Tuesday, April 14, 2009

1989 Topps Major League Debut #43: Juan Gonzalez

Juan Gonzalez

Starting last card with Girardi, we're in an amazing string of players here, with Gonzalez as the first bona fide superstar of the set but more to come shortly.

PHOTO: Not much to say about this photo. Gonzalez is not an ugly guy but he never looked good in posed head shots. He's also got a crazy gap in his mustache. Sort of the opposite of a unibrow, I guess.

STAT: Only 5 guys including Gonzalez have ever had a season with at least 50 doubles and 150 RBI. The other guys are all super-duper-stars including the underrated Chuck Klein.

CAREER: 8/10

First I need to mention my strongest memory of Gonzalez. It was from the 1996 divisional playoffs against the Yankees. In 4 games, Igor had 4 HR, 9 RBI and 3 walks, for a line of .438/.526/1.375. The dude was on fire.

Gonzalez was one of the very best offensive players of the 1990s. He had an inexplicably bad year with Detroit in 2000, and after a single great bounceback year with Cleveland in 2001, the guy was never healthy again. After the age of 32, he played fewer than 200 career games. There has been lots of speculation that he had steroids-related injuries. I have no idea. What I do know is that if he had played in more like 800 games after the age of 32 and hit closer to his typical production, he would have finished with 550 to 600 HR and would be a Hall of Fame candidate.

It's tough to know what to think of Gonzo these days. The Rangers teams from that era have come under heavy scrutiny as being one of the biggest juicing teams thanks in large part to Jose Canseco. I have no idea if that's true or, even if so, whether it's appropriate to single that team or specific players from that team out. Given that we know that many, perhaps half, of all players were using steroids, it still leaves the fact that Gonzalez was immensely talented. I wish he had remained healthy enough to play several more years. Even now, he is only 39 and could potentially be winding up his career just now.

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