As previously mentioned in Part I, Earl Williams did play some first base for the Orioles in 1973. Weaver began starting Williams at first in June. That was when Weaver implemented a platoon at the position with Williams starting against left-handed pitchers and Orioles’ veteran power-hitter, Boog Powell, starting against right-handers while Williams shifted back to catcher.
Powell had been the Orioles’ primary first baseman since 1962 and was an AL all-star in the years ’68 thru ’71. However, the former American League MVP had been mired in a slump for most of the 1973 season. By the middle of June, Powell, a notorious slow-starter at the plate, was hitting just .238 with 3 homeruns and 23 runs batted in and slugging a meager .315. According to Powell, the main reason for his struggles was a sore shoulder which was sapping his power. “My style has always been a big swing (62),” Powell explained when asked about how his shoulder was affecting him at the plate. “Now I’m forced to hold my hands in close to my body and I can’t get up on the ball. It limits my power (63).”
Truth be told, the 31 year-old Powell’s power-numbers had been declining since his MVP-winning season in 1970. That year Powell clubbed 35 homeruns. In ’71 Powell managed 22 round-trippers and in ’72 he hit 21. Like ’73, Powell began the previous ’72 season in a dreadful slump. By June 1 of ’72 Powell was hitting a paltry .158 and slugging just .318 with four homeruns and 17 RBI. Once again though Powell had an excuse for his drop in production, that being the brief player’s strike which occurred at the beginning of the ‘72 season. “I think the strike hurt me the most (64),” Powell claimed. “I led the club in hitting, or was damned close, in spring training. I was in super shape. Then when you lay off two weeks and try to come back and hit major league pitching, well…there is not much you can do but go out and take a lot of batting practice (65).”
In ’73 Powell once again reported for spring training in terrific shape prompting Orioles’ GM Frank Cashen to comment on his slugging first baseman’s physical condition. “Boog looks in the best physical shape ever for spring training, and I think he’s going to have a helluva year (66).” Cashen made the comment after inking Powell to a $90,000 contract after Powell had briefly held out to begin the spring. Nevertheless, Powell still began the season very slowly, so much so that by late May, Orioles fans were booing the big first baseman whenever his name was announced. Up to that point, Weaver had remained patient with Powell. After all, Powell was able to rebound from his slow start in ’72. However, Weaver had made it publicly known that there was a limit to his patience. By the third week of May Weaver stated that he was contemplating making changes at first base. “I can’t let it go much longer. I probably should set a deadline. I might have to platoon at first base (66),” the Orioles’ skipper told the press.
Apparently Weaver’s “deadline” was June 14th. On that day, in a game versus the Kansas City Royals, Weaver sat Powell and had Earl Williams start at first base. Powell would not make another start until June 23rd in Boston in a game versus right-handed starter Ray Culp. From that point on, Weaver started Powell almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. Powell would only make three starts versus left-handed pitching the rest of the season. Instead it was Williams making most of the starts versus lefties with the highly-touted rookie, Enos Cabell, making the odd start.
Weaver’s platoon at first base seemed to have worked. Powell went on to hit .287 and slug .460 with eight homeruns and 34 RBI after being platooned. Overall, Powell finished the season with a .265 batting average and a .395 slugging average. He hit a total of 11 homeruns and drove in 54. Despite ’73 being a sub-par season for Powell, the former slugger still managed 0.6 WAA and a 2.2 rWAR which equates to a 4-3 individual won/loss record.
Unlike the ’73 Orioles, there wasn’t any question as to who would be starting at first base day-in and day-out for the 2001 Seattle Mariners. M’s manager Lou Piniella penciled in John Olerud’s name at first base in 158 of the Mariners’ 162 games that season. First base turned out to be the position in which production between the 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 1973 Baltimore Orioles varied the most. The obvious reason for the difference between the two teams was that despite the fact that Olerud was one year older in 2001 than Powell was in 1973; Olerud was completely healthy and was not in decline as Powell had proven to be. Interestingly though, prior to joining the Mariners, Olerud had experienced a period in his career when the general consensus was that the former batting champion was in decline.
The signing of John Olerud was one of Pat Gillick’s first moves after being hired by the Mariners. If you recall, at the time of his hiring, Gillick made mention that he was looking to acquire a “left-handed hitting infielder" as well as upgrading at first base. For Gillick and the Mariners, John Olerud checked both boxes. Gillick’s pursuit to acquire Olerud began almost immediately after he was hired in October of ’99. Olerud was a natural fit for the Mariners. After all, John Olerud was a native Seattleite as was his wife and family and had a previous relationship with Gillick.
It was Gillick who had drafted Olerud back in 1989 when Gillick was the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Gillick was able to pluck the Washington State University star pitcher/first baseman in the third round of the 1989 amateur draft, though the selection of Olerud was not without risk. Prior to the draft John Olerud had told every team that had contacted him that he would forego his senior year at Washington State only if given “a record amount of money (67) ” to sign. According to Olerud that amount was in the neighborhood of $350,000. At that time no player coming out of the draft had ever been paid a bonus exceeding $250,000. Besides his monetary demands, Gillick and the Blue Jays would also have to take into consideration Olerud’s health. Just five months prior to the draft, Olerud had collapsed while working out at Washington State and had lost consciousness for about 12 hours.
Six weeks after Olerud’s collapse, doctors identified the presence of an “aneurism- a subarachnoid hemorrhage about the size of a grape, located near the spinal cord (68).” Soon thereafter doctors operated on Olerud for six hours and placed a “clip on the aneurysm, blocking the flow of blood from the hemorrhage (69).” Within weeks Olerud was given clearance to workout. By late April of ‘89, just three months after collapsing, Olerud was once again pitching and hitting for Washington State. By then Gillick had a keen interest in drafting Olerud and made a total of seven trips to Washington State to watch Olerud play.
Prior to the aneurism which occurred in January of ‘89, Olerud had been considered “a certain top five selection (70),” in the upcoming 1989 MLB amateur draft. Olerud had just completed his junior year at college and was coming off a season in which he went 15-0 as a pitcher and hit .464 with 33 homeruns and 81 RBI as a first baseman/DH. However, both the aneurism and Olerud’s signing demands forced teams to drop Olerud on their draft boards. Gillick though was not deterred and selected Olerud with the 79th pick in the ’89 draft. Despite the aneurism, Gillick still considered Olerud, “an outstanding prospect (71).” After signing Olerud, Gillick proclaimed the pitching/hitting college star to be the “most advanced amateur player we (Blue Jays) have ever signed (72).” Blue Jays hitting coach and former MLB catcher/first baseman, Gene Tenace, added to Gillick’s assessment by saying that Olerud had, “Some of the best mechanics I’ve seen for a young kid (73).”
