MLB: Athletics’ Ellis eyeing key longevity milestone

MLB

As long as there aren’t any health hiccups this spring, Oakland
Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis will achieve a significant
milestone during the first week of the regular season
– 1,000 games played in an Oakland uniform.
By Carl Steward – The Oakland Tribune

PHOENIX – As long as there aren’t any health hiccups this spring, Oakland Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis will achieve a significant milestone during the first week of the regular season – 1,000 games played in an Oakland uniform.

He’s at 994 at counting, and turning the odometer is a bigger deal than it sounds. Ellis will become just the 13th player to do that in Oakland, and the first second baseman to accomplish the feat (Dick Green played in 1,158 games for the Athletics spanning Kansas City and Oakland, 721 for the latter).

To be sure, the significance is not lost on Ellis himself, who way back in January 2001 was an extra player in an A’s trade that netted Johnny Damon, who was gone the next year. Ellis originally was drafted by the Kansas City Royals, and getting traded after just a year and a half as a pro shocked him.

“I didn’t know what to think when I got traded,” he said. “All I know is I got on the computer and looked at the middle infield prospects Oakland had, and there were quite a few at the time. I thought, ‘This isn’t good.’€‰”

But it has turned out to be very good. Ellis not only is on the verge of 1,000 games played for the A’s, he should be in their longevity top 10 at some point this season, passing Joe Rudi (currently 10th at 1,088), Jose Canseco (1,058) and Jason Giambi (1,036).

“It is special,” said Ellis. “This organization has been good to me and my family, and I feel like I’ve been able to give something to the organization, too. So to reach 1,000 games is nice. I don’t think too many guys can say they’ve been with one team as long as I have.”

Only a dozen here, and it hasn’t been easy getting there, either. Ellis missed the entire 2004 season with a torn labrum, and other injuries have limited him to just two seasons in which he played 150 or more games. Last year, beset by a hamstring injury that put him on the disabled list in mid-April and troubled him much of the year even when he returned, he played in just 124 games. He played in just 105 games in 2009 after a 55-game disabled list stint with a strained calf.

Hence, Ellis’ ability to continue climbing the Oakland games played ladder beyond 2011 may much depend on a healthy season. He’s a free agent at year’s end, and while there is not an imminent heir apparent – top prospect Jemile Weeks only played at Double-A Midland last year, hitting .267 – Ellis is 33 and probably needs to demonstrate some durability to have a chance at being re-signed.

Ellis definitely wants to stay beyond 2011 but isn’t sure what the future holds.

“It’s not up to me … well, it’s kind of up to me, but it’s not solely in my hands,” he said. “You have to be wanted back, and I’m not sure where (the A’s) stand on that right now. So we’ll have to wait and see.”

Even though his power numbers were down for a third straight year in 2010, Ellis led the A’s with a .291 average among those who logged 100 or more games. Moreover, he had another phenomenal year in the field, committing just three errors. Even though he’s never won a Gold Glove, he has the second-highest career fielding percentage at second in MLB history (.990).

“I’ve never been a real big numbers guy, but I figure if I can stay on the field and be healthy for a full season, that’s the key,” he said. “Every time I’ve been able to do that, I’ve been pretty productive.”

He’s been productive through two eras, the Big Three era of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, and the one the A’s have been trying to rebuild ever since their last playoff season of 2006. With the departure of Eric Chavez this offseason, Ellis is not only the senior member of the A’s, he has more than double the continuous service time in Oakland of any other player in the organization.

“There’s been a lot of turnover the last few years, and it’s sad to see a lot of your friends go, but at the same time, you get to meet a lot of new, young guys with a lot of energy,” he said. “In a perfect world, you’d stay together with the same guys for 10 years, but baseball in this day and age isn’t that way anymore.”

Whether this is Ellis’ last year in Oakland or not, he wants it to be a memorable one.

“I want to get back to the playoffs and get to that level like it was when I first got called up to the big leagues (in 2002),” he said. “I want to get that energy and excitement back in the ballpark every day, and in the ballclub every day, too.”

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