Alexander Scott Gonzalez | SS | 1994-2001
This is the Alex Gonzalez who played shortstop for us back in the 1990s. Not the Alex Gonzalez nicknamed “Sea Bass,” who played half a season for us, in 2010 (and was pretty good), and we flipped him to the Braves for Yunel Escobar.
We go from an excellent shortstop for two seasons to a shortstop whose peak wasn’t as high but who played 8 seasons for the Blue Jays.
Alex Gonzalez was born April 8, 1973, in Miami, Florida. Drafted in the 14th round of the 1991 amateur draft, he ended up having, easily, the best career of the player taken in that round. Alex rose very quickly thru the Jays minor league system. He started the 1994 season as the Jays’ starting SS at the age of 21, but after 15 games, he had a .151 batting average. The Jays (always know for their patience) gave the job to an aging Dick Schofield (he would hit .255/.332/.342, but wasn’t near the defensive player).
Gonzalez was on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list four straight years, getting as high as 4th in 1994. To give you some idea, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez were 6th and 7th on the list that year. I doubt that Baseball America brags about that one. He did have good power and speed potential with a terrific glove. The bat just didn’t come around like they figured it would. He just never figured out that you shouldn’t chase off the plate, so he struck out way too much. And, to show they weren’t alone in over-estimating him, in the 1995 Bill James Player Rating book Bill said, ‘My guess is he’ll be an All-Star.’
At the start of the strike/lockout delayed 1995 season, Alex took the SS role and held it for 7 seasons. Driving in 4 runs the first game of the season didn’t hurt. Making a good first impression is always a good idea. Alex also had two games where he hit two home runs. Of course, that was part of his problem with the bat; he thought of himself as a power hitter and swung hard at everything, whether it was near the plate or not. In 1995 he played in 111 games of the Jays 144 games (it was the lockout year), hitting .243/.322/.398 with 10 homers, but 114 strikeouts in 367 at-bats was a bit much.
He was never good with the bat, but he deserves a spot on our list for his glove. In a just world, he would have had two or three gold gloves in his career.
In 1996 Alex got into 147 games and hit 14 home runs, but hit just .235/.300/.391 with 16 steals. His defense is what made him a useful player. Alex made 21 errors, but he led AL shortstops in total chances with 765 and double plays with 122. Alex also tied an MLB record with 13 assists in one game on April 26. Fangraphs has 1996 as his best season, with the Jays, listing him as having a 2.5 WAR, though he had two other seasons with WAR of over 2.0.
In 1997 he missed some games with a fractured finger but still led AL shortstops in fielding average at .986 and had a 39 game errorless streak. He hit .239/.302/.387 in 126 games with 12 home runs. In 1998, he set career highs in games played with 158 and stolen bases 21 but hit even worse than usual with an OPS+ of just 66.
The 1999 season for Alex started great, hitting .292/.379/.416 in 38 games before he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder and missed the rest of the season. In 2000 he played in 141 games and hit .252 with 15 homers and 69 RBI, and had a career-high 15 game hitting streak. He also led the AL with 16 sacrifice bunts.
2001 Alex got into 154 games and hit 17 home runs to set career highs in runs (79) and RBI (76). He hit a big .253/.313/.404, his highest batting average, for the Jays, in a full season. He also stole 18 bases but was caught 11 times. Alex again led the AL in chances, assists, and double plays at short. For some reason, he batted mostly in the 2nd spot in the order. No matter what you think of Buck Martinez as a play-by-play man, be thankful he isn’t manager.
After the 2001 season, JP Ricciardi became the Blue Jay GM and wanted to cut salary. He traded Gonzalez to the Cubs for Felix Heredia and James Deschaine. He spent 2.5 seasons with the Cubs getting into the playoffs with them in 2003, losing out in the NLCS to the Florida Marlins (the Bartman series). Gonzalez had a great NLCS hitting 3 home runs driving in 7 runs in their seven-game series loss. But he also made the big error in the 8th inning of game six, which allowed the Marlins to score 8 runs. That was his one chance to experience playoff baseball.
In 2004 he was traded to the Expos as part of the eight-player, four-team trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and Orlando Cabrera to Boston. He also played for San Diego, Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia before retiring in 2006.
Omar Vizquel won the Gold Glove 9 years in a row from 1993 to 2001. In some of those seasons, Alex was the best shortstop in the AL. Getting Gold Glove voters to look at statistics isn’t easy.
Alex had a long career in the majors for a player that didn’t hit well, playing 13 seasons. Gonzalez was a favorite of female fans, “Marry Me Alex” signs often appeared at Skydome.
Career, he hit .243/.302/391 with 137 home runs in 1396 games. For the Jays, he hit .245/.304/.386 with 83 home runs in 890 games over 8 seasons.
Alex is married, and he has two children. He does charity work for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Alex Gonzalez’ place among Blue Jay batting leaders:
bWAR: 30th, 9.7
Defensive WAR: 6th, 7.5
Games: 20th, 890
At Bats: 17th, 3258
Runs: 21st, 407
Hits: 22nd, 798
Home Runs: 22nd, 83
RBI: 22th, 350
Walks: 24th, 257
Strikeouts: 6th, 758
Stolen Bases: 12th, 85
Sacrifice Bunts: 2nd, 64