The drafting of Olerud out of college meant that Gillick had only about three months to sign him as the Blue Jays had the rights to Olerud only up until the beginning of fall classes. It took about eight weeks and several meetings with Olerud and his parents but Gillick was able to convince Olerud to forego his senior year at WSU and turn pro. Gillick signed Olerud to a contract that was just shy of $1 million and included a signing bonus in excess of $250,000. Moreover, it was agreed that Olerud would immediately be joining the Blue Jays who were at the time battling for first place in the American League East.
The chance to play for a pennant contender and skip the minor leagues all together may have been what finally convinced Olerud to sign. “The ability to go straight to the big leagues is something real important (74),” the then 21 year-old Olerud told the media. “I mean it’s a great opportunity. Some people never get this opportunity (75).” For good measure, the Blue Jays also included an endowed scholarship at WSU in Olerud’s name as well as a donation to the hospital’s neurosurgery department where Olerud had his surgery. On September 3, 1989, John Olerud made his major league debut and singled in his very first at-bat. Olerud went on to make eight plate appearances for the Blue Jays in ’89 and collected three hits in the process.
In 1990 Olerud was the Jays’ designated hitter in 90 games and made another 18 starts at first base. Overall Olerud hit .264 and slugged .430 with 14 homeruns and 48 RBI in 421 plate appearances. He finished fourth in AL ROY voting. Olerud’s successful rookie season convinced Gillick that Jays’ slugging first baseman, Fred McGriff, was expendable. As a result, in December of 1990 Gillick traded McGriff and shortstop Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres in exchange for second baseman Roberto Alomar and outfielder Joe Carter. Both Alomar and Carter proved to be instrumental in the Blue Jays’ winning back to back World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993.
Roberto Alomar led the ‘92 Jays in rWAR with a mark of 6.6. In 1993 however, it was John Olerud leading the Jays with a 7.8 rWAR. In fact, Olerud’s 7.8 rWAR in ‘93 was the third highest in the majors behind only Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Junior. Olerud led all major leaguers in doubles with 54 and on base percentage with a mark of .473. Olerud also captured the AL batting title with a .363 average. In fact, Olerud had been hitting .400 as late as August 2nd or 107 games into the season. The 107 game-mark in which Olerud had been hitting at least .400 was second only to George Brett’s 134 games achieved in 1980 for most games into a season hitting at least .400 since Ted Williams’ batted .406 in ‘41. To this day Brett and Olerud remain the only players to have hit .400 more than 100 games into a season since Williams’ magical 1941 campaign.
In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Olerud followed up his fantastic ’93 campaign by hitting .297 and slugging. 477. In 1995 Olerud hit .291 but his power numbers declined for the second consecutive season. He managed to slug just .404 and hit only eight homeruns. In 1996 Olerud’s power numbers recovered somewhat. He was able to increase his homerun total to 18 and his slugging average to .472. Olerud’s .854 OPS equated to a 116 OPS+; however, the Jays were not satisfied with Olerud’s production.
The then Blue Jays’ hitting coach, Willie Upshaw, believed the league had caught up to Olerud. According to Upshaw the “book” on Olerud was, “hard breaking balls inside on the hands…even with two strikes” as Olerud “wouldn’t look for a pitch inside (75).” Upshaw’s advice to Olerud was to “move closer to the plate (76)” and “try to pull inside pitches early in the count into the gap in right-center (77).” However, Upshaw’s coaching may have been counterproductive. In trying to pull the ball, Olerud inhibited his ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. Near the end of the ’96 season, Olerud said as much and seemed to have balked Upshaw’s suggested approach. “I just got a little too pull conscious. I got away from the swing I probably should have used. You have to be able to pull the inside pitch, but you also have to be able to hit the outside pitch. I have to hit the ball where it’s pitched. I can’t pull the outside pitch (78).” There was definitely a difference in opinion between Olerud and Upshaw prompting Upshaw to label Olerud as, “the most frustrating player I’ve ever worked with (79).”
Toronto Blue Jays’ manager, Cito Gaston, blamed Olerud’s troubles on his lack of minor-league experience. “I’ve told the organization we should never, ever have a player come straight from college to the majors (80).” According to Gaston, Olerud “hadn’t learned the fundamentals (81).” Given that Gaston had led the Blue Jays to back to back WS championships in ’92 and ’93 and that Pat Gillick, Gaston’s former boss, and the person responsible for immediately promoting Olerud to the majors out of college had left the organization by that time, afforded Gaston the opportunity to speak more freely on the subject. By that time Gaston was so down on Olerud that for most of the 1996 season, Gaston had platooned Olerud at first base with a 35 year-old Joe Carter and a 36 year-old Juan Samuel, both of which were on the brink of retirement.
With the 24 year-old power-hitting designated hitter, Carlos Delgado, set to take over at first base, Gillick’s successor, Blue Jays’ GM Gord Ash, jettisoned Olerud to the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher Robert Person in December of 1996. The Blue Jays also agreed to pay $5 million of the $6.5 million remaining on Olerud’s contract. After the announcement had been made that the Jays had traded Olerud, Cito Gaston was reportedly quoted to have said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Olerud “walks away from baseball at the end of the season (82).” Apparently Gaston believed that the “too nice” Olerud would not be able to handle the pressure of playing in New York.
However, Olerud proved Gaston wrong and rebounded in 1997. Olerud hit .294 and slugged .489 with 22 homeruns and 102 RBI, his highest totals since his terrific 1993 season. In the following year in ’98, Olerud hit .354 and slugged .551 and once again hit 22 home runs. The now 29 year-old Olerud was practically back to where he was in 1993 when he won the AL batting championship. Just two years prior, Olerud was being called “this generation’s Norm Cash (83)” a reference to the Detroit Tigers’ first baseman who hit .361 in 1961 to win the AL batting title but never came close to hitting .300 for the rest of his career. Now Olerud was once again being considered one of baseball’s premier first basemen.
It’s worth noting that Olerud’s turnaround came with the help of Mets’ pitching coach Tom Robson who stressed to Olerud the need to concentrate on “driving the ball up the middle and using his lower body to generate power (84)” as well as “keeping his hands closer to his body because he knows he can’t change, whether it’s a swing or a mindset (85).” The results spoke for themselves. In his three seasons with the Mets, Olerud hit .315, slugged .501 and hit 63 homeruns with 291 RBI. His OPS+ was an impressive 142. He also accumulated 17.3 rWAR which was third among all regular first basemen in the majors behind only Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell (21.4) and slugger Mark McGwire (17.9) who had just set the single season homerun record in 1998 with 70. It was no doubt that in his three seasons with the Mets, Olerud was once again one of baseball’s most productive first basemen, a far cry from his last year with the Blue Jays.
