified – the way it is today.
Before advanced statistics such as runs saved and defensive wins above replacement entered the mainstream, defense was judged mostly on a player’s reputation within the game.
Everett’s and Wilson’s were glowing. But without numbers to back it up, it was difficult to earn praise from fans, reporters and broadcasters for how they contributed to winning.
“I definitely don’t think I did,” said Everett, who played from 2001-11. “The guys now are really starting to get the accolades that they deserve and obviously want and need. People are starting to focus a lot more on defense and saving runs as opposed to trying to outscore everybody.”
The Kansas Stars pitchers won’t be calculating runs saved, but the efforts of players such as Everett and Wilson, two of baseball’s best defensive shortstops during careers of more than a decade, will certainly be valued.
Everett and Wilson are two of 25 former major-league players for the Stars, who debut in the National Baseball Congress World Series on Aug. 6. Some of the pitchers they’ll be looking out for are Roger Clemens, Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt, Jason Isringhausen, Ben Sheets and Josh Beckett.
The team was assembled by native Kansans and former major-leaguers Adam LaRoche and Nate Robertson. It was deep into the process of building a roster that they began to address defense as opposed to simply making sure enough players were coming, and they’re glad they did.
“We’ve got some really solid defenders – in our day,” LaRoche said. “It’s not like we’ve had a spring training. (The tournament) will basically be like spring training. It can kind of take a few days to get that groove back.”
No one is sure how much of their defensive ability players such as Wilson and Everett will possess after four or five years away from major-league baseball. Wilson is 38, Everett 39 and their skills have naturally diminished.
Everett points to arm strength as the attribute he has seen decline, and Wilson is concerned about reaction time.
“Probably that first step,” said Wilson, who played from 2001-12. “… The first step to the left is a little bit slower. Just little things with your movement, I’m 38. That first step that was so essential in defense is now a little bit slower.”
But they have relative youth on their side and have stayed in shape. Wilson plays men’s league games, though not at shortstop, and has played in MLB’s Hall of Fame exhibition game the last two seasons. Everett works out with his wife and says his appearance has barely changed since he retired in 2011.
Wilson and Everett have seen their universal reputations enhanced since retirement. They each have one season of at least four defensive wins above replacement, the same number as Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.
And it’s not as if they were devoid of offense. Wilson won a Silver Slugger in 2004 as the best offensive shortstop in the National League. He tied for the league lead with 12 triples, had 201 hits for the Pirates and batted .308 in an All-Star season. Everett hit 11 home runs and had 21 stolen bases for the Astros in 2005, helping them advance to the World Series.
“We just cared about giving security to pitchers,” Wilson said. “We wanted to make sure that if our guys felt like they got in a jam, they could roll one over to us. That was the biggest thing. …Back then it was ‘All glove, no-hit guy,’ that’s how they would label us.”
The not-so-young pitchers for the Stars, bound to allow plenty of balls in play, need those gloves to work well. But it might be just as notable if they don’t.
For the Stars, the trip is much more about having fun and playing baseball with friends than about recapturing past glory. An error, by anyone, could create some humorous ribbing.
“Oh, yeah. But you won’t razz them too much because oh man, the same thing could happen to me and I don’t want that to happen,” Everett said. “It’ll be fun.
“In all seriousness, we all know we’ve lost a step, we’ve lost something on our arm. We’re obviously not as fast, we don’t hit the ball as far. But having all of us get together is a pretty cool and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”