By NICK LECO
September 3, 2008
Nicknamed “The Big Cat” early in his professional career for the amazing agility he displayed at first base despite his 6’ 3”, 235-pound frame, Andres Galarraga was one of the better power hitters in baseball during the late ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s. While we debate Galarraga’s Hall of Fame credentials, keep in mind that his greatest accomplishment has nothing to do with statistics. Galarraga missed the 1999 season while battling Non-Hodkins Lymphoma and then made a successful comeback the following year, becoming an inspiration for professional athletes - like recent major league cancer survivors Jon Lester and Doug Davis - and all others who have been diagnosed with cancer but refuse to let it get the best of them.
ANDRES GALARRAGA -
At Bats: 8,096
Home Runs: 399
Teams: Expos (1985-91, 2002), Cardinals (1992), Rockies (1993-97), Braves (1998, 2000), Rangers (2001), Giants (2001, 2003), Angels (2004)
Galarraga was known as a slick fielder and power-hitting first baseman, and enjoyed several outstanding seasons. He finished his career just one home run shy of 400 and won Gold Glove awards in 1989 and 1990. Galarraga was selected to participate in five All-Star games, won two silver Slugger awards (1988, 1996), finished in the top 10 in his league’s MVP voting six times and was the first player ever to win two Comeback Player of the Year awards (1993, 2000).
Galarraga enjoyed an amazing seven-season stretch (1993-98, 2000) during which he averaged 35 home runs and 114 RBI per year. He won the batting title with a .370 mark in 1993, led the National League with 47 homers in 1996, and topped the Senior Circuit in RBI twice, with 150 in 1996 and 140 the following year. Galarraga had three straight 40-home run seasons from 1996 to 1998 and knocked in an incredible 411 runs during that time.
From a statistical standpoint, Galarraga is very similar to Orlando Cepeda, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, and Jim Rice, who may be voted in next year after receiving almost 73 percent of the vote in 2008. A look at their stats:
G AB H R 2B HR RBI AVG SLG
Galarraga 2257 8096 2333 1195 444 399 1425 .288 .499
Cepeda 2124 7927 2351 1131 417 379 1365 .297 .499
Rice 2089 8225 2452 1249 373 382 1451 .298 .502
While Galarraga put up some extraordinary numbers during his years with the Rockies, many of his critics credit the thin air in Colorado for Galarraga’s power surge. During that time Coors Field was considered by far the best hitters’ park in baseball, which led many to believe that all power numbers posted there were inflated. This belief was reflected most clearly in the MVP voting, as Galarraga never finished higher than sixth despite putting up some of the best numbers in the history of the game during his Rockies career.
Injuries also took their toll on Galarraga and severely limited him at times. Just as his career was blossoming, Galarraga missed a total of 122 games between 1991 and 1992 and had two of his worst seasons ever. Galarraga also missed the entire 1999 season while battling cancer, which ended his string of three consecutive 40-home run seasons. Had Galarraga been able to approach 500 career home runs, voters may have overlooked the inflated Coors Field numbers, especially since he was never linked to performance enhancing drugs despite playing during the steroid era.
Galarraga also failed to make an impact in the postseason. While he played for four different playoff teams, Galarraga struggled mightily in October, batting .182 and fanning 20 times in 66 at bats while managing only one home run. Galarraga also led the league in strikeouts four times and struck out more than all but three players in baseball history.
Galarraga will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2009 but will have a tough time getting voted in any time soon. While Galarraga was a good player, his career numbers just do not measure up to other Hall of Famers, despite his monster years in Colorado. Galarraga was never considered one of the best players of his era and even when compared to his contemporaries at first base, he is eclipsed by more than a few players. Even Cepeda, whose numbers are most similar to Galarraga’s among Hall of Famers, won the National League MVP award in 1967 - something Galarraga never seriously contended for. Galarraga will fall into the category of good but not great players and thus will never be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Nick Leco’s Cooperstown Bound? column runs every Wednesday here on National Pastime.
Photo by Getty Images
Be sure to check out our previous Cooperstown Bound? columns: Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, Omar Vizquel, Don Mattingly, Curt Schilling, Andre Dawson, Kenny Lofton, Fred McGriff, Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Mike Mussina, Jim Rice.