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Happy Birthday John Olerud and Eric Hinske

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees

John Olerud turns 55 today.

John was born in Seattle, Washington. His father, also John, played catcher for Washington State University and played professional ball, reaching Triple-A. John Jr. was the Jays 3rd round draft pick in the 1989 amateur draft of Washington State University, where he pitched and played in the field. He was 26-4 as a pitcher at WSU. He is just a handful of players who started his professional career in the majors and never played in the minors until 2005, when he spent a few games there to get up to speed after being signed by the Boston Red Sox in May of 2005.

Everyone remembers him for wearing his batting helmet while playing first base. He collapsed after a workout and had bleeding in his spinal column in early 1989. About a month later, he had surgery to remove a brain hemorrhage. After that, he wore the batting helmet on the field to be extra careful.

After the draft, he signed with the Jays in late August, and since rosters expanded in September, the Jays decided to let him spend the end of the season with the big team. He got into a few games as a defensive replacement. In 1990 he made the Jays out of spring training and platooned at DH since the Jays had Fred McGriff playing first. John played against right-handed pitchers, hitting .265/.364/.430 in 111 games and was 4th in Rookie of the Year voting. After 1990 the Jays traded McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, opening the first base position for Olerud.

In 1991 John started the season platooned with Pat Tabler and Ed Sprague in the second half. He had a good season, hitting .256/.353/.438 with 17 homers. Bill James compared him to a young Rusty Staub, but John became a far better player. He played five games of our ALCS loss to the Twins and had only 3 hits in 19 at-bats in the series.

In our first World Series-winning year, 1992, Olerud played full-time, starting against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. He didn’t even miss many games when a pitch broke his nose fouled off during batting practice. His batting took a step forward, hitting .284/.375/.450. He also did well in our ALCS series win over Oakland, hitting .348 with a homer. He hit .308 in our World Series win over the Braves, though he only played in 4 of the 6 games as Cito Gaston had him sit a couple of the games in Atlanta when he didn’t have the DH, putting Carter at first instead.

1993 was his big season; he hit .363/.473/.599, with 24 homers, 54 doubles, 200 hits, 114 walks, 109 runs, and 107 RBI. He was hitting over .400 on August 2 but fell off a bit the last couple of months. He led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS (1.072), runs created (161), doubles, and intentional walks (33). He made the All-Star team, won the Hutch Award (given to the player who best examples the ‘fighting spirit’ and ‘competitive desire to win’), and came in 3rd in MVP voting. Frank Thomas won it that year, and teammate Paul Molitor finished second. Olerud’s season was better, but MVP voters don’t always get things right. He also had a 26-game hitting streak and was just the 20th player in MLB history to reach 200 hits and 100 walks in a season. It is on the list of best seasons ever for a Jay.

He hit well in our ALCS series win over the White Sox, hitting .348 with 4 walks. In the World Series win over Philadelphia, he didn’t hit great at just .235, but he did have a home run and 4 walks. At just 24, he had two World Series rings, a pretty decent young life, eh?

The next couple of seasons were lockout/strike-shortened. The Jays didn’t do as well as they had before. Olerud didn’t hit at the level he had in 1992, but he got on base at over a .390 clip each year. He would have made a great leadoff man, but you had to be fast to hit leadoff in those days. 1996 was his last year with the Jays. He didn’t have his best season, hitting .274/.383/.472 with 18 home runs. He only played 125 games as Cito liked using Joe Carter at first base, and Carlos Delgado forced his way onto the team.

Someone had to go after the Jays having Carter, Delgado, and Olerud for two seasons. Delgado wasn’t making much money and had a great career ahead of him, and Carter was Cito’s favourite. However, Cito didn’t like John, thinking he wasn’t aggressive enough at the plate, among other things. Also, Olerud’s 1993 caused expectations that he didn’t match in the three seasons since then. So the Jays ignored that Olerud was younger, a better fielder, and a far better hitter than Carter and decided to trade him.

If choosing to trade Olerud was a mistake, Gord Ash’s sending him to the Mets for pitcher Robert Person was an even more significant error. Person was 8-13 with a 6.18 ERA in his two-plus seasons with the Jays. Add in that Olerud was a terrific player for several more seasons, and Joe Carter wasn’t, and you have just a crappy trade. But then Ash was a terrible GM for us.

Olerud had three great seasons with the Mets, then four and a half good seasons with the Mariners. After that, he played half a season with the Yankees and finished his career with the Red Sox in 2005. He played 17 seasons and finished with a .295/.398/.465 batting line, 255 homers, 1230 RBI, and 1275 walks (77th on the all-time list).

Baseball Reference has Olerud at 6’5” and 220 pounds, I don’t remember him being that big, but I guess my memory is wrong. John had the picture-perfect left-handed swing and a terrific eye at the plate. He was good with the glove, winning 3 Gold Gloves as a Mariner. He likely should have won a Gold Glove or two when he was a Jay, but such is life.