Of course given Olerud’s resurgence, the demand for his services had dramatically increased in the offseason of ’99. Olerud was rumored to have been asking for an annual salary in the neighborhood of $8 million over three to four years. The two leading contenders to sign Olerud were naturally the New York Mets, who had turned around Olerud’s career and the Seattle Mariners, Olerud’s hometown team. At the same time both teams were negotiating with Olerud, they were also involved in trade discussions involving the disgruntled Ken Griffey Junior who had it made it known his desire to leave Seattle.
The Mets acquiring Griffey hinged on where Olerud would ultimately end up signing. If the Mets were able to retain Olerud, acquiring and then re-signing a once in a generation talent such as Griffey, who was set to become a free agent after the 2000 season, would be difficult. The cash-strapped Mets were already committed to superstar catcher Mike Piazza for six years and $85 million. Adding both Olerud and Griffey would be a strain on the Mets’ finances. Moreover, for the Mets to acquire Griffey at the steep price Gillick and the Mariners were asking, with the chance of Griffey walking away after just one year to test the free agent market, was an extremely risky proposition for the Mets.
On the Mariners’ side of things, if Olerud were to sign with Seattle, the urgency to trade Griffey before the beginning of the season would dramatically increase given the Mariners’ limited financial resources. The fact that the Mariners could not afford having both Olerud and Griffey on the payroll meant that Griffey would undoubtedly have to be traded before the season began, costing the M’s more of what little leverage they had. At the same time though, Gillick could not take the chance at avoiding the free agent market until after resolving the Griffey situation. After all, Olerud filled two glaring needs for Gillick and the M’s- a left-handed infielder and an upgrade at first base. So even with the Griffey trade talks going nowhere, Gillick made the decision to sign Olerud to a three-year deal worth $20 million without first trading his superstar center fielder.
According to Olerud the Mets had made a “comparable offer” but in the end, playing in his hometown in front of family and friends was just too enticing for Olerud to turn down. “This was a real difficult decision for me (86),” Olerud said after signing with the Mariners. “There were times I was leaning toward the Mets, definitely….I think if it was any other team than the Mets, it would have been a real easy decision (87).”
Of course the other thing Seattle had going for it was Pat Gillick. It was Gillick who had originally drafted Olerud. Also, having won two World Championships while playing for Gillick in Toronto, Olerud was well aware of Gillick’s ability to put together a winning club, something that appealed to Olerud. “As a player, it’s a lot more fun to play on a winning team…with Mr. Gillick here; we’re going to be moving in the right direction (88),” Olerud explained to the media.
Indeed. In Olerud’s first season in Seattle in 2000 the club increased their 1999 win total from 79 to 91. The Mariners finished just one-half games behind the Oakland A’s in AL West but qualified for the post season as the AL wild card. Much of that improvement can be attributed to John Olerud. In ’99 the Mariners’ first basemen contributed a combined -2.0 in WAA which was 13th best in the AL. In 2000 Olerud’s 1.30 WAA placed the Mariners fifth in the American League in terms of WAA achieved from the first base position.
In ’99 the combination of David Segui, Ryan Jackson, Raul Ibanez, John Mabry, Mike Blowers and Butch Huskey had a combined 6-14 individual won/loss record for the Mariners. In 2000, John Olerud’s individual won/loss record was 7-4. At the plate Olerud hit .285 and slugged .439 with 14 homeruns and 103 RBI. His 117 OPS+ though was his lowest since his last year in Toronto. Olerud though did win the first of his three Gold Gloves that season.
What weighed down Olerud’s numbers in 2000 was his home park, Safeco Field. At home Olerud hit just .250 and slugged .405. On the road Olerud hit .320 and slugged .473. Interestingly, according to Gillick one of the selling points he used to get Olerud to sign with the Mariners was his belief that Olerud’s swing was “really suited (88)” for Safeco Field. Safeco had been a sensitive subject for several of the Mariners superstar players including Ken Griffey and Alex Rodriguez. Their view was that the park was hurting the team’s offense.
In 2001 though, Olerud proved Gillick somewhat correct. Olerud actually hit for more power at Safeco as 15 of his 21 homeruns came at home. Moreover, Olerud slugged .495 at his home ballpark as opposed to .451 on the road. Olerud’s 5.2 rWAR in 2001 was the fourth highest among Seattle Mariner players and fifth best among major league first basemen. His 2.80 WAA was third in the AL behind only AL MVP Jason Giambi and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome of the Indians. Olerud earned an individual won/loss record of 8-2 in ’01 and was one of eight Mariners selected to the AL All-Star team- Olerud’s first selection since 1993.
Below is a comparison between Olerud’s individual won/loss record in 2001 to that of Boog Powell’s 1973 won/loss record:
Production from first base is where the 2001 Seattle Mariners and 1973 Orioles diverged. At second base though is where the two teams were most similar and had received most of their production.
The ’01 Mariners’ second baseman, Bret Boone, led his team in rWAR with a mark of 8.80. Similarly, in 1973 Bobby Grich’s 8.30 rWAR led all Orioles. Boone’s 8.80 rWar equated to a 6.40 WAA which placed the Mariners atop the American League in that category for second basemen. The same can be said of Bobby Grich. His 6.0 WAA put the ’73 Orioles ahead of all other AL clubs in terms of production from the second base position. Bret Boone’s individual won/loss record was an incredible 12 and -2 and the best among the 2001 Mariners. Bobby Grich’s individual won/loss record was 10-0, best among the 1973 Orioles. A comparison of the two players can be found in the tables below:
Neither Boone nor Grich were their respective teams’ starting second baseman the year before. Boone signed with the Mariners as a free agent prior to the beginning of the 2001 season, although he was originally drafted by the M’s in 1990. Just weeks before being drafted, Boone had completed his junior year at USC and had an impressive showing playing in the NCAA South 1 Regional Tournament. In the tourney Boone went 12 for 23 with six home runs and was named tournament MVP. The Mariners ended up selecting Boone in the fifth round of the 1990 MLB amateur draft.
Being selected as “late” as the fifth round was a disappointment for Boone. “I was crushed, (89)” Boone said just after signing with the M’s shortly after being drafted. “I said, ‘Fifth round? You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I looked at some of the middle infielders that went ahead of me and I couldn’t believe it (90).” Boone had originally been forecasted to be selected “in the first or second round (91);” however, a couple factors came into play which impacted Boone’s draft status.
The first was Boone’s father, Bob Boone, longtime Phillies/Angels catcher. Bob Boone was representing Bret in contract negotiations and was rumored to be demanding somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 for Bret to sign. However after being drafted, Bret Boone claimed the rumors were false. “The story going around was that they (major league teams) did not want to deal with him (Bob Boone) because he’d want $300,000. That wasn’t true (92),” Bret Boone informed the press after he had signed with the Mariners for approximately $90,000.
Secondly there were questions regarding Boone’s lack of size and whether or not his power was legitimate, questions that would dog Boone throughout his playing career as well as after his playing days were done. The question regarding Boone’s lack of size began as early as Boone’s pre-teen years.
