We’ve known that Alex Cora was the All-Aughts Team of the Decade backup infielder for a while now. But how about his counterpart in the outfield?
Well, that was a rather easy choice. What is a Red Sox team of the decade without the Hebrew Hammer, Gabe Kapler?
Kappy was purchased from the Rockies on June 28, 2003 and immediately made an impact on the club. On that day, Kapler went 4-5 with two doubles and a triple, driving in three. That wasn’t all, though. The next day, Kapler found himself in the lineup again and cranked out two home runs en route to three hits, three runs and four RBI. How about that for endearing yourself to fans?
Kapler was notable for his jacked-out physique, as he is a bodybuilder. He’s certainly been linked to steroids for this very reason, but has always maintained he has never used — and he’s never been implicated in any type of drug scandal, either.
During the World Series season of 2004, Kapler decided to play on Yom Kippur at the behest of a Boston-area rabbi. Kapler had a knack for getting hits when it counted, posting a .303 batting average in close and late situations. Overall, his batting average was .272.
Kapler had one of the more enduring images of the 2004 season, standing next to Johnny Damon multiple times during pitching changes and things of that ilk, forming a “1918” combination of their uniform numbers.
After the season, Kapler left to join the Yomiuri Giants, saying he had always been interested in Japanese culture. The immersion did not go well, and Kappy was brought back to Boston. (Fire Brand archive: Gabe Kapler is BAAAAACK, 7/25/05.)
After his return, Kapler set a record along with Kevin Youkilis and Adam Stern on August 8. By taking the field in the ninth inning, Boston now boasts the most Jewish players on the field at one time in American League history. (In baseball history, it was the first time since 1941.)
That wasn’t the only interesting thing of note to happen to Kapler in Boston. It seems as if Kapler was always doing something, and a truly bizarre occurrence happened on September 14, 2005. Kapler was on base when Tony Graffanino cranked a home run. As Kappy was running the bases, he ruptured his left Achilles tendon, ending his season. Alejandro Machado had to pinch-run for him, thusly scoring his first ever major league run without getting a hit.
Kappy returned the following June and finished 2006 with his best OBP in five years. He then retired from playing to take the manager’s job in Single-A Greenville. Boston loved Kapler as a player and person and thought he would make a great manager. They also didn’t feel he was up to playing professionally again.
Rather predictably, Kapler felt he wasn’t finished in baseball and missed playing the game. He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and turned heads before posting his best-ever slugging percentage. He joined the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 as a platoon outfielder and will reprise his role with the Rays again in 2010. It’s a testament to Kapler’s athleticism that he was able to post his two best OPS’ these past two seasons since 2001.
The 33-year old almost broke up Mark Buehrle’s perfect game this season, before Dewayne Wise made the leaping catch to rob Kapler of a home run.
During his time in Boston, Kapler always was in the middle of late-game rallies as his numbers in close and late situations spiked. He was also a very adept outfielder and probably could have continued to give Boston high value as a fourth outfielder from 2007 to the present. (I wouldn’t rule out an eventual return to the team, either.) It makes me wonder what exactly Boston saw in Kapler that made them think his career was finished.
It’s possible Kapler was rejuvenated by the year away, giving his body a year off to refresh and heal. I suppose we’ll never know.
What I do know is this: Kapler was a great teammate, a great player to watch, and a great role model for aspiring ballplayers to emulate. His all-out style was an easy way to make him a fan favorite. Plus, with a nickname like Hebrew Hammer, it’s no surprise he lands himself on the Team of the Decade.