Matt wrote about how John hit better after leaving the Jays (even considering his one big season). It may have been due to Cito’s insistence that he become a pull hitter when it seems his strength was to hit foul line to foul line. Cito’s hitting philosophy was suitable for some players but less good for others.

John Olerud is married, lives in Fall City, Washington, and has a daughter.

Happy Birthday, John.

Eric Hinske turns 46 today.

Eric Hinske was born in Menasha, Wisconsin. Hinske the Cubs 17th round of the 1998 amateur draft, from the University of Arkansas.

In March of 2001, he was traded to the A’s for Miguel Cairo, and in December of that year, he was traded with Justin Miller to the Jays for Billy Koch. So it is safe to say we won that one.

2002 was Eric’s Rookie of the Year season; he was terrific. 99 runs scored, 84 RBI, 24 homers, 77 walks, and even 13 steals, only caught once: all career highs. Most of those numbers set team rookie records, except the stolen bases. He hit .279/.365/.481 for an OPS+ of 119, also a career-high. Fangraphs had him at a 4.7 WAR, a career-high. The only downside was his defense. He didn’t show much range at third and made 20 errors for a .946 fielding average, although Fangraphs had a 2.8 UZR/150, so maybe he was better than that, I remember, but I don’t think so. He had a two-run single against Pedro Martinez in his first major game. After that, it looked like we had our third basemen for the next ten years.

After the season, JP signed Eric to a $14.75 million 5-year contract, buying out his arbitration years. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In 2003 he hit only .243/.329/.437 for an OPS+ of 97 with 12 homers. He did get 45 doubles (5th in the AL) in 124 games and 12 steals in 14 attempts. Eric’s defense didn’t improve either, making a league-leading 22 errors for a .930 fielding average. He missed a month of the season with a broken bone in his hand, which explained his lower offensive numbers. Or so we thought.

Eric’s 2004 season was, in a word, terrible. He hit just .246/.312/.375 in 155 games for a miserable OPS+ of 76, though he did have a 16-game hitting streak. The lone bright spot was cutting down on his errors, making 8 for a .978 fielding average to lead the AL. After the season, the Jays picked up Corey Koskie and Shea Hillenbrand to play third and moved Hinske to first base.

Hinske improved in 2005, hitting .262/.333/.430 with 15 home runs. He also made 7 errors at first base. An OPS+ of 100 isn’t enough for a first baseman/DH, and after the season, JP picked up Lyle Overbay to play first and Troy Glaus to play third.

To start the 2006 season, Hinske moved into a platoon in RF with Alex Rios, but Rios was good and could play defense, winning the job outright in April. Then, in June, Rios went on the DL with a staph infection in his leg, so Eric filled in while he was out, and then Hillenbrand had a tantrum and was quickly traded, opening a hole at DH for Eric.

Hinske was having a good season hitting .264/.353/.513 with 12 homers in 78 games, his best numbers since his rookie season when, on August 17, the Jays went to the Red Sox for cash.

Hinske became a good luck charm for his teams. In 2007 Eric won a World Series ring with the Red Sox, and then in 2008, he was on the losing side at the World Series, making the last out for the Rays on a strikeout in only his second at-bat of the playoffs. The other at-bat was much more successful, hitting a home run in a Game 4 loss. In 2009 he picked up a second ring with the Yankees (he only had one plate appearance in the series, taking a walk). 2010 Eric’s Braves lost out in the NLDS to the Giants. He did well in his seven playoff at-bats with two hits, both home runs. He’d play with the Braves through the 2012 season. In 2013 he played for the Diamondbacks.

After he retired, he worked as a scout with the Yankees, joined the Cubs to be first base coach, then moved to hitting coach. He got his third World Series ring with them. This year he’s been the assistant hitting coach for the Mets.

Happy Birthday, Eric. I hope it was a good one.

Rick Bosetti turns 70 today.

Bosetti played for the Blue Jays from 1978 (our second season) to 1981.

In 1978, playing center field, he hit .259/.299/.347 with 5 home runs in 136 games. In 1979 he played in all 162 games, hitting .260/.286/.362 with 8 home runs. He also stole 13 bases and caught 12 times.

In 1980 we picked up Barry Bonnell to play center, and Rick’s playing time dropped. He played 53 games, hitting .213/.277/.324. Then, in June of 1981, he was traded to the A’s for cash. As a Jay, he hit .252/.289/.348 in 376 games over four seasons.

Rick played for the Phillies and Cardinals, before the Jays and 15 games, over two seasons, for the A’s after his time in Toronto.

Happy Birthday, Rick.

It is also Bobby Kielty’s 47th birthday.

We picked up Kielty in trade for Shannon Stewart midway through the 2003 season. He played 62 games for us, hitting .233/.342/.376 playing in the outfield. After the season, the Jays traded Bobby to the A’s for Ted Lily.

Bobby had a seven-year MLB career, hitting .254/.348/.408 with 53 home runs in 599 games. He played for the Twins before the Jays, then A’s and Red Sox after.

Happy Birthday, Bobby.