Naturally being the son of a major league ball player, Boone was afforded the opportunity to spend a lot of his time in the presence of major leaguers, specifically some of the great Philadelphia Phillies players of the early 80’s, the team his father Bob was a prominent member of. It was then that the “original scouting report” on Boone was made.
While the Phillies worked out, Bret would routinely shag fly balls in the outfield along with some of the Phillies’ players, one of which was closer Tug McGraw. McGraw was reported to have been thoroughly impressed with Bret’s natural abilities. “The kid has the magic (93),” McGraw opined at the time. McGraw also added though that it was, “too bad he’s not going to be a big leaguer (94).” McGraw made the comment in reference to Bret Boone’s relatively small stature, believing it would prevent Boone from having a professional playing career. Indeed, it was said that at the ages 10 and 11, Bret Boone had “his dad’s ability and his mom’s features and size (95).” Bret’s father Bob Boone was listed at 6 foot 2 and 210 pounds whereas Bret’s mother was considered to be a “tiny woman (96).”
By the time Boone was a high school freshman, he was listed at 4 foot 11. During his high school years, Boone experienced somewhat of a growth spurt. By the time he entered USC, Boone was listed at 5 foot 9 and 150 lbs. which was still considered small for a player with supposed MLB potential. It was mainly for that reason Boone lasted until the 28th round of the 1987 amateur draft. The Minnesota Twins had selected Boone straight out of high school. Boone though rejected the Twins’ offer to sign and instead opted to play college ball at USC.
“I knew Bret was going to have a real battle with size (97),” his father Bob later reflected. Still though, Boone produced at the plate and by the time his collegiate career was over, Boone was USC’s all-time career leader in runs (166), doubles (51), triples (12) and RBI (160). However, many were still not sold on Boone’s supposed power as “scouts chose to believe the extra-base pop he had at Southern Cal was aluminum bat generated (98).”
Boone’s USC coach, Mike Gillespie, disagreed. “He’s legitimate (99),” Gillespie declared right after Boone was drafted for a second time, this time in 1990 by the Mariners. “He’ll be a very good pro. There aren’t very many middle infielders with as much pop in their bats. I think he has a chance to be a Robby Thompson-type player (100).” At that time Robby Thompson had been an all-star second baseman with the San Francisco Giants. In 1990, Thompson’s 15 homeruns were second only to future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg’s 40 dingers among MLB second basemen. Thompson would go on to average 15 homeruns per season for his career and slug .403.
After being drafted in ’90, Boone spent approximately two seasons in the minors before the Mariners called him up in late August of ‘92 from Triple-A Calgary. At the time, the then 23 year-old Boone was hitting .314 with 13 homeruns and 73 RBI in 118 games played. “He’s probably one of our best prospects (101),” then Mariners’ manager Bill Plummer opined. “He has pop on the bat and a lot of power (102).” On August 19, 1992 Boone made his major league debut and singled in his very first major league at-bat. The hit came off of future 2001 Mariners teammate, Arthur Rhodes.
Boone’s call-up by the Mariners was historic in that it made the Boone family baseball’s first three-generation family. Along with Brett’s father Bob, Bret’s grandfather, Ray, was also a major leaguer. Ray Boone had spent 12 years playing in the majors, mainly for the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers. And like Bret, Ray Boone was an infielder, although Ray played third base and shortstop. During his career Ray Boone was a two-time AL All-Star in the years 1954 and 1956. Interestingly, Ray was not named to the AL All-Star team in 1955, the year in which he led the AL in RBI with 116- a feat his grandson Bret would match 46 years later with Seattle.
In his day Ray Boone was considered to be a selective hitter and a difficult one to strikeout. “I always considered him (Ray Boone) a sound hitter. He isn’t fooled often. Have you noticed how he guards the plate and tries to hit to right field when the count is two strikes? Other hitters would profit if they did this instead of taking the last wild swing (103).” That was the great HOF second baseman and then Detroit Tigers’ GM, Charlie Gehringer’s assessment of Ray Boone back in 1953. Ray Boone’s selectivity at the plate though was not inherited by Bret nor was Ray’s ability to shorten his swing at times.
“He’s an aggressive player (104),” M’s manager Bill Plummer acknowledged the day Bret Boone made his major league debut. It was that aggressiveness though that eventually caught up with Boone during his days playing for the Cincinnati Reds. As a result, the questions regarding Boone’s hitting that were being asked during his college years were once again being asked at the major league level.
After two seasons in Seattle, Boone was traded to the Reds following the 1993 campaign. In ’94, his first year in Cincinnati, Boone had a terrific season. He hit .320 and slugged .491 with 12 homeruns and 68 RBI. His OPS+ was 128 which ranked second in all of baseball among second basemen.
Boone followed up his 1994 season with a so-so 1995. That year he hit .267 and slugged .421. His OPS+ was slightly below average at 98. From there Boone’s offensive numbers cratered. In 1996 Boone hit a lowly .233 and slugged .354 as he battled both elbow and ankle injuries that season. In ’97 Boone hit .223 and slugged just .332. That year the Reds actually demoted Boone to the minors. Ironically the Reds replaced Bret Boone on the roster with his third base playing brother, Aaron.
Bret Boone’s stay in the minors which incidentally lasted all of four days did little to get his bat back on track. By the end of 1997 Boone’s stock had fallen so much; that the Reds chose to leave him unprotected in the 1997 expansion draft which involved the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Reds attempted to trade Boone ahead of the expansion draft but found no takers, not surprising given that Boone was owed $9.4 million over the next three years, including $2.8 million in ‘98. Both the Diamondbacks and the Devil Rays taking a pass on Boone meant that he would be returning to Cincinnati for the 1998 season.
Fortunately for both he and the Reds, Boone was able to turn around his career in ‘98. Boone raised his batting average 42 points to .266 and cut down his strikeout frequency from 20.2% to 16.1%. Observers noted that “Bret finally accepted his coaches’ advice that he cut down on his swing (105).” Boone’s reduced swing and focus on contact actually led to an improvement in his power numbers as his 24 homeruns that season along with his .458 slugging average would attest. Boone’s 24 round-trippers were third in the majors among second basemen behind only the Giants’ Jeff Kent (31) and the Tigers’ Damion Easley (27). In that season Boone also made his first all-star game appearance.
Due to his breakout year in ‘98, the Reds found themselves fielding inquiries from at least a half-dozen teams interested in acquiring Boone that offseason. Reports had the Blue Jays, Pirates, Cardinals, Mets, Devil Rays, who could have acquired Boone the year before for nothing had they selected him in the expansion draft, as well as the Atlanta Braves asking about Boone’s availability.
