Friday, January 20, 2012

The Glory of Their Time, Chapter 11: Craig Counsell

Say the name "Craig Counsell" to any baseball fan and they'll probably know who he is.

It's not because of his hitting. He was a pretty good fielder, but that's not why he's widely known either.

Baseball fans probably know Counsell for either or both of these reasons:

1) His really odd batting stance.

2) The fact that he scored the game-winning runs in two different World Series Game 7's with two different teams.

It's a wild ride.

1996 Bowman #194 Craig Counsell RC

Counsell was born in South Bend, Indiana, so it's fitting that he played his college ball at Notre Dame.

His father, John, played in the Minnesota Twins' farm system from 1964 to '67, but he was never able to get past the single-A level.

Drafted by the Rockies in the 11th round in 1992, Counsell quickly rose through Colorado's farm system, eventually earning himself a call-up to the bigs.

He'd make his big-league debut on September 17, 1995 against the Marlins. 

He'd only play in three games for the Rockies in '95, going just 0-for-1 with a walk.

1998 Ultra Gold Medallion #362-G Craig Counsell

Get used to these awesome fielding shots, 'cause you're going to see them a lot during the course of this post. Card companies picked great shots to use of Counsell over the years.

After appearing in one game for the Rockies in '97 (without a plate appearance), he'd be traded to the Marlins for someone named Mark Hutton.

Counsell quickly captured the starting second base job in Florida, the team he made his major-league debut against.

In 51 games for the Marlins, Counsell hit .299 and helped the Marlins take the NL Wild Card.

He'd hit .400 in the Marlins' three-game sweep of the Giants in the NLDS that year, and he posted a .429 average in the five-game takedown of the Braves in the NLCS.

Although he hit just .182 in the World Series against the Indians, he'd become cemented in Florida Marlins history. 

Counsell would score the winning run in the 11th inning of Game 7, crossing the plate after Edgar Renteria's walk-off single.

It wouldn't be the only time Counsell would score the final run of a season.

1999 Pacific #173 Craig Counsell

See what I mean about the fielding shots?

Counsell was the starting second baseman for the doomed 1998 Florida Marlins. Most of the stars were sold off, and the team went 54-108.

It's still the worst record of any team coming off a World Series win the previous year. And I think it's a record that will never be broken. It's hard to lose 108 games in a season, much less if you just won the World Series.

Counsell couldn't repeat the success of '97, hitting just .251 in 107 games. It would be his only full season as a Marlin.

He'd start off the 1999 season on the Florida bench, hitting a paltry .152 in 37 games.

In June, he'd be dealt to the Dodgers for a player to be named later.

He was mostly a bench player in Los Angeles, hitting .259 in 50 games.

I've still never been able to find a card of Counsell as a Dodger. I'm still searching, though.

2003 Upper Deck MVP "MVP Celebration" #MVP-52 Craig Counsell /2001

I don't own a card of Counsell from 2000 or 2001, and I doubt there was ever one made. This one more than makes up for the gap, though.

Counsell would be released by the Dodgers in spring training of 2000.

Five days later, he'd sign a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks. He'd spend the first couple months of the season at triple-A before being called back up.

He'd again be a bench player for much of the year, but he'd be a valuable one, hitting .316 with a .400 OBP in 67 games, and striking out just 18 times.

In 2001, Arizona would see a huge return on their minor-league investment in Counsell.

He'd become a regular starter for the first time since 1998, and he wouldn't disappoint. Counsell was a major part of the Diamondbacks' World Series run in 2001.

He'd hit .275 with a .359 OBP in '01. But what made his 2001 season legendary was his role in the postseason.

He struggled in the NLDS, hitting just .188 in the D'Backs' five-game victory over the Cardinals.

All he'd do in the NLCS was take home MVP honors. Counsell hit .381 and scored five runs during Arizona's five-game win over the Braves. But he wasn't done yet.

Although he again struggled in the World Series, he'd earn a place in another team's history books.

The 2001 World Series is easily among the best ever, ending on Luis Gonzalez's dramatic walk-off bloop single in Game 7.
Guess who scored the winning run again? Yup, none other than Craig Counsell.

He scored the game-winning runs in two different Game 7's of two different World Series with two different teams. Not sure we'll ever see that again.

2002 Topps Total #294 Craig Counsell

Finally! A card featuring Counsell's quirky batting stance. I tend to think of Counsell as a hitter's version of Chad Bradford, to whom I previously dedicated a GOTT post. Very few people know either Counsell or Bradford because of their stats. They just know them because of their quirky ways of playing ball.

I've always wanted to know how Counsell developed that stance. I can't see how anyone could get comfortable hitting like that.

