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Happy Birthday Alex Gonzalez and Pete Walker

Alex Gonzalez #8

Alex Gonzalez turns 48 today.

We’ve had two shortstops named Alex Gonzalez; this is the first.

This Alex was a member of the Blue Jays from 1994 to 2001.

The Jays drafted Gonzalez in the 14th round of the 1991 amateur draft. He had the best career of any player taken in that round of that draft. He rose quickly thru the Jays minor league system and started the 1994 season as the Jay’s starting SS at the age of 21, but after 15 games, he had a .151 batting average, and the Jays gave the job to Dick Schofield. It would have been good if the team had a bit more patience with him; Schofield was nearing the end of an ok career, but, by then, he wasn’t a guy you’d want to play short for you.

Alex was on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list four straight years, moving to 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. He did have power and speed potential with a terrific glove. The bat just didn’t come around. He just never learned not to chase bad pitches. He struck out 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.’

In the strike-shortened 1995 season, he took the SS role and held it for seven seasons. He was never great with the bat, but he should have had two or three gold gloves in his career. In 1995 he played in 111 games of the 144 games the Jays got in, hitting .243/.322/.398 with 10 homers. But 114 strikeouts in 367 at-bats was a bit much. He would have fit in well with today’s Jays.

In 1996 Alex got into 147 games and hit 14 home runs, but hit just .235/.300/.391 with 16 steals. His defense made him a valuable player, Alex made 21 errors, but he led AL shortstops in total chances with 765 and double plays with 122 double plays.

In 1997 he missed some games with a fractured finger but still led AL shortstops in fielding average at .986. 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. He also led the AL with 16 sacrifice bunts. Leading the AL in sac bunts isn’t exactly a sign that your manager likes your bat. Alex is number 2 on our all-time line in sac bunts (Alfredo Griffin is number 1 with 74, Alex had 64), and I don’t think anyone will catch him.

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. He also led the AL in chances, assists, and double plays at short. For some reason, he mainly hit in the 2nd spot in the order. Boy, that Buck Martinez was a heck of a manager.

After the 2001 season, JP Ricciardi became the Blue Jay GM and wanted to cut salary, and 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. Gonzalez had a great NLCS hitting 3 home runs driving in 7 runs in their seven-game loss. But he also made the significant error in the 8th inning of game 6 that allowed the Marlins to score 8 runs.

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.

With the Blue Jays, he played 890 games (putting him 20th all-time among Blue Jays position players and number 3 among shortstops behind Tony Fernandez and Alfredo Griffin), hit .245/.304/.386 with 83 home runs and 85 steals. Career, he played in 1396 games, hitting .243/.302/.391 with 137 home runs and 07 steals.

Omar Vizquel won the Gold Glove 9 years in a row from 1993 to 2001, but in some of those seasons, Alex was the best defensive shortstop in the AL, but getting Gold Glove voters to look at statistics isn’t easy, and if they did they wouldn’t understand them. 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.

Alex is married, I’m guessing it wasn’t to someone who held up a sign, and he has two children. He does charity work for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Happy Birthday, Alex. I hope it is a good one.

It is also pitching coach Pete Walker’s birthday. Pete turns 52 today. Let’s get a win for his birthday.

Pete also pitched for us. In parts of 4 seasons, from 2002 for 2006, with a season with the Yokohama Bay Stars mixed in (10 starts, in 2004, putting up a 6.80 ERA). He the Jays he pitched in 124 games, making 31 starts. He was 19-14 with a 4.32 ERA, and he had 4 saves.

He also pitched for the Mets, Padres, and Rockies. In total, he pitched in 144 games, 31 starts, 4.48 ERA. In 339.1 innings, he allowed 362 hits, 48 home runs, 133 walks with 191 k. The batters hit .275/.342/.453 against him.

The Jays hired him to be pitching coach of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2011, then moved him up to bullpen coach for the major league team in 2012. In 2013 he took over as pitching coach.

I think he is underrated as a pitching coach. He seems to have a great relationship with all the pitchers. J.A. Happ, back in 2016, said that one of the reasons he signed with the Jays was to work with Walker. He seems to be doing a great job with Steven Matz.

Happy Birthday, Pete. Enjoy it.