Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Sweet Johnny O

The baseball world is buzzing: There’s Drayton McLane’s decision to not offer arbitration to baseball’s best pitcher; the Jays landing of Lyle Overbay in exchange for a bag of spare parts; or the crazed spending of the New York Mets contrasted with the giant sucking sound emanating from Florida.

Then there’s the Rangers turning A-Rod into Soriano, and then turning Soriano into Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge. Talk about destroying value.

They’ve traded for the same Sledgehammer who wowed the Trappers’ faithful in 2003, leading the team in OPS, and aiming for the fences everytime, connecting on 22 dingers and whiffing in a whopping 93 of 497 at-bats. Not bad for a minor leaguer, but for a 26 year-old, hardly a brilliant performance. Maybe they were wowed by Sledge’s Hall of Fame credentials.

We’ll have a whole season to discuss these changes. What we won’t have are any more seasons in which we can honour John Garrett Olerud, possessor of one of the sweetest swings I’ve ever seen. In a period in baseball history where athleticism was conflated with power hitting, Olerud forged a different path. He was one of the game’s most reliable hitters, turning in season after season near his career average of .295/.398/.465, and a sterling defensive player, with a career .995 FPCT – a whisker away from all-time AL career record holder Don Mattingly’s .996.

His start in baseball is justly famous. An NCAA Player of the Year, Olerud excelled as both batter and pitcher, turning in a 15-0 season with 113 SO in 122 IP while setting school records in all major batting categories. A third round pick by the Jays, he was the 16th player to go straight to the majors. Until a rehab/conditioning stint for the BoSox at the end of his career, Olerud had never played in the minors.

Olerud was at the core of the championships won by the Jays, batting .333 combined in the 1992 ALCS/World Series, and then crushing the Phillies with an unexpected homerun in 93.

Olerud’s 1993 season was a personal best, and probably the best season by a player in Jays’ franchise history (.363./.473/.599). Delgado’s 2000 season came close, as did George Bell's in 1987; Tony Fernandez and Shannon Stewart managed 200 hit seasons, but without the power or OBP.

I always saw Olerud’s value as his work ethic and his consistency. Hire Johnny O for your squad, and you’d get a reliable – and good – performance every day of every season. His 2,239 hits put him 13th among active career batting leaders, and his 2,234 games was 9th.

He was, I think, under-appreciated. His two All Star appearances were separated by eight years, and his three Gold Gloves (2000, 2001, 2003) came years after he’d proven himself one of the best all-time at his position.

Tonight, the most common media stories are simply repeats of a short wire report; its lede tells us that Olerud was soft-spoken, and a former batting champion. The order, and the message, is wrong. Olerud spoke with his bat. And he told us a great story.


At 2:17 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

It may be because I am drunk, but the yarn you just weaved about Johnny O brought a tear to my eye. A single, salty tear. The swing of Ted Williams, that man had. He should be in the HoF based on that swing alone.

I don't believe the Soriano trade, however. You must be fooling with me. I will have to verify this in the morning, when I am in complete control of my faculties. Sledge and Wilkerson?

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Alex said...

I don't know who benefits from the Soriano trade. The Rangers don't need help in the Outfield, and Soriano struggled away from Arlington last year (average in the .230s, with nearly 1 strikeout per gaem), leading one to wonder how effective he can be in Washington.

As for the Overbay trade, the Jays now have 7 players to fill 4 infield (and 1 DH) spots. You have to think they're going to move either Hillenbrand or Hinske in addition to O-Dog, if they can find takers. I just can't imagine who would be interested, and where Toronto could land another bat.

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

And now there's talk the Jays may move the O-dog to land Wilkerson. That's a lot of bats.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Alex said...

I read that in Buster Olney's column this morning.

The Rangers are interested in Miguel Batista too. I like the idea of a Batista and O-Dog for Wilkerson, Kevin Mench, and prospect swap.

At 12:58 AM, Blogger theDrizzler said...

Best thing about Johnny O (my favourite player of all time) that I heard on ESPN yesterday: John Olerud holds the third best personal winning % of any baseball player. Ever.


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