Steven Rance Mulliniks | 3B, DH | 1982-1992
Rance Mulliniks was born on January 15, 1956, in Tulare, California. The Angels picked him in the 3rd round of the 1974 amateur draft out of high school. He moved quickly thru the Angels minor league system and was called up to the majors in June of 1977 and was the regular shortstop for the rest of the season. He was ok, but he didn’t play much in the next couple of seasons, and they traded him to Kansas City before the 1980 season. After two seasons and very little playing time, they moved him to the Blue Jays for pitcher Phil Huffman. Another trade we won.
In 1982 we didn’t have an obvious choice to play third base, so manager Bobby Cox took a left-handed hitting back-up shortstop (Mulliniks) and a right-handed hitting back-up second baseman (Garth Iorg) and turned them into a platoon at third base. It was a good move. Two players who didn’t have a role, Mulliniks wasn’t good enough defensively to play short (though honestly, he couldn’t have been that much worse than Alfredo Griffin) Iorg wasn’t good enough offensively for a full-time job at any position. So putting them together and getting the most out of their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses was a smart move. Over time we got decent production out of the position while not spending a lot of money. No wonder Cox is in the Hall of Fame. Cox did much the same at catcher and DH. It is tougher to platoon now that teams carry 8 or 9 relievers.
That first season the pairing wasn’t very productive; Rance only hit .244/.326/.363 in 112 games with only four home runs. But in 1983, things turned around for the Jays, we had our first winning season (starting in a streak of 11 straight winning seasons), finishing 89-73, and Rance was a big part of that turn around hitting /275/.373/.467 for an OPS+ of 125. He also had 10 home runs. It was the start of a run of terrific seasons for Rance.
Rance never really had the power you would like from a third baseman, but he made up for that by having an excellent batting eye and keeping a high on-base percentage for the rest of his career. The next couple of years, he had very similar seasons having OPS+ of 124 and 125 in 1984 and 1985. In our first playoff appearance, a seven-game loss to the Royals, Rance did well. He hit .354/.462/.727 with a home run and 3 RBI. Rance called that team the best that he ever played on.
1986 was the last season for the Mullinorg combination. Rance had a down year, .259/.340/.417, but still much better than Iorg’s .260/.303/.352.
In 1987, Kelly Gruber took over for Iorg, but he played more as the season went on. Rance DHed more. Rance continued to be effective, batting .310/.371/.500.
In 1988 Gruber took over the third base job full time, and Rance was moved over to a platoon DH with Cecil Fielder. Being the left-handed hitter in a platoon is the better part of the gig since you get the lion’s share of the at-bats. Mulliniks had the best offensive season of his career, hitting .300/.385/.475 and setting career highs with 12 homers and an OPS+ of 143.
1989 Rance saw his offensive numbers drop off big time, he had an OPS+ of just 88, and he had only one at-bat in our five-game ALCS loss to the A’s.
In 1990 his role on the team changed again. He became a pinch hitter. In 1991 he was back in the DH platoon with Pat Tabler. He didn’t do well, with an OPS+ of 80. In 1992 he missed the season, minus three at-bats in September, with a disk problem in his back. And that was the end of his career.
Mulliniks was the better half of the Mulliniks/Iorg platoon and, likely, should have been given the full-time job at third after the first year. Rance hit for better average, power, took more walks, and was almost as good with the glove.
He had a .770 OPS vs. RHP and .642 vs. LHP, but he only had 309 PA against left-handed pitching in a 16 season career. For a few of those seasons, I thought that the team would have been better off to give Mulliniks the full-time job. He couldn’t have hit much worse than Garth.
As a Blue Jay, he hit .280/.365/.424 with 68 home runs in 1115 games over 11 seasons.
I’ll admit Rance always was a favorite of mine; he seemed to be a player who got the most out of his limited talent. How could I not like him? Rance isn’t a big guy, not a power guy, not overly fast, didn’t make the acrobatic plays in the field. He hit left-handed, wore glasses, kind of an average-sized fellow, more than a little geeky looking. Darn near like cheering for myself, and yet he made himself into a valuable major league player.
Mulliniks worked in the TV booth as an analyst for a few seasons. I wasn’t a fan. He seemed knowledgeable but appeared afraid of allowing any dead air. I might have a different opinion now that I’ve seen Tabler in the role. He was featured in the book The Wax Pack by Brad Balukjian, who called Mulliniks “a scrappy overachiever with the physique of a librarian who managed to play sixteen seasons in the big leagues,” which is a pretty good description. He also told us that Mulliniks worked as a realtor and said he worked with young baseball players. He came to Calgary with one of the Blue Jays camps my son went to, and we talked for a few moments. He was enjoyable and thoughtful.
I have this vague memory of someone saying that Mulliniks hit well with the RISP. In the days before, we had web pages like Baseball Reference so that we couldn't check these things out easily. I finally decided to check it, and he hit a little better with RISP but not amazingly better. Career he had a .760 OPS, with runners in scoring position, he had a .809 OPS. I’m not sure where I heard that, but I think it must have been David Driscoll, who, back in the day, would score all the Jays games and then share information he information gleaned from that.
Rance Mulliniks place among Blue Jay batting leaders:
Batting Average: 15th, .280
On-base %: 9th, .365
Slugging %: 29th, .424
OPS: 21st, .789
Games: 8th, 1115
Plate Appearances: 20th, 3470
Runs: 25th, 382
Hits: 19th, 843
Doubles: 10th, 204
Home runs: 31st, 68
RBI: 18th, 389
Walks: 7th, 416