With Boone’s trade value at an all-time high and the Reds in need of starting pitching, the club made the decision to trade Boone along with pitcher Mike Remlinger to the Braves in exchange for 20-game winner Denny Neagle, outfielder Michael Tucker and pitcher Rob Bell. “Bret Boone is one of my favorite players (106),” Reds manager Jim Bowden said after the trade was announced, “but I told Bret he is going to one of the finest organizations in baseball and has a chance to be in the playoffs right away (107).” Indeed, at the time the Braves were coming off a 106-56 season, their second consecutive 100-win season. However, in both those years the Braves had lost the NLCS in six games, a trend the Braves were able to reverse in ’99 with Boone on the roster.
With Bret Boone starting at second base in ’99, the Braves once again exceeded the 100-win mark but more importantly, were able to get over the NLCS hump and win the NL Pennant after ousting the New York Mets in six games. However, Boone did not have the season the Braves had anticipated he would have when they acquired him. Boone did manage to hit 20 homeruns but his slugging average dipped to .416 and his OPS+ was a below-average 83. Boone’s bat though did come to life in the playoffs. Overall he hit .370 and slugged .463 that postseason. In the World Series Boone hit .538 and slugged .846. Nevertheless, the Braves were swept in four games by the powerful Yankees. Approximately two months later, Boone was traded by the Braves to the San Diego Padres.
With the Padres in 2000, Boone put up numbers similar to the ones he had in Atlanta the year prior. Boone slugged .421 with a 94 OPS+. He also hit .251 which was in line with, up until that point, his .255 career batting average. Boone also exhibited the power his advocates had been claiming he had all along going back to his college days at USC. In 2000 Boone hit 19 homeruns, one less than the 20 he hit in Atlanta but in 146 less plate appearances. A serious knee injury had cut short Boone’s season by over a month. Prior to the injury Boone had been on pace to hit 25 homeruns which would have established a new career high for the soon to be free-agent second baseman.
The Padres originally called Boone’s injury a “bone bruise” in the right knee. However, it was later determined that Boone’s knee “had popped out of alignment, causing a lot of bleeding and leaving him barely able to move (108).” Oddly enough, Boone was unable to pinpoint exactly when and how the injury occurred. “It was the weirdest thing. One day I woke up and my knee hurt (109),” Boone later recalled. “I don’t know how it happened-still to this day. I don’t remember a particular incident (110).” Given the uncertainty of Boone’s injury and the Padres’ frugalness, the team chose to decline to exercise the $4 million option on Boone’s contract making Boone a free agent.
Unlike John Olerud who was clearly Pat Gillick’s “Plan A” at first base when he pursued him in free agency the year prior, the signing of Bret Boone was not exactly Gillick’s first choice when it came to shoring up the Mariners’ infield for the 2001 season. Naturally Gillick’s “Plan A” was to re-sign Seattle’s superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez. If he was successful in resigning Rodriguez, as well as Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzelez, whom Gillick was pursuing in the free agent market, Gillick would have Rodriguez return to short and have Gonzalez move to second base. Gillick was familiar with Gonzalez having originally drafted him back in 1991 when Gillick was running the Blue Jays. However, if Rodriguez departed, Gillick would have Gonzalez replace Rodriguez at short.
In the end, Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers for a staggering 10 years and $252 million after rejecting the Mariners’ offer of five years and $94 million. Shortly thereafter, Alex Gonzalez decided to return to Toronto which left Gillick and the Mariners in a bind. They now had to replace Rodriguez’ offense as well as his defense in the middle infield which is why on December 22, 2000, eleven days after Rodriguez signed with the Rangers, Pat Gillick and the Mariners signed Boone to a one-year $3.5 million contract.
“We think Bret is a nice fit for our ball club (111),” Gillick stated once Boone’s signing had been made public. “He’s a proven run producer and will add a little pop to our line-up (112).” However M’s manager Lou Piniella was more straightforward in his explanation as to why the Mariners ended up signing Boone. “Our options were limited. Boone was available, and he’s a run producer with good power (113),” Piniella had simply stated. Both Gillick and Piniella acknowledged Boone’s power potential; however, it is safe to say that neither expected the type of season Boone would have in his first year in Seattle.
During his first spring training with the M’s, Boone had still been experiencing some lingering effects with his injured knee but was determined to open the season on the active roster. “I’ve never come into spring training and not been 100 percent healthy (114),” Boone told the media in late March of ’01. “My main priority this spring has been working the knee and getting it ready for when the bell rings (115).”
Along with ensuring his knee was completely healthy once the season began, Boone was also focused on “having good at-bats,” particularly in “RBI situations.” Lou Piniella also stressed the importance to Boone of “being consistent and using the gaps.” Bob Boone, who was entering his first year as the Cincinnati Reds’ manager in 2001, had also worked with Bret on his son’s hitting prior to the beginning of spring training. “We went to work a month early this year on hitting. It was just a matter of learning his swing and learning not to panic and go through those 50 at-bats where he’s swinging from his rear end and not understanding that it’s about bat quickness and squaring the ball, not swinging hard (116),” the elder Boone had recollected in the fall of ’01.
The advice paid off. By the end of April Boone was hitting a lofty .344 with only 13 strikeouts in 108 plate appearances. Boone’s slugging average stood at .479 despite the fact that he had hit only two homeruns that month. In May though Boone socked eight homeruns and slugged .538. Boone followed up his impressive month of May with a scorching-hot June. That month Boone hit .368 and clubbed ten more homeruns. By the time the All-Star Break rolled around, Boone had hit 22 homeruns and had driven in 84. His batting average stood at .322 and he was slugging a sparkling .580. Naturally given his tremendous first-half of the season and the fact that the Mariners were routinely playing to sellout crowds at home, crowds all too eager to vote for their favorite Mariner players, Boone was voted the AL’s starting second baseman for the All-Star Game which was to be played at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
At that time the $517.6 million Safeco Field had only been in existence for approximately 1.5 years but had already built up a reputation as being a very difficult park to hit in and had become a point of contention for first, M’s superstar Ken Griffey Junior, and then later for Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been particularly critical of Safeco and its dimensions during the time of his contract negotiations. “With or without me, they have to bring them (the fences) in substantially (117),” Rodriguez had posted on his personal website in December of 2000 while in contract talks with the Mariners. “I couldn’t care less either way, but it’s not good for baseball. Our numbers don’t lie. We were under 100 homeruns at home and our home run production was terrible at home (118).”
Indeed. However it was Rodriguez himself most responsible for the Mariners being unable to crack the 100 homerun total at home as well as the disparity between Mariners’ homeruns hit at Safeco versus homeruns hit on the road. In 2000 the Mariners hit 92 homeruns at home versus 106 on the road- a difference of 14. The difference between Rodriguez’s homerun total at home and on the road was 15. Rodriguez hit only 13 homeruns at Safeco as opposed to the 28 he hit on the road. Rodriguez’s homerun home/road split in 2000 was by far the greatest of any Mariner. In fact the difference between the number of homeruns hit at home versus on the road for sluggers Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and John Olerud combined totaled just seven.
