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July 8, 2008

Sorry's my favorite Texas Ranger

I was in a meeting last week when, no joke, someone said…“there’s a reason why it is called the ‘Midsummer Classic’ and it isn’t because it is played in February”.

Dumb statement? Perhaps.

But it wasn’t long after I heard that, that I realized that we were indeed on the cusp of being deluged with All-Star game hype.

Who is in?

Who is out?

Is it wrong to want to see Ken Griffey, Jr. out there for what might be one last time?

All valid topics of conversation and every single one of them was answered this past Sunday when the teams were announced a la the NCAA brackets. I mean, do we really need an All-Star Selection Show?

The answer is “no”…but I digress.

By now, we all know that this is the last All-Star game at “Historic Yankee Stadium”, the Tampa Bay Rays have no starters, Junior fell out of favor over the past week and Jason Varitek is somehow going to be part of the festivities.

All of those are stories that we’re going to hear ad nauseam, but there is going to be one name that we’re likely going to get sick of hearing by this time next week.

Josh Hamilton.

I know, I know…he is a former number one overall pick, struggled with injuries and drug addiction, was out of baseball for a few years and is now back living up to the expectations everyone had of him ten years ago.

I get it…it is a nice story.

All that aside, there is one tidbit about Hamilton that I took notice of…he is the first Texas Ranger outfielder to start an All-Star game since Juan Gonzalez in 1998 and only the third Ranger outfielder (Gary Matthews, Jr. was the other) to be selected in the last twenty years.

That’s not terrible company considering Gonzalez left his own injury filled career sandwiched between ANOTHER Junior, Cal Ripken, and should be Hall of Famer Andre Dawson on the all-time home run leader list.

That’s right, Gonzalez quietly finished his career with 434 bombs…good for 37th all-time. Matter of fact, including Dawson…there are only four Hall eligible players (Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Dave Kingman are the others) with MORE home runs than “Juan Gone”.

Drafted at 16 and taking his first Major League cuts at 19, Gonzalez was considered by many to be the best Puerto Rican baseball player since Roberto Clemente...and he could have been. Here was a slugger whose numbers at the plate seemed to mirror those of Griffey, Jr. but never did he garner the adoration “The Kid” received.

Starting in 1992, and setting the 1994 strike year aside, Gonzalez had 35 or more home runs in seven out of nine seasons. From 1992 to 2001, Gonzalez hit 365 home runs out of the yard...Griffey sent 400 packing.

Imagine if Gonzalez would have stayed healthy!

Here is a guy who MISSED twenty or more games in all but FOUR seasons in his seventeen year career. At the time, “Juan Gone” made Junior look durable!

In 1996, Gonzalez won the first of his two MVP awards with a career high .643 slugging percentage, .314 average, 144 RBI and a staggering 47 home runs. And why are 47 home runs staggering considering that it was only fifth best in the American League? Gonzalez sat out close to 30 games and STILL led the Rangers to the playoffs.

His impact was THAT great.

In the 1996 ALDS, Gonzalez tied Jeffrey Leonard's
1987 NLCS record by homering in four straight post-season games and joined Reggie Jackson and Griffey as the only players to hit five home runs in a single post-season series.

Two years later, Gonzalez once again brought home some hardware by hitting .316, 50 doubles, 45 home runs and knocking in 157 runs. Unfortunately, this MVP season was all but ignored on the national stage given McGwire and Sammy Sosa delighting the world with their best Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle impersonation.

But yet again, the Rangers lost to the Yankees in the playoffs and “Igor” was pretty much a shadow of his 1996 postseason self barely hitting my dog’s weight….083.

But if postseason play means anything (and it probably doesn't in this case), Gonzalez's four-year peak, contributed to the only three postseason appearances in the Rangers' history and he also contributed greatly to the Indians' 2001 division championship.

Juan Gonzalez was pretty much an RBI machine throughout the 1990s.

Eight times, Gonzalez knocked in more than 100 runs and for his career, he knocked in a hefty 1404…more than Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Johnny Bench, Duke Snider and only ten less than McGwire. Along with McGwire, there are only seven players eligible for the Hall that have more RBI than Juan Gonzalez.

In 1998, his 101 RBI at the All-Star break was the second most in history. Hank Greenberg had 103 at the intermission of the 1935 season. By comparison, the afore mentioned Josh Hamilton is leading the free world this year with 85 RBI…twenty more than the next closest hitter in the American League.

But let’s get back to McGwire (and I do so ONLY because there is that faction out there that believes he should be enshrined) and compare him to Gonzalez.

As I’ve said before…take away McGwire’s home run total and you’re basically left with nothing. Compared to Gonzalez, “Big Mac” has roughly 500 more plate appearances, but 300 less hits. “Juan Gone” finished just shy of 2000 for his career…McGwire had 1626.

Gonzalez bests McGwire in career batting average (.295 compared to .263), but does far short in both on base percentage and slugging (.343 and .561 versus .394 and .588).

McGwire blows Gonzalez out of the water with his OPS+, but honestly, he has 150 more home runs…he should. Gonzalez’s 132 OPS+ is better than Hall of Fame sluggers Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and Carl Yastrzemski though.

When Cooperstown comes a callin’ (and I’m suggesting that maybe the writers take a longer look at Juan Gonzalez than they did, say, Albert Belle), it’ll be easy to dismiss him considering some of the talent he played against, the era he played in (his teammates at one time in Texas DID include Jose Caseco and Rafael Palmeiro) and the fact that he played in the Lone Star State for a majority of his career. He had one great year outside of Arlington, but outside of that…the guy is one of the best Texas Rangers to ever walk this Earth.

Sorry Walker.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to see Volquez against Hamilton in the All-Star Game. So far, that has to be one of the most even-sided trades made that I can remember. As a Reds fan, I'd do that trade every day again, and twice on Sunday. The Redleggers needed pitching, they had a surplus of outfielders, so there you go! I've heard some say the Reds should've traded Dunn or Freel to get Volquez. Those people need to stop taking smoking the wacky weed and realize there's no way the Rangers would've parted with Volquez for anybody less than Hamilton or Jay Bruce.

John in FW

The Hungry Attorney said...

Ugh. That '96 Rangers team was sick with talent. Pudge hit .300 and set the record for doubles that year. Two years later he wins an MVP (despite getting less first place votes than runner-up Pedro Martinez). In 1998 when Juan Gone won his second and in 1996 when he won his first both of them finished in the top ten. Rusty Greer joined them in the top 25 vote-getters in 1997 (ahead of Jeter).

How did they not win a championship? That 1996 team had four guys with double digit victories and none of the five starters had a won-loss record below .500. The ERA's were high, but clearly pitching was not the problem. Unfortunately the Rangers are never going to see a lineup like that again as the franchise has been plagued by bad ownership ever since.

I had forgotten about Will Clark being on that '96 team. What do you think? .303 lifetime average, five top-five MVP finishes and a playoff average of .333. He was not much for power but he got over 2,100 hits...

You know whose numbers are almost identical? Mr. Mark Grace...

Jesus said...

I like the fact that the Cubs snatched up Hamilton in the Rule 5 Draft a few years back so they could sell him to the Reds.

Good thinkin' Cubs!

E said...

The Josh Hamilton story is a nice one. I didn't even realize he was a player until I read that SI article on him (this from a guy who stopped paying attention to baseball when back when Ramon was the good Martinez).