The Diamondbacks rewarded Counsell by giving him a three-year deal. He hit a modest .282 with a .348 OBP in 2002, also setting a career-high with 52 RBI.

2003 Topps Total #171 Craig Counsell

Here's an even better shot of Counsell in his hitting stance. I'm surprised more cards don't feature this.

Just another reason why Topps Total is so great.

2003 was a season Counsell would rather forget. Injuries plagued him, and he'd hit just .234 in 89 games.

2004 Topps Total #249 Craig Counsell

Who produced the only card of Counsell in 2004? Yup, Topps Total. Love it.

Counsell was part of a huge trade between the D'Backs and Brewers in December of 2003. The Diamondbacks sent Counsell, Chris Capuano, Chad Moeller, Jorge De La Rosa, and Junior Spivey to Milwaukee for slugger Richie Sexson.

Counsell's first stint in Milwaukee wouldn't last long, as he'd hit just .241 in his only season with the Brewers (to that point).

2005 Topps #612 Craig Counsell

Counsell found himself back in Arizona for the 2005 season, signing as a free agent.

Topps apparently took this shot before Counsell could get a proper D'Backs uniform. The back of the jersey doesn't even have a name or number on it.

Counsell was basically just a stopgap for up-and-coming star Stephen Drew. He'd still be the starter in 2005, however, hitting .256 that year.

Counsell would also set personal highs with nine homers and 148 hits in '05.

2006 Ultra #59 Craig Counsell

Counsell moved over to shortstop for the 2006 season.

He'd be forced to miss six weeks with a broken rib during the season. During that time, Stephen Drew took hold of the starting shortstop job in Arizona, and he didn't give it up.

As a result, Counsell was relegated to bench duty for much of the '06 season, hitting .255.

Counsell would say bye-bye to Arizona after 2006.

2007 Upper Deck #792 Craig Counsell

Counsell would return to Milwaukee for the 2007 season, signing a two-year deal with the Brew Crew.

It should be noted that Counsell was quite familiar with the Brewers early on, as his father held an office job for the Brewers when Craig was a young boy. As a result, he got to meet Brewers greats like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.

In '07, Counsell would again be occupying a position that was soon to be taken from him by a young star. Primarily playing third base for most of the season, Counsell would hit just .220.

Some rookie third baseman named Ryan Braun tore up the minors in '07, eventually getting called up to the bigs and taking Counsell's job. As we all know, Braun would light up big-league pitching and run away with the 2007 NL ROY award.

Counsell still managed to play in 110 games in '08, switching between second, third, and short during the course of the season. Counsell was always a great fielder; he'd finish with a .987 fielding percentage at third, a .981 mark at second, and a perfect 1.000 fielding average at shortstop that year.

Counsell was also a tough guy to strike out during his career, and he'd continue that in '08, whiffing just 42 times while taking 46 walks. Although he'd finish with a .226 batting average, he'd post a respectable .355 OBP.

2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee #222 Craig Counsell

2009 Upper Deck OPC is one of my favorite sets from the last few years, and this card may very well be my favorite of the set.

Counsell became a free agent after the '08 season, but he'd return to Milwaukee. He no longer had the quirky batting stance that made him stand out, scrapping it after the 2008 season.

He'd have a fine 2009 season. At the ripe age of thirty-nine, Counsell hit .285, his full season career-high.

2010 Topps #53 Craig Counsell

Counsell would receive another fantastic fielding shot for his 2010 Topps issue, making it one of the finest cards in the set.

He'd struggle in 2010, hitting just .250 in 102 games.

2011 Topps Update #US-317 Craig Counsell

In 2011, Counsell would hit just .178 in 107 games.

He achieved a dubious feat in 2011, going hitless in 45 straight at-bats, tying a record set by two other players.

On a brighter note, Counsell received a standing ovation from the Brewers crowd on August 14th. It was "Craig Counsell Bobblehead Day" at Miller Park.

Counsell retired this past Tuesday, taking a front office job for the Brewers and following in the footsteps of his father.

I don't think this is the last we'll hear of Craig Counsell in the baseball world. He wants to be a GM someday, and he certainly has the experience to move up the front office ladder. I don't know about becoming a general manager, but who knows what the coming years will hold?

Craig Counsell never made an All-Star team. He never won a batting title. He didn't hit homers.

But he was a guy any team would've been lucky to have.

He was the true definition of a team player.


Daniel Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Wilson said...

I used to love Counsell when he was with the D-Backs! Glad to see that he'll be staying in baseball.

Adam Kaningher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam Kaningher said...

I hate to burst your bubble, but it was Jay Bell that scored the winning run in the 2001 series. Counsell was on base at the time, though.


Edit: added hyperlink