JUPITER, Fla. -- An impact player, that's what managers and general managers covet, a player who regularly fills the role of game-changer. That's often a position player, usually one with uncommon power or speed. The greater the impact and the more often it is demonstrated, the more likely it is that the player will be identified as a star as well.
In 12 big league seasons as an on-the-field nomad with the Mets, Pirates, Rays, Astros, Orioles, Rockies, Phillies and Cardinals, Ty Wigginton never qualified as a star. He's had his days, even some weeks. But the term "impact player" seldom was applied to him as it would be to players whose names were routinely in headlines.
These days, Wigginton is in Marlins camp as a 36-year-old, non-roster, job-seeking, utility man of intriguing resumé. And here, if nowhere else in Florida or Arizona, he is recognized as impact player, recognized by at least one of the decision-makers who will determine whether his career will move to South Florida. Marlins manager Mike Redmond has an appreciation for the 2014 wannabe, one born nearly 11 years ago when Wigginton made quite the impression on the then-Marlins catcher.
Wigginton left an impression as well.
He was the Mets' baserunner at third in the sixth inning of a game played at Shea Stadium on April 18, 2003. Jason Phillips reached base on an ensuing infield ground ball because the play was at the plate. Wigginton was thrown out. Redmond was nearly knocked out. And an inning later, he was taken out, his day cut short by the mass and might of the player now in his camp.
"Oh, he hit me hard," Redmond said on Sunday morning. "I had to leave the game a few innings later. He hit me on my left side I remember. That's the way he played. That's the kind of player you want on your team."
The tale came to light as Major League Baseball is deciding whether to take steps to eliminate collisions at the plate. Neither Redmond nor Wigginton favors creation of a rule that would eliminate aggressiveness and hard-nosed play from the game.
"I'm against all new rules," Wigginton said after Sunday's workout. "Replays on home runs? I'm sure Babe Ruth lost a few. The rules have worked for a long time. Leave the game alone."
As Wigginton spoke, another non-roster veteran, Reed Johnson, happened by. "Said Wigginton: "Yeah, Reed's probably lost -- what? -- 17 or 18 over the years."
"Yeah, no big thing," Johnson said. "It just cost me hundreds of millions of dollars."
Redmond awaits a clear description of a rule curbing collisions at the plate before he will pass judgment. But he is leaning toward no rule is a good rule. "It's part of the game, you have a rule, and you take away aggressiveness from both the runners and the catcher."
The manager smiled when he was told of a play at the plate, years ago, involving Jim Ray Hart, a muscular, non-nonsense third baseman with the Giants, and Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver. Hart slid into McCarver with such force that Hart's spikes became imbedded in McCarver's shinguards. Hart's shoes and McCarver's shinguards had to be removed before the players could be untangled.
And who can forget Pete Rose and Ray Fosse at the All-Star Game? Or Kevin McReynolds, then with the Mets, bowling over Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia and his reputation for blocking the plate? McReynolds scored the winning run in the first game of the National League Championship Series in 1988. On that play, the irresistible force pushed the immovable object out of its path.
And when Willie Mays played for the Mets against the Braves in the early 1970s, he once slowed down after rounding third and signaled Felix Millan, the trail runner, to follow him. Mays arrived at the plate just before the throw and obliterated catcher Biff Pocoroba. Millan scored standing.
"I've always liked those kinds of plays," said Wigginton, who doubted he had the speed to copy Mays' play. "I figure, once you're on base, the idea is to score any way you can. If the hitter does everything he can to get you in, it's your responsibility to do everything you can, too."
Wigginton has had an inordinate number of memorable collisions. His left shoulder put Mets catcher Josh Thole on the disabled list because of a concussion in 2008. He also crushed Yadier Moilina, Jason Kendall and one-time Diamondbacks catcher Koyie Hill. The one with Hill was bloody," Wigginton said, smirking. "But we both survived."
Wigginton, as much as any player in the big leagues, has a reputation as a bona fide bone-bruisers. He says a few opposing catchers have told him, while he was batting, "You can have the plate."
Redmond was not of them. He held his ground against Wigginton in 2003. "It was like we were playing football," Redmond said after that game. And he got smoked. "My left side got all locked up."
Years later after he had moved on to the Twins and Wigginton was a member of the Rays, Redmond approached Wigginton before a game. "I admitted to him that he'd just about knocked me out. And I said 'I just wanted to make sure he felt it, too.' He said he threw up for hours. That made me feel better."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less