Rodriguez’s proposed solution to address the home/road homerun disparity was to move the fences “in about 20 feet, 5-10 feet in center and 10-12 feet down the lines (119).” “When you think this (sic) (120),” Rodriguez posted on his site, “we can’t even hit it to the warning track…not only is it the biggest park in baseball but the ball doesn’t go anywhere. That’s why you have to make up the difference-with or without me (121).”
With Rodriguez gone to Texas, it was up to Bret Boone to make up for some of that difference in 2001 which he ended up doing so in spades. Boone finished the season with 37 homeruns and a .578 slugging average, both career highs. His .331 batting average and 153 OPS+ were also career highs. Boone’s 141 runs batted in were tops in the AL and broke the long-standing American League record for runs batted in by a second baseman set by the Tigers’ Charlie Gehringer in 1934 when he drove in 127. Boone’s 37 homeruns in ‘01 also broke Hall of Famer Joe Gordon’s AL record for homeruns hit by a second baseman which was established back in 1948. And unlike Rodriguez in 2000, Boone’s home/road numbers were very similar. On the road, Boone hit .339 and slugged .576 with 18 homeruns. At home, Boone hit a slightly less .322 but slugged .580 with 19 homeruns.
Bret’s father, Bob, attributed Bret finally realizing his power potential to nutrition and weight training. “Physically, he got a personal trainer and became a food Nazi. He gained 20 pounds of muscle (122),” Bob Boone elaborated. According to the elder Boone, Bret had gone “to work on his body for two years (123).” However, at that time rumors of widespread steroid use among major league players had been making the rounds and players with physiques that had changed substantially over the years were being more and more scrutinized. The subject of steroid use in baseball became front and center when in the late spring of 2002, former Houston Astros/San Diego Padres third baseman, Ken Caminiti, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, admitted to using steroids as far back as 1996. Caminiti also claimed that, “at least half” of major league players were also using performance enhancing drugs.
Caminiti’s claims put many MLB players on the defensive as they were constantly being asked to answer questions regarding the use of steroids including Boone which wasn’t surprising given Boone’s physical transformation over at least the last year and his tremendous 2001 season. In response to Caminiti’s claims regarding widespread drug use in baseball, Boone said the following: “I don’t know what the motivation of a player would be to make as blanket a statement as that. Whatever the number is, it’s sure not anywhere near 50 percent…if he wants to say that he used them, that’s OK but he should just talk about himself (124).”
Boone also flat out denied taking steroids, claiming that had he been on steroids he’d be able to “dunk and play in the NBA (125).” However, Boone stopped short of condemning the use of performance enhancing drugs. “Who is to say someone’s wrong for doing it? I don’t know if they’re (steroids) good or bad (126),” Boone was quoted as saying during an interview with Playboy magazine. In fact, in the same interview, Boone almost went as far as endorsing the use of performance enhancing drugs by saying that “if steroids are done in moderation, done correctly and safely, it might be an option (127).”
Three years after the Ken Caminiti revelations, Boone was once again being forced to answer questions regarding whether or not he used steroids in 2001 or any other time during his career. In 2005 former Oakland A’s slugger, Jose Canseco, released his tell-all book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big. In the book Canseco admitted to his own steroid use and accused others of doing the same. In the case of Bret Boone, Canseco, at the very least strongly implied that Boone was on steroids in 2001. In Chapter 24 of Canseco’s book titled “Did He or Didn’t He? Canseco wrote the following:
“I hit a double, and when I got out there to second base, I got a good look at Boone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was enormous. ‘Oh, my God,’ I said to him. ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Shhh,’ he said. ‘Don’t tell anybody.’…The amazing thing was how obvious it was: All they (the media) had to do was open their eyes and take a look at this little guy, with his small frame and his huge arms- arms that were bigger than mine! His great season that year goes to show you how a new set of muscles can help an athlete (128).”
According to Canseco, the incident took place during the 2001 spring training season while Canseco was attempting to catch on with the Anaheim Angels and Boone was entering his first year with the Mariners. However, an examination of the box scores for the spring games that year between the Angels and Mariners reveal that Conseco did not have a hit in his four at-bats versus the Mariners although he did reach base once. It isn’t known whether or not Canseco had advanced to second base though.
When asked to respond to the Canseco allegations, Boone vehemently denied the story. “I don’t know him. He doesn’t know me. I don’t think I’ve ever exchanged more than two, three words with him. The whole thing is ridiculous. End of story. I’m not going to comment beyond that. It’s so ridiculous. The incident he writes about in the book is false. The most I’ve ever said to him is, ‘What’s up Jose?’” (129).
Boone would go on to deny steroid-use allegations for the rest of his playing career and well into retirement, with his latest denials occurring while doing interviews to promote his 2016 book, Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family. To this day the only thing tying Boone to steroid use remains to be the Canseco allegations. Readers are left to decide on their own as to whether or not Boone used performance enhancing drugs.
Unlike his hitting, Boone’s glove was never questioned during his career. In 1998 Boone won a Gold Glove in his last season with the Reds, the first of four that Boone would win during his career. Interestingly, Boone did not win a Gold Glove in ’97 when he matched the major league record for highest fielding percentage in a season for a second baseman with a mark of .9967. Boone committed just two errors in his 607 chances at second base that season, almost identical to the two errors in 606 chances made by none other than Bobby Grich in 1985 while playing for the California Angels- a team Bret’s father Bob had also been a member of. Grich had broken his own fielding percentage record which he established in 1973 with the Orioles.
As good a season as Boone had in the field in 1997, his 2001 season may have been even better. In ’01, Boone led all MLB second basemen in the advanced fielding statistic, Total Zone (TZ). Boone’s TZ rating of 12 in 2001 meant that he saved 12 more runs than the average MLB second baseman. The year prior, Mark McLemore, whom Boone had replaced at second base, had a TZ rating of four. In other words, not only had Boone replaced Alex Rodriguez’s bat in ‘01 but he had also improved the M’s defense at second base. Moreover, with Boone taking over at second, Lou Piniella was able to use the veteran McLemore in more of a utility role- a role that McLemore excelled in.
A utility player was what Booby Grich was in 1972, his first full season in the majors. That year Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver had Grich making starts at shortstop, second base, first base and even third base. At the time Grich had long been touted as one of the Orioles’ best prospects. In fact, Orioles’ Hall of Fame third baseman, Brooks Robinson, believed Grich to be “the best looking prospect to come to the Orioles (130),” during all of the years in which Robinson had been with the organization. Prior to the beginning of the ’72 season, longtime baseball executive and then general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Frank Lane, was quoted as saying that Grich was easily worth $1 million- high praise indeed for a player who up until that point had appeared in only 37 major league games. Lane though was well aware of what Grich had already accomplished in the minors which was impressive to say the least.
