Officially, anyway. To most baseball folk, Lee had been retired since the end of last season. The former slugger couldn’t reach a deal with a team for the two-year deal he sought, so he instead decided to hang up his cleats. Over his career, Lee totaled 358 home runs, 1,363 RBI, and sported a career batting average of .285. Lee was a three-time All-Star and also won two Silver Slugger awards.
Let’s be honest, here – Lee won’t make the Hall of Fame. His numbers were very good, but not great. And in the steroid era, power hitters weren’t exactly at a premium. But to be fair to Lee, he wasn’t linked to the steroid controversy (in fact, he mocked reported user Alex Rodriguez once upon a time) and for a decade, was one of the most consistent power hitters.
From the start, his career seemed destined for stardom. He finished in the top ten in his first season in 1999 for Rookie of the Year voting and had 16 home runs and knocked in 84 runs batting nearly .300 with the Chicago White Sox.
From 2000 to 2010, Lee had at least 24 home runs in every season. And from 2003 to 2007, he was borderline elite, hitting more than 30 every season. Lee’s banner season, so to speak, would be 2006 when he hit 37 home runs, had 116 RBI and batted .300. His 37 bombs that year were a career high and the 116 RBI were the second most in his career.
Though he was a power hitter that also hit for average, Lee bounced around quite a bit and never really found a true home. He played with the Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, and Miami Marlins over his 13-year career. Lee’s big payday came with the Astros after his monster 2006 season when he signed for six-years at $100 million. The latter years of that deal obviously weren’t worth it, but you could actually argue that he was earning his keep for the first few years considering what some other players made.
Besides the power, though, Lee had one other great attribute – he never struck out. Okay, so ‘never’ is too strong a word, but in this day and age where 100 strikeouts a season is the norm for power hitters, Lee never had more than 94. And, Lee was also extremely durable. The outfielder never played in fewer than 115 games over his entire career and he appeared in at least 140 games in ten of his 12 major league seasons.
Lee reportedly had offers to play with several teams this season. But he was seeking a two-year deal and, understandably, teams didn’t want to commit to that. He has been in a steady decline for six years now and taking him on at one year would have been a risk. Two years? That would have been a sizeble one for a general manager.
Like most players, Lee faded down the stretch of his career. He was still producing into his 30s, but his home run totals dropped every single year from that banner year in 2006. His RBI totals also dipped over that span as did his batting average. By the time last season wrapped up, Lee had hit a career-low .264 and had only nine home runs. Surprisingly, the nine jacks came in a season when he still played in 147 games and had 550 at bats. Lee certainly had his chances, but just wasn’t the same player and struggled in Miami last year.
Lee never got the recognition other sluggers did in his era. Sure, he never topped 40 home runs, but for a decade, was one of the most feared sluggers in the game. Part of that is due to the markets he played in. Mired in the central part of the country, he never fully got the respect he deserved. But there’s no doubt that Lee was an impact player in his era.
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