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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Jays: #33 Shawn Green

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1999 All-Star Game

Shawn David Green | RF | 1993-1999

Shawn Green was born November 10, 1972, in Des Plaines, Illinois. He was the 1st round of the 1991 amateur draft by the Blue Jays out of high school in Tustin, California. Manny Ramirez was picked two spots before him. We got the draft pick from San Francisco as compensation for their signing of our free-agent Bud Black. Green received a $725,000 signing bonus.

Shawn quickly rose thru the Jays’ system, becoming the Jays’ top prospect (well, it was a tossup between him and Carlos Delgado) from the moment he signed. In 1992 he made the Florida State league’s All-Star team, his first full season in the minors playing A-ball. The next season, playing in Double-A, he broke his right thumb in June. Recovering from the injury, he was called up to Toronto near the end of September and was hitless in 6 at-bats. He sat on the bench during our World Series win, getting himself a World Series ring. In 1994 Green won the team MVP award for Triple-A Syracuse, and he led the International League in batting at .344, earning Shawn the #6 spot on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list. He was called up to the Jays in early June and sent back down in early July after 33 at-bats.

1995 was Shawn’s rookie season, and he was terrific, hitting .288/.326/.509 with 15 home runs in 379 at-bats over 121 games. He came in 5th in Rookie of the Year voting, but he didn’t get to play full time in right field as Cito Gaston used him in a platoon with Candy Maldonado. In 1996 he didn’t hit quite as well, .280/.342/.448 in 422 at-bats. That season he was platooned, in right field, with the aspiring to average Jacob Brumfield. In 1997 Cito gave the right-field job to an incredibly adequate Orlando Merced. Green played part-time in left and DH until the Jays fired Cito, and Mel Queen put him in as an everyday right fielder. Again he hit quite well, .287/.340/.469.

Cito did not like Green for some reason. Well, I shouldn’t say for no reason. Cito preferred veteran players. Cito could not bring himself to trust young players. Green, in particular, seemed to take the brunt of Cito’s mistrust. Green was a fine outfielder with a strong arm, but under Cito, any mistake or slump was a reason to bench him. He was even replaced with a washed-up Ruben Sierra for a bit. Playing Sierra over Green should be a firing offense, but then Ash signing Sierra and giving Cito the option of using him was also stupid.

With Cito gone and the legendary (at least in the stories he told about himself) Tim Johnson in as manager for the 1998 season, Shawn (and Delgado and Stewart) had a full-time role. And boy, did he show he deserved it. He hit .278/.334/.510 with 100 RBI, 106 runs, 35 homers, and 35 steals, becoming the Blue Jays first-ever 30/30 man (and the 22nd major leaguer ever to do it). Shawn was actually a 35/35 man, the 12th in MLB history, but 30/30 rolls off the tongue better.

To be fair, his .844 OPS was only a little better than the .835 OPS he put up in 1995. The real difference was playing time.

As well as hitting, Green played great outfield, including 31 games in center. He came in 4th in the AL with 14 outfield assists. Good things happen when you let good young players play.

In 1999 Green had one of the best seasons ever by a Blue Jay, hitting .309/.384/.588, with 45 doubles, 42 homers, 134 runs, 123 RBI, and 20 steals. By bWAR, it was the 13th best season ever by a Jays hitter. He was 9th in the AL MVP voting, he won a Silver Slugger award, a Gold Glove, and played in the All-Star game. He finished 2nd in the AL in runs, 1st in doubles and total bases, 5th in home runs, and 6th in RBI. He set Jay franchise records in extra-base hits and runs scored and set a team record with a 28 game hitting streak. His season would have been even better had he not been hit by an Andy Pettitte pitch that fractured a bone in his wrist. That cost him a handful of starts, and after returning, it took a few games to get hitting with power again.

On April 22 of 1999, Green his a home run to the fifth deck in SkyDome.

After the season, the Jays announced that Cito Gaston would be back as a hitting coach for the 2000 season. Green wasn’t thrilled, and he asked the Jays to trade him closer to his home in California. Gord Ash sent him with Jorge Nunez to the Dodgers for Raul Mondesi and Pedro Borbon. Mondesi wasn’t a bad player, but he didn’t become the star we wanted him to be. I remember thinking Raul would improve, moving from the extreme pitcher’s park in LA to the far more friendly Skydome. I was wrong. He had two decent seasons for us, and then, in the middle of his third season, when he was batting .224, we were fortunate when the Yankees took him off our hands for us.

Shawn was terrific for the Dodgers for five seasons, hitting 49 homers in 2001 and 42 in 2002 though his power numbers declined at the end of his time in LA. In 2005 the Dodgers traded him to the Diamondbacks. From there, he went to the Mets. He was a Met for a year and a half and then retired before the 2008 season.

He had a heck of a career, hitting 328 home runs over 15 seasons. His career hitting line was .283/.355/.494. His career numbers could have been that much better if he had a full-time job earlier in his career. But then the world is full of ‘what ifs?’. Like a lot of the guys at the back end of the list, without the ‘what ifs’, Green would be much higher on the list. If he could have been a full timer a couple of years earlier, if he stayed with the team for another season, he’d be in the 25 on our list.

He was a favorite of mine because he seemed like a very likable person. A left-handed, slugging outfielder, speed, good glove, and strong arm, what’s not to like. Rob Neyer had him as our 2nd best right fielder (this was before Jose Bautista).

With the Blue Jays he hit .286/.344/.505 with 119 home runs and 76 steals in 716 games, spread over seven seasons. Unfortunately, he really came to his own with the Dodgers, in seven seasons and 716 games with the Jays he had a 13.3 bWAR. In five seasons and 798 games he had a 21.0 bWAR with the Dodgers.

He wrote a (pretty short) autobiography The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph. We had a review back here. He talked about ‘finding stillness’. He said he found stillness hitting balls off a tee:

Green finds this stillness by hitting balls off a tee for long periods of time. It all started with Cito calling him into his office to explain things. It was 1997, a couple of years after finishing 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1995. In 1996 he had a similar season but still couldn’t break through as an everyday player under Cito, and Green had asked GM Gord Ash for a trade. Cito told Green that ‘he had potential,’ but that he didn’t play defense well enough for any manager to want to use him, he was too slow to steal bases and needed to learn to pull the ball. Green pointed out that he never had the green light to try to steal. He also felt his defense was improving (he’d win a Gold Glove in a couple of years) and that he would be better off not trying to pull everything, that he would be better using all fields.

After the meeting, frustrated, he goes off and hits balls off a tee after being told by hitting coach Willie Upshaw that he isn’t allowed to take batting practice without Willie being present, so he could drive in the point of pulling everything. Being angry, Shawn hits ball after ball off a tee and finds he likes doing it. He finds stillness or a meditative state. He continues to hit balls off a tee, a few minutes a day, for the rest of his career.

Shawn is Jewish, likely the best Jewish major leaguer since Sandy Koufax, and is only 2nd to Hank Greenberg in home runs and RBI among Jewish players. And, of course, he is in the Jewish Baseball Hall of Fame. In the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was a one and out in the voting, getting just two votes.

Shawn Green’s place among Blue Jay hitting leaders:

bWAR: 21st

Batting Average (>2000 PA) 8th .286

On Base % (>2000 PA) 17th .344

Slugging % (>2000 PA) 6th, .505

OPS (>2000 PA) 8th, .849

Games 27th, 716

At Bats 26th 2513

Runs: 22nd, 402

Doubles: 20th, 164

Home Runs 13th 119

RBI 19th 376

Stolen bases: 17th, 76