The Bizarro Hall of Fame was a series I ran on my old blog, One More Dying Quail, in 2007. It consists of players who appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot but did not receive any votes.
Mike suggested I bring those old posts over to Bus Leagues. I liked the idea, so for the next few months, we’ll re-run a couple each week in addition to our regular content. For the most part, they will be unedited and un-updated, although I’ll make a few minor changes (removing mentions of YouTube videos, for example) from time to time as needed.
Carlos Baerga – On December 6, 1989, the San Diego Padres traded 21-year-old Baerga to the Cleveland Indians. The other youngster joining the Tribe, 23-year-old catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., had an exceptional season in 1990, starting behind the plate for the American League in the All-Star Game and winning the Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove awards. (Fun fact: the player on the other side of the trade, Joe Carter, was dealt by the Padres just a year later, along with Sandy’s brother, Roberto.)
Baerga made Baseball America’s Top 100 list before the 1990 season but took a bit longer than Alomar to mature, appearing in 108 games in 1990 (93 OPS+, 1.0 WAR) and 158 in 1991 (105 OPS+, 2.5 WAR) before breaking out in 1992 (.312 BA, 20 HR, 105 RBI, 205 hits, 127 OPS+) and 1993 (.321 BA, 21 HR, 114 RBI, 200 hits, 124 OPS+) as one of Cleveland’s exciting young stars. Those were the highest heights he would reach: his numbers declined over the next two seasons, and he was traded to the Mets in 1996 for Jeff Kent.
Baerga spent two full seasons in New York after the trade. He signed with the Padres in 1999, was purchased by the Indians, granted free agency, and fell off the face of the earth for two seasons. Okay, not quite: he spent 2001 with Long Island, in the Atlantic League, hitting .315 with nine homeruns in 203 at-bats. He proved there that he wasn’t done just yet; the Red Sox signed him as a backup infielder and designated hitter, a role he also filled in 2003 and 2004 with Arizona and 2005 with Washington.
Lenny Harris – On June 1, 1998, with his Reds trailing 16-3, Harris was called upon to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants. He struck out Brent Mayne looking (“on a nasty backdoor slider,” according to Jeff Horrigan of the Cincinnati Post) and got Stan Javier and Bill Mueller to fly out to center and left, respectively. Way to put out the fire, Leonard.
That game was indicative of Harris’s entire playing career. He retired in 2005 after 18 seasons during which he played 1,900 games at eight different positions (everywhere except catcher) for eight different teams (Cincinnati, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Chicago Cubs, and Brewers). He was also a pinch-hitter of some renown. In other words, he was the kind of guy who stuck because he did whatever the team asked him to do.
Bobby Higginson – Poor Higginson was a pretty decent player – he had a 124 OPS+ from 1996-2001, including 145 in 1996 – who played for a terrible organization in Detroit. Eight times in his eleven seasons, the Tigers lost ninety games. Three times they lost a hundred, including 119 in 2003. Fun times in the Motor City. His last season was 2005, so of course, the Tigers reached the World Series in 2006. I don’t think that qualifies for the Ewing Theory, but at least it gives him something in common with DonMattingly.
Charles Johnson – I grew up an hour from Portland, Maine, and can still remember being in eighth grade and listening to my friend Ryan Green rave about the catcher he had seen playing for the Sea Dogs (then an affiliate of the Marlins). That player was Johnson, a two-time first round draft pick (10th overall by Montreal in 1989 and 28th overall by Florida in 1992) turned Top 20 prospect who turned in a stellar season in 1994: 28 homeruns and 80 RBI while gunning down 47% of would-be base stealers. He also stopped in for a major league visit in early May, hitting .455 in four games, including a homerun in his second at-bat (off Curt Schilling).
Johnson eventually achieved success in the major leagues as well, making two All-Star games, winning four Gold Gloves, and hitting .304 with 31 homeruns with 91 RBI for Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox in 2000.
Raul Mondesi – Mondesi was a very, very good young player who won the Rookie of the Year award and two Gold Gloves in his first five years with the Dodgers, but he ran into problems later in his career (after spending his first seven seasons with Los Angeles, he played for six different teams in his last six years). Even into that latter half, he was a very talenTed Power hitter, with nine straight twenty-homer seasons, including three in a row with thirty from 1997-99. Two of those were also 30-30 seasons, and he just missed another by three homeruns in 2001.
Kirk Rueter – Rueter burst onto the scene with the Team That Should’ve Been, the Montreal Expos, in 1993, starting his career 8-0 with a 2.73 ERA in fourteen starts. He played 3 ½ seasons for Les Expos before being dealt to San Francisco for Mark Leiter at the 1996 trade deadline. He ended up playing for the Giants for nine full seasons, winning 105 games and holding down a key spot in the starting rotation for the 2002 team that nearly won the World Series. He started Game Four opposite John Lackey, allowing three runs on nine hits in six innings (he left with the game tied, 3-3) and was called upon in relief in Game Seven; with the Giants trailing, 4-1, entering the fourth inning, Rueter came in and held the Angels to one hit and one walk over four scoreless frames (Anaheim still won when Lackey handed that three run lead over to Brendan Donnelly, Francisco Rodriguez, and Troy Percival).