Smallthoughts: Old school Tuesday…usually tries hard to follow a theme with who we feature week to week and this week we decided to try an unusual theme…What do John Olerud, George Scott and Dick Allen have in common? They all were firstbasemen who wore they batting helmets on the field when playing first base. So we start with the steady and slick fielding John Olerud…
He was known for wearing a batting helmet in the field as a precaution, since he had suffered a brain aneurysm while playing in college.
Olerud broke into MLB with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989. He was platooned by Jays’ manager Cito Gaston for the first few years of his career, until 1992, when he became the team’s full-time first baseman. In 1993, his breakout season, he led the American League in batting average (.363), intentional walks (33), times on base (321), on-base percentage (.473), OPS (1.072), and doubles (54, also a career high), while posting career highs in home runs (24), RBI (107), runs (109), and hits (200). He flirted with a .400 batting average for much of the season, with his average staying higher than .400 as late as August 24.
Despite putting up solid numbers over the next several years, he failed to meet the high expectations placed upon him following his breakout performance in 1993. After the 1996 season, Olerud was battling veteran Joe Carter and up-and-comer Carlos Delgado for a spot at either first base or designated hitter. Delgado was young, had a bright future and a low salary, while Gaston preferred Carter to Olerud, feeling the latter wasn’t aggressive enough at the plate. Therefore, Olerud was traded, along with cash, to the New York Mets on 20 December 1996 for Robert Person.
With the Mets, Olerud set team single season records for batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.447) and runs created (138) in 1998 and set their team records for most walks (125) and times on base (309) in a season in 1999. Also during his 1999 campaign, Olerud appeared on the cover of the September 6 issue of Sports Illustrated, along with fellow Mets infielders Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordóñez, and Robin Ventura. The magazine raised the debate as to whether the four talented defensive players comprised the best infield in Major League history.
Following the 1999 season, Olerud returned home, agreeing to a three-year, $20 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. In 2000, he amassed 45 doubles, 102 walks, 10 sacrifice flies and 11 intentional walks. He was an important part of the Mariners’ 116–46 2001 season, with a .401 on-base percentage, 94 walks, 272 times on base and 19 intentional walks in 159 games. In 2002, he recorded a .403 on-base percentage, 39 doubles, 98 walks, 269 times on base and led the American League in sacrifice flies (12). In 2003, he collected another 84 walks. Olerud also earned all three of his career Gold Gloves while playing first base for Seattle in 2000, 2002 and 2003.
After being released by the Mariners in the middle of the 2004 season, Olerud was signed by the New York Yankees to fill a void left at first base by the injury of Jason Giambi. Later that year the Yankees visited Seattle to play the Mariners. Olerud started the second game; his first time up, Mariner catcher Dan Wilson went to the mound to have a “conference” with pitcher Jamie Moyer. This gave time for about a minute long standing ovation for Olerud from the Seattle fans. His AL championship series was cut short when he was forced to leave due to an injured foot in Game 3. Olerud pinch hit in Game 7 but struck out after a lengthy at-bat against Pedro Martinez, making a rare relief appearance; it was Olerud’s last at-bat as a Yankee.
On May 1, 2005, the Boston Red Sox and Olerud agreed to terms on a minor league contract. He had been recovering from surgery in November 2004 to repair torn ligaments in his left foot. Initially, Olerud reported to the club’s spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida. He was added to Boston’s 25-man roster on May 27, sharing time at first base with Kevin Millar and batting in the middle of the lineup (including several starts in the clean-up spot).
On December 6, 2005, Olerud announced his retirement from baseball. At the time of his retirement, his 2,239 career hits represented the 143rd-highest total in Major League Baseball history. His career .398 OBP ranks 65th all-time, and his 500 doubles are good for 44th all-time.
In 2007, Olerud was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes …John Olerud.
September 3, 1989 for the Toronto Blue Jays
Last MLB appearance
October 2, 2005 for the Boston Red Sox
Runs batted in
Toronto Blue Jays (1989–1996)
New York Mets (1997–1999)
Seattle Mariners (2000–2004)
New York Yankees (2004)
Boston Red Sox (2005)
Career highlights and awards
2× All-Star (1993, 2001)
2× World Series champion (1992, 1993)
3× Gold Glove Award (2000, 2002, 2003)
AL batting champion (1993