Take a baseball blender and mix together Kirby Puckett and Andre Dawson. What do you get? Vladimir Guerrero. Since 1996, Guerrero has been very quietly compiling a hall of fame career. You could say he played for a large-market team with his six years with the Angels, but he still managed to keep his career quiet. He’s playing in his 15th season in the game; his first with the Texas Rangers.
As I was saying … if you take equal parts lemonade and iced tea you get an Arnold Palmer and if you do the same with Puckett and Dawson you have Guerrero. Like Puckett, Guerrero with swing at anything and everything at the plate and hit all of it. Kent Hrbek once said he couldn’t count how many times he followed Puckett at the plate after a hit with the catcher shaking his head saying, “I don’t know how he hit that ball.” It’s a sure bet the batters following Guerrero have heard the same. The Rangers’ DH has been known to hit balls on the bounce in his career. Guerrero will strike out, but in small doses compared to today’s sluggers. His highest season total was 88 in 2001. Jose Hernandez led the National League that year with 185 strikeouts.
The comparisons to Dawson are even more relatable. Both players began their careers in the confines of Montreal. Both played a good right field with the best arms of their era. Dawson and Guerrero were also known for their base-stealing abilities early in their careers. Guerrero stole 123 bases in his eight seasons north of the border; Dawson took 253 in 11 seasons. Of course, those numbers dropped dramatically after that many years playing the outfield on the hard Astroturf of Olympic Stadium. Dawson stole 61 bases in his 10 years following Montreal while Guerrero has taken 56 in his six-plus seasons.
Not only did Montreal drop their stolen base totals, but it also did a number on their knees. Dawson and Guerrero have each had knee problems, especially Dawson.
Neither player has ever seen a World Series. Guerrero came close last season when the Angels lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. Dawson saw the NLCS in both 1981 and 1989, but nothing more. Guerrero’s Rangers sit in first place as of now and stand a good chance at seeing the postseason.
Perhaps the recipe should be 1/3 Puckett and 2/3 Dawson?
Beginning in 1996, Guerrero has amounted a .322 batting average, .386 OBP, .569 SLG, 2,312 hits, 419 home runs, 1,361 RBI, 1,214 runs and 179 stolen bases. Add to that the 2004 American League MVP trophy and he’s well on his way to the hall of fame. If he could only add a trip to the World Series and he’d probably be a sure bet.
Vlad leads a quiet career. His only real trademark is the fact that he doesn’t wear batting gloves. I think he was born with the superpower to project pine tar from the pores of his palm like Spiderman can project webs. I have never read a bad word about the man in the press. He’s not a showboat and he plays the game with class.
When Vlad won the MVP award in 2004, he hit .337 and drove in 126 runs for the Angels. He hit 39 home runs and 39 doubles and led the AL with 124 runs scored. He also slugged .598. Making the playoffs and winning awards could easily constitute for a player’s best season, but his best individual year could have happened in Montreal. Was his best season in 2000 with a line of .345/.410/.664 with 123 RBI and 44 home runs? Could it be 2001 with .307/.377/.566 and 108 RBI, 34 home runs and 37 stolen bases? A case could also be made for 2002 and his line of .336/.417/.593 with 111 RBI, 39 homers and 40 stolen base?
Add to all of Vlad’s accolades the fact that he’s never been linked to performance enhancing drugs and there’s another bonus for the hall of fame voters to consider. That puts him in a rare group of sluggers from the “steroid” era of Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome and Chipper Jones.
From my own personal experience, I have two in-person memories of Mr. Guerrero. The first was in 2001, my first game at Miller Park. I bought seats in right field in hopes of seeing him gun down a Brewer trying to get from first to third. It didn’t happen. The second was in 2005. It was a pitchers’ duel between Johan Santana and Bartolo Colon at the Metrodome. Colon won the duel 2-1 mostly because of a Guerrero home run that seemed to still be rising as it struck the left field foul pole. The force of the blast made the nylon pole flop back and forth for seconds after being struck. It was one of those no-doubters you knew was gone before it left the infield.
Perhaps his most memorable moment came just last October in the third game of the ALDS with a 2-0 series lead on the Red Sox. Down by a run with two outs and runners on second and third, Guerrero delivered a clutch single off Jonathan Papelbon to score both runners and eventually give the Angels a 7-6 win and series sweep.
Guerrero isn’t what he used to be. He rarely plays the outfield and he isn’t nearly as fast as he used to be. Of course, he’s gotten even smarter. So far this season he’s stolen four bases. The 35-year old is hitting .342 with 42 RBI and 12 home runs. He’s still strong, he can still hit and you can still count on him in the clutch.
Here’s hoping Vlad can deliver a few more of those clutch hits this fall (as long as it’s not off the Twins).