Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
I’m sorry I wasn’t able to post our off-season player of the week on Friday, but there was so much news to report out of the GM Meetings, that I didn’t have the opportunity to. So, as a treat, you get one to start off your week, and one to finish it. Lucky you! So, last week’s off-season player of the week is a player that I looked up to as a kid, especially since he and I both played first base; John Olerud was a tremendous fielder and hitter, but went about his business so quietly that he was rarely noticed. By the looks of it, he was OK with it.
Olerud was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1989 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, and made the jump straight to the Majors. Despite coming in fourth for the 1990 AL Rookie of the Year voting, it wasn’t until 1993 when he made his big splash at the Major League level. He hit an incredible .363/.473/.599 with 24 homers and 107 RBI. He won his first and only batting title, while also leading the league in on-base% and doubles. Once he couldn’t replicate that kind of season, he fell out of favor in Toronto, especially with Carlos Delgado on his way up through the minor league system. So, the Blue Jays decided to trade Olerud, along with cash, to the Mets for pitcher Robert Person in December 1996.
The lefty first baseman spent three season with the Amazins (1997-1999) and helped bring the Mets back to respectability, enjoying a run to the NLCS in 1999. His time spent in the Big Apple was a productive one before he decided to head home to Washington and sign with the Seattle Mariners. The ’98 season was a special one for Olerud, as he set single-season franchise records for batting average (.354), on-base% (.447), and runs created (138). We also saw his patience in ’99, as his 125 walks shattered the previous record set by Keith Hernandez in 1984 and Darryl Strawberry in 1987 (97 BB). Also, his .315 career batting average in New York is the highest all-time, as David Wright currently sits second with a .301 mark.
What he’s probably most well-known for is the “greatest infield ever” cover of Sports Illustrated in 1999. He appeared on the cover with teammates Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez, and Robin Ventura. Olerud anchored that infield, as he played all 162 games and committed only 9 errors in 1458 chances, good for a .994 fielding percentage. It’s a travesty he didn’t win a Gold Glove award until 2000 with the Mariners. He went on to win the award two more times before the end of his career.
Like I said before, John Olerud was by no means a flashy player, and most of the time, he flew right under the radar from the public eye. However, as a young and impressionable baseball player, he taught me the importance of consistent throughout a baseball game and season, as the sport contains many ups and downs. He also showed me the importance of taking defense seriously; for a position that is traditionally used for offense (as well as growing up in the steroid era), Olerud made play after play on balls in the dirt, saving his fellow infielders from countless errors. While only hitting an average of 18 homers per season, he wasn’t that typical power hitter at the corner infield spot, but showed his worth by protecting players like Mike Piazza in the lineup, being a run producer (88 RBI/season), patient at the plate (92 BB/season), and being a damn good overall hitter (.295/.398/.465 career line).
So, here’s to you, John. Thanks for being a professional through and through, and for giving me a complete ballplayer to look up to while I was trying to find my own identity as an athlete.