Lyle Spencer

Figgins' heart eclipsed many talents

'Fearless' style helped infielder overcome any obstacles

Figgins' heart eclipsed many talents

TEMPE, Ariz. -- He was the smallest of the Angels, but in the hearts and minds of their fans, nobody was bigger than Chone Figgins -- not even the great Vladimir Guerrero or Figgy's good buddy, Garret Anderson.

Figgins, who retired fittingly and formally on Monday with a one-day contract as an Angel, took it to the limits of his abilities every time he pulled on a uniform. That was his signature. His desire was as impressive as anything he did on the field -- and he did just about everything to win games and influence pennant races.

"I went on my first vacation ever last year with my wife," Figgins said. "Nobody in this game worked harder than me. I might not have been the best player on the field, but nobody worked harder."

Versatile Figgins retires

Figgins was a Mariner for three mostly frustrating seasons (2010-12) after signing a free-agent deal. He played his final big league game in 2014 in a Dodgers uniform, having mentored Marlins star Dee Gordon in his breakthrough season in Los Angeles.

Constantly studying to improve, Figgy absorbed everything he could from teammates such as Anderson and Bobby Abreu, along with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and the coaching staff.

"Baseball made me who I am," Figgins said, "and I will always be grateful for that. I thank everyone who helped me -- and especially the fans for how they treated me. To this day, when I see an Angels fan, it'll be, `I loved the way you played the game.' I always wanted to retire as an Angel, and I thank everyone for making that happen."

Drafted by the Rockies in the fourth round in 1997 out of Brandon (Fla.) High School, Figgins came to the Angels four years later in a swap for Kimera Bartee. It ranks alongside the Nolan Ryan deal with the Mets as the best in franchise history.

In his eight Angels seasons, Figgins batted .291 with a .363 on-base percentage, scoring 596 runs with a franchise-high 280 steals while skillfully handling six positions.

Figgins was Scioscia's Swiss Army knife, driving the offense with controlled aggression. His 58 triples, including 17 in '04, are second in franchise history.

"Chone was small in stature, but he played big, in every respect," Scioscia said. "Probably the only thing he didn't do was hit balls out of the park. But he was fearless in every aspect of the game, and I think that's what drew all of us to feeling he was going to be a winner in whatever position he played.

"He was really a shortstop/second baseman. He had the opportunity to play third base and just said, 'Absolutely,' and worked hard to become a really, really good defensive third baseman. And he was one of the best leadoff hitters we've ever had here."

Figgins played a role in the 2002 World Series championship run with his baserunning exploits, then took that crack in the door and flew through it.

Figgins broke out in 2004, drawing American League Most Valuable Player Award votes after hitting .296 with a .350 OBP. He was even better in '05, scoring 113 runs and leading the AL in steals with 62, attracting even more MVP votes.

Having finally settled into a full-time role as a third baseman, Figgins took flight as an All-Star in 2009. His 7.7 WAR was the fifth highest among all MLB position players. After then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland promoted him as an AL MVP Award candidate, Figgins finished 10th in the voting.

"I think Chone Figgins is one of the most valuable players in the league," Leyland said. "He's a catalyst. He can play all over, plays good wherever you put him. I think he's one of those guys that every manager would love to have on his team. This guy makes a lot of things happen.

"He has fun playing; he loves the game. He's actually fun, even for an opposing manager, even though he's been a pain in the [posterior] for us. He's got a passion to be real good. He's really a tremendous asset to an organization."

Figgins' career year in 2009 ultimately ended in disappointment. A very good Angels team fell to the eventual champion Yankees in six AL Championship Series games after sweeping the Red Sox, their nemesis, in the AL Division Series.

"It hurts a lot, going back to '04 and '05," Figgins said. "Sosh always talked in meetings about how we knew where we were going to be at the end of the year, but our ultimate goal was to play for a championship. We always prepared to win a World Series.

"When those things didn't happen, it hurt every year. To hold that trophy and take the fire trucks through Disneyland -- not being able to do that stings to this day. We should have at least two World Series. We wanted rings, but we ended up getting beat by better teams."

Figgins is busy now helping his wife, Claudia, take care of their 10-month-old son, Desmond Jr. Eventually, he said, he'd like to get back in the game in some capacity. As Leyland once pointed out, Figgins would be an asset to any organization with his knowledge, versatility and competitive fires.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.