In 1970 with Triple-A Rochester of the International League, the then 21 year-old Grich hit .383 and slugged .570 with nine homeruns and 42 RBI which earned Grich a September call-up with the Orioles. In ’71 Grich found himself back at Rochester as the Orioles did not have a position for Grich to play. That season Grich completely dominated International League pitching. Having been told by Orioles management to work on his power, Grich hit .336, slugged .632 and increased his homerun total to 32, leading Rochester to the league championship. For his tremendous season, Grich was named The Sporting News’ 1971 Minor League Player of the Year.
With Grich having absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors, the Orioles, heading into the 1972 season had to A) find a spot for their talented young hitter on the active roster and B) decide where he was going to play which was easier said than done. At shortstop, Grich’s natural position, the Orioles already had gold-glover Mark Belanger. Belanger, who was known mainly for his spectacular defense was coming off a pretty good 1971 season offensively. Belanger hit .266 and produced a career high 97 OPS+. At second base was Davey Johnson who had also won a Gold Glove in ’71 and hit .282 with 18 homeruns and a 125 OPS+, both highs among MLB second basemen that season. At third base was the perennial Gold Glove winner, Brooks Robinson, who had cranked out 20 homeruns that season and led the team in hits with 160. Robinson also led all Oriole players in rWAR with a mark of 6.0 and finished fourth in American League MVP voting.
During spring training in ’72, it was Robinson who publicly speculated as to where Grich would play that season. “He (Grich) can play any place you want him to play, shortstop, second or third….and I think he’ll play any of those positions if Davey (Johnson), Mark (Belanger) or myself don’t play very well (131).” When Earl Weaver was asked about where Grich would play in ‘72, the Orioles’ manager simply stated, “All over. If he can do the job, he plays. If he can’t, he sits down. It’s that simple (132).”
Weaver held true to his word. By the All-Star Break, Weaver had started Grich in 33 games at short, 17 games at second base, nine games at first and one game at third, as the O’s manager was trying hard to find ways to keep Grich’s bat in the Baltimore line-up which had been struggling offensively. At the break Grich was hitting .288 and slugging .454 with seven homeruns and 25 RBI. Grich’s seven homerun total was just one less than Robinson, Johnson and Belanger’s combined total of eight. Moreover, collectively the three players were hitting just .233 and slugging .321. Belanger’s .181 batting and .232 slugging averages were particularly dreadful and as a result, Weaver inserted Grich at shortstop more than he had at any other position. Weaver rewarded Grich for his terrific first-half by naming Grich his starting shortstop for the 1972 All-Star Game.
Weaver, who would be managing the American League All-Star Team that year, replaced an injured Toby Harrah, who was originally named the AL’s starting shortstop, with Grich. At the time the move raised a few eyebrows as some were accusing Weaver of favoring his players. Weaver denied the accusations. “When Harrah called me and said he couldn’t play, I added Grich (133),” Weaver explained to the media. “Here’s a .290 hitter doing everything for me and outhitting all the shortstops in the American League. He deserves to start (134).” Indeed.
Grich’s numbers did tail off a bit in the second-half of ’72 though he still finished the season with a .278 batting average and slugged .415 with a total of 12 homeruns. Still though, Grich was by far the Orioles’ best position player that season. His 6.0 rWAR was 2.5 points better than Brooks Robinson’s 3.5 which was the next highest among O’s position players. Grich was practically tied with pitcher Jim Palmer as the Orioles’ leader in rWAR that year.
At season’s end, Weaver praised Grich for his impressive year and predicted a bright future for his young shortstop/utility player. “Bobby Grich has Hall of Fame potential as a hitter and a fielder (135),” Weaver proclaimed. “I would say that, for a first-year player in the lineup playing regularly for the first time, Bobby has been outstanding. In other words, I am completely satisfied with Bobby Grich’s first complete year in the American League (136).”
Grich though wasn’t completely satisfied with his 1972 performance, particularly his defense. “I am very disappointed with my defense this year (137),” Grich reflected at the end of the season. “There was a July and August stretch when I seemed okay at short…The rest of this year; I haven’t been too good defensively, though (138).” Grich pointed to him being asked to play multiple positions that season as a possible explanation as to why he didn’t excel defensively. Grich though made it clear that he was not making excuses or pinning any blame on Weaver. “Maybe moving back and forth has thrown me off-balance a little. I don’t mean for that to sound like an alibi, though. Considering what Earl was trying to accomplish, he had no other choice (139).”
What Earl Weaver was trying to accomplish was to jump-start an O’s offense that the year prior, had led the AL in runs scored but in ’72, had fallen all the way down to eighth. As previously mentioned, the 1972 Orioles’ precipitous fall in offensive production that season was the main reason as to why the team had made the blockbuster trade with the Atlanta Braves to acquire catcher Earl Williams.
The Williams acquisition not only provided the ’73 Orioles with offensive production from the catcher position which the team had been sorely lacking, but it also opened up a permanent spot for the talented Bobby Grich, who would slide over to second base and take over for the departed Davey Johnson. “When we gave up Dave Johnson in the trade with Atlanta, we were well prepared to move Bobby Grich into second base on a full-time basis, and we’re sure Grich is ready to give us an excellent job (140),” Orioles GM Frank Cashen commented days after the trade had been made. Orioles’ pitcher Jim Palmer expanded on Cashen’s comments by saying that, “Bobby Grich can move in for Dave Johnson with a strong bat and a better arm and fielding range. This is no knock at Johnson, who is one of the American League’s better second basemen. But Bobby is younger and should give us a better performance there (141).”
Naturally Grich was pleased that heading into spring training in ’73, he would know exactly which position he would be playing and on a full-time basis at that. “It’s great knowing I have a position (142),” Grich told the media. “Now it’s a matter of working on all the things I have to at second base (143).” According to Grich transitioning from shortstop to second base involved getting accustomed to “the different ways you field ground balls at short and second (144)” and getting the “timing on individual plays, like turning the ball over from the hole back to second base, the short flip and the three double play pivots (145).”
Apart from his defense, Grich also wanted to improve on his overall offense heading into the 1973 season, in particular reducing his strikeout rate and increasing his power. “There are a lot of things I want to work on.…I want to cut down on my strikeouts and I want to improve my homerun total, too. I worked out with weights all winter and feel a lot stronger (146),” Grich explained. According to Grich, his focus on hitting more homeruns though may have been his undoing in the first-half of the 1973 season.
