(Mike Cameron, then with the Mets, signs autographs before a 2005 interleague game. Seattle Times staff photo)
It looks like it could be the end of the line for one of the favorite guys I’ve ever covered, Mike Cameron. He was designated for assignment today by the Red Sox, who had signed him to a two-year, $15.5-million contract two years ago but watched his performance deteriorate. The big culprit was injury, particularly what is described in the Boston Herald article as a double-hernia, double-groin surgery last offseason. Cameron was hitting .149 in limited playing time this year, and just .143 against lefties, which was supposed to be his role. Some team might take a chance on Cameron once he is officially released, but there’s a chance he might not find a job.
If so, Cameron, now 38, can look back at a fine career. Jeff Sullivan details here how underrated he’s been throughout. I want to focus on his Mariners’ career, which lasted just four seasons but was long enough to endear himself to fans who were skeptical, to say the least, when he arrived in the Ken Griffey trade prior to the 2000 season. Cameron had the unenviable chore of replacing Griffey in center field, but he managed to win them over not only with his great play but also with an infectious, engaging personality. I can still remember Cameron camped on the roof of the dugout before almost every game, signing every autograph he could until he had to leave to get ready to play.
The turning point for Cameron came early in the 2000 season — April 7, to be exact, when he leaped over the center-field wall to rob Derek Jeter of a home run. It was his “welcome to Seattle” moment, and the crowd of 40,827 — they drew that many every night in those early days of Safeco Field — rose in a prolonged standing ovation. As Bob Sherwin wrote in the Seattle Times:
The fans stood and cheered his effort as Cameron trotted off the field. They remained standing and cheering when he came out on the on-deck cirtle, and then continued the cheer cascade even after he struck out. A standing ovation from the home crowd after a Mariner strikeout. No one had ever seen that before.
“It felt like they were saying, ‘Welcome,’ Cameron said.
When he left the Mariners to sign a three-year, $19.5-million contract with the Mets after the 2003 season (the M’s tried to re-sign him, but not aggressively enough), I talked to him during spring training in Port St. Lucie, where the Mets train. He spoke about how tough it was to leave the Mariners.
“I found out how important your buddies and your comfort level was,” he said. “Seattle became my home. Seattle held everything for me.”
Cameron was one of several Mariners who complained about the sight lines at Safeco, but I loved this quote he gave me about how he wasn’t as psyched out about the ballpark as people thought.
“Nah. I mean, I wasn’t crazy, deranged, like (Jeff) Cirillo.”
Cameron provided some great moments, including a 19th-inning home run off Boston’s Jeff Fassero to win the longest game in Safeco Field history on Aug. 1, 2000 and his four-homer game in Chicago in 2002. He was a major cog on two of the four Mariner playoff teams in their history, the 2000 wild-card club and, of course, the 2001 squad that won 116 games. I remember Cameron’s interplay with the newly arrived Ichiro in 2001; those two bonded right away and had a warm and friendly relationship throughout Cameron’s tenure in Seattle. For the media, Cameron was a go-to guy, always available, always cooperative, always eager to provide the quote or sound-clip you were looking for.
I think my favorite Mike Cameron memory was his uncontrolled glee at making the All-Star team in 2001, when the game was played at Safeco Field. Jon Paul Morosi of Fox wrote a piece about that earlier this week.
The thing about Cameron was, that joy was not contrived or forced. It was genuine. I think that fans sense he loved playing for the Mariners (to the point that he declined a chance to play for the A’s in 2004 because he couldn’t stomach going to the Mariners’ main rival), and loved playing baseball.
And they loved him for it.