No real news here or indications why he is slumping -- but some interesting insight.
BY NEIL HAYES
Knight Ridder Newspapers
OAKLAND, Calif. - (KRT) - Eric Chavez was playing a video game in the A's clubhouse this week while answering questions about his early season slump.
"It's frustrating because I don't think there's a reason for it," the A's third baseman said while manipulating the controls, his eyes never leaving the flashing kick-boxer on the screen. "There's no excuse for it, either."
It's impossible to criticize someone so willing to criticize himself. Chavez is notoriously hard on himself. He is a budding star but still struggles with his confidence. It's just who he is.
When the conversation shifts to expectations, he refuses to beat himself up. He ignores the flashing screen and looks his questioner right in the eye.
"I'm sick of people saying what I should be doing," he said. "I'm sick of it. I'm not capable of hitting 40 home runs until I do it."
You hear projections from baseball people, from media people, all the time. Scouts begin assigning numbers to prospects from the first moment they see them. "This guy could hit 40 homers with 130 RBI," a television analyst might say. "He has that kind of potential. This could be his breakthrough year."
Nobody hears it more than Chavez. He is quietly building a resume that could one day be worthy of Hall of Fame consideration but there's a belief that he should be doing more, hitting more home runs and driving in more runs.
He agrees to an extent. He wants to be more consistent and less prone to the slumps that have dogged him throughout his six-year career, especially now that the A's are relying on him more than ever before. He wants to keep improving and justify the six-year, $66 million contract he signed last spring.
But he wonders if it's realistic for people to expect him to put up monster numbers often projected on him without help_the kind of help that BALCO founder Victor Conte was allegedly peddling.
"Unfortunately, illegal substances have come into the game and tainted the numbers and the levels of expectations have jumped," he said. "For those of us who participate cleanly, it's unrealistic. It's unfair."
He makes an excellent point. A player just now stepping into his prime can expect to be measured against steroid-inflated statistics.
Chavez is a prime example. Sometimes he feels as if he almost has to apologize for averaging 30 homers and 97 RBI during the past five seasons, even if those stats put him in elite company among third basemen.
He is one of four third baseman in AL history to win four Gold Gloves. He, Mark McGwire, Reggie Jackson and Jose Canseco are the only players in Oakland history to hit 25 or more home runs for five straight seasons.
Isn't that enough? If he never hits 40 homers will he have failed somehow?
"If he does what he has always done we'll be very happy," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "That's breakthrough enough. If he does that for the length of his contract you're talking about a Hall of Fame-caliber player."
It's these types of expectations that can make a player feel as if he has no choice but to take steroids. Chavez never made a conscious decision not to use performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, it never even crossed his mind.
He admits he was naive, not even considering that friend and mentor Jason Giambi might have been using when he was in Oakland.
"Certain standards have been set that are unrealistic," he said. "It's not worth it to me to take it to the next level."
Chavez acknowledges there's plenty of room for him to improve. He has been the other guy, he has been one of the guys, but he has never been the guy until now.
It could be argued that he filled that role last year when he hit 29 home runs and led the league in walks despite missing six weeks because of a broken bone in his right hand, but at least there was the threat of Jermaine Dye.
This year the offense is more reliant on him than ever and he has struggled mightily, especially with runners in scoring position.
Is it any wonder the A's are having so much trouble scoring runs?
"When you have that franchise player tag and the organization decides that you're the guy who gets the contract it doesn't help you relax," A's manager Ken Macha said. "He's trying to do too much. I just want Eric to be Eric."
If the past five seasons are any indication, being Eric means 30 homers, 100 RBI and Gold Glove caliber defense. Chances are, he'll finish close to those numbers again this year. They may not be good enough for some people, but they'll be good enough for Chavez and the A's.