After an April in which he hit .270 and slugged .432, Grich began to struggle at the plate. In May and June Grich hit just .221 and .223 respectively. In July, Grich hit only .228. Unlike the previous season, Grich’s numbers at the All-Star break were subpar. Grich was hitting an overall .229 and slugging just .356. By then Grich had been tinkering with his batting stance as a way to snap out of his slump. By late July though, Grich had scrapped altering his stance entirely and reverted back to his old stance. “I’ve gone back to the crouch stance…My final decision is to revert back to the pluses of the past, to the things I did the last couple of years and had pretty good success with (147),” Grich told the media.
Grich believed that his trying to hit more homeruns contributed to his slow first-half of the season:
“I might’ve gotten to thinking maybe that’s the way I can help this team most, by hitting homeruns. I still feel that, potentially, I am a homerun hitter; in the twenties, anyway. But my thinking has got to fall into a channel of trying to hit the ball straight-away, making contact consistently and taking the homeruns as they come….I’ve been guilty of thinking of home run, trying to pull too much and upper-cutting with my swing. I experimented with a straight-up stance trying to get more power and got out of the good habit of going to right field with the outside pitch (148).”
Most likely Grich was echoing what he was hearing from his hitting coach, Jim Frey. Frey elaborated on Grich’s explanation for his first-half struggles by saying that:
“Bobby opened the season with the idea that he was going to hit more homeruns. Earlier, he also got into the habit of swinging at bad balls….He swings from an exaggerated crouch and, to a degree, was upper-cutting more than he did in the minors…I think pitchers in the American League have adjusted to him now that they know him better (149).”
Earl Weaver somewhat agreed with Frey’s assessment regarding pitchers adjusting to Grich. “It is nothing different than what happens to almost every hitter when he first comes up to the major leagues (150),” a not-so concerned Weaver explained. “There is nothing wrong with Grich though, that a hot month won’t cure (151)….If Grich gets hot, it’ll be Katie bar the door time (152).”
After splitting an August 7th doubleheader versus the Minnesota Twins, the Orioles caught fire by winning 17 of their next 21 games to close out the month. During that stretch Grich hit .270 and slugged .365. He still wasn’t hitting homeruns but he was getting on-base as his .375 on-base percentage would attest. Grich closed his 1973 season by hitting .308 and slugging .452 in the month of September. He also cut down his strikeout rate by whiffing just nine times in his final 127 plate appearances. Grich finished the season with a .251 batting average and a .387 slugging average; however, those numbers don’t quite tell the full story to Grich’s 1973 season offensively.
As more advanced baseball statistics have developed over time, the appreciation for the season Grich had in 1973 and for his overall career has increased. Granted, Grich did hit “only” .251 in ’73; however, his on-base percentage was .373, ninth best in the AL. Grich’s 92 runs created was equal to that of the Pirates’ Al Oliver who hit .292 and slugged .416 and just two less than the Giants’ Garry Maddox who hit .319 and slugged .460- both “high-average hitters.”
Grich’s 5.2 offensive rWAR was also ninth best in the AL and fourth best among MLB second basemen. Grich’s overall 8.3 rWAR in ‘73 led all American League position players including Oakland Athletics outfielder, Reggie Jackson, who led the AL in runs scored, homeruns, RBI, slugging and OPS+. Jackson would finish first in AL MVP voting that year whereas Grich finished 19th.
Where traditional and advanced statistics agree is on Grich’s tremendous fielding. In ’73 Grich committed only five errors in 945 chances for a .995 fielding percentage which broke former Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jerry Adair’s record of .9939 set in 1964. Grich would set a new high in fielding percentage for a second baseman in 1985 with a mark of .9967, a record matched by Bret Boone in 1997. Grich was named to the Sporting News’ 1973 American League All-Fielding Team along with fellow Orioles Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson and Paul Blair, players who up until that point had won multiple Gold Gloves in their careers. Grich, who won his first of four Gold Gloves that year, may have been the best of the four defensively.
In terms of advanced fielding stats, Grich’s total zone rating of 29 led all Baltimore Orioles’ players. It is also the third highest mark of all-time among second basemen, behind only Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch’s 37 rating set in 1927 and Hughie Critz’s 32 set in 1933. The same could be said for Grich’s 4.0 defensive WAR. The only players to exceed that mark would again be Frisch and Critz in ’27 and ’33 who set marks of 4.4 and 4.1 respectively.
Grich’s 29 total zone rating was the main reason as to why the 1973 Orioles’ set the mark for the highest overall team total zone rating in major league history at 116 which still stands to this day. Fifth on that list is the 2001 Seattle Mariners with a mark of 101.
The ’01 Mariners’ leader in total zone rating though played on the left side of the infield. We will be examining both the ’01 Mariners and ’73 Orioles left side of the infield in the upcoming Part III of this article.
Baltimore Sun: September 26, 1973 (62, 63)
Baltimore Sun: March 7, 1973 (64, 65)
Evening Sun: May 23, 1973 (66)
Spokesman Review: June 7, 1989 (67)
Tampa Tribune: October 18, 1989 (68, 69)
San Francisco Examiner: May 14, 1989 (70)
Spokesman Review: August 27, 1989 (71, 72, 73, 74)
National Post: February 19, 1997 (75, 76, 79, 80, 81)
Central New Jersey Home News: March 30, 1997 (77)
Harford Courant: September 7, 1996 (78)
The Gazette: April 18, 1997 (82, 83)
The Record: March 16, 1997 (84, 85)
The Sentinel: December 8, 1999 (86, 87)
National Post: December 8, 1999 (88)
Philadelphia Inquirer: June 12, 1990 (89, 90, 91, 92, 99, 100)
St. Louis Dispatch: October 17, 1999 (93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98)
Miami Herald: August 12, 1992 (101, 102, 104)
The Sporting News: September 23, 1953 (103)
Indianapolis Star: April 5, 1998 (105)
Dayton Daily News: November 11, 1998 (106, 107)
Albany Democrat: March 22, 2001 (108, 109, 110, 114, 115)
Spokesman Review: December 23, 2000 (111, 112)
Spokesman Review: February 21, 2001 (113)
Rutland Daily Herald: December 2, 2000 (117, 118, 119, 120, 121)
Longview News: May 27, 2001 (122)
Detroit Free Press: September 10, 2001 (123)
Statesman Journal: May 31, 2002 (124, 125)
The Californian: July 11, 2002 (126, 127)
Spokesman Review: February 13, 2005 (128, 129)
The Capital Journal: March 21, 1972 (130, 131)
Redlands Daily Facts: March 1, 1972 (132)
Anderson Herald: July 25, 1972 (133, 134)
Baltimore Sun: September 25, 1972 (135, 136, 137, 138, 139)
Baltimore Sun: December 12, 1972 (140)
Baltimore Sun: December 16, 1972 (141)
Press Telegram: May 23, 1973 (142, 143, 146)
Miami Herald: March 7, 1973 (144, 145)
Baltimore Sun: July 29, 1973 (147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152)