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For the 2010s minor league pitcher, see Juan Gonzalez (minors10)

Juan Gonzalez.jpg

Juan Alberto Gonzalez Vazquez
(Igor, Gonzo or Juan Gone)

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[edit] Biographical information

Juan Gonzalez was signed as a free agent in Puerto Rico at the age of 16 for the Texas Rangers by scout Luis Rosa. (The Rangers' Caribbean scouting was exceptionally good; they had signed Sammy Sosa the year before and would sign Ivan Rodriguez two years later). With a massive upper body and slender hips and legs, Gonzalez was almost a cartoon caricature of a slugger, and was nicknamed "Igor" in honor of his grotesque strength.

[edit] 1986-1990: Minor leagues

Gonzalez debuted with the 1986 GCL Rangers and hit a mere .240/~.303/.266 in 60 games. He only had 5 extra-base hits (none of them homers) in 233 AB and struck out 57 times. He tied Harvey Pulliam by grounding into a Gulf Coast League-leading 9 double plays.

In 1987, Juan showed some promise with the Gastonia Rangers, though Mark Whiten and Junior Felix clearly were deemed better outfield prospects in the South Atlantic League. In ratings by Baseball America, Gonzalez tied Ryan Bowen for 10th place on the prospect listing. He hit .265/~.306/.401 with 14 HR and 74 RBI.

Gonzalez spent 1988 with the Charlotte Rangers and batted .256/~.327/.415 with 8 HR in 277 AB; one of his outfield mates that year was Sosa. The next year, he showed some more pop with the Tulsa Drillers. He hit .293/~.322/.506 with 21 homers and led the Texas League with 254 total bases. He outhomered Sosa by 14 and was third in the TL in homers, behind teammate Dean Palmer (25) and Chris Cron (22). Gonzalez was rated the league's #4 prospect by Baseball America, behind Ray Lankford, Andy Benes and Jose Offerman. Lankford and Warren Newson joined him in the TL All-Star outfield. The 19-year-old was a September call-up but only hit .150/.227/.250 for the 1988 Rangers.

In the 1989-1990 winter ball season, Juan hit .269/~.345/.500 for the Criollos de Caguas and hit 9 home runs, one less than Puerto Rican Winter League leader Greg Vaughn.

Gonzalez then put on a power display for the 1990 Oklahoma City 89ers. The youngster led the American Association in home runs (29), RBI (101) and total bases (252). He made the AA All-Star outfield alongside Lankford and Bernard Gilkey and was named the league MVP. Baseball America named him the top prospect in the league in a poll of managers. He hit .258/~.343/.508 for the 89ers. In the AAA All-Star Game, Gonzalez hit 4th for the AL prospects and played DH. He went 2 for 5 with a double, one of the game's two homers (a shot called "colossal" by Baseball America), two runs and two RBI in the AL's 8-5 loss. Gonzalez got another September call-up and did far better this time, batting .289/.316/.522 for the 1990 Rangers.

[edit] 1991-1999: Glory days in Texas

Gonzalez was a regular starter for the 1991 Rangers at age 21, hitting .264/.321/.479 with 27 HR and 102 RBI, almost duplicating his prior year in Oklahoma City. He was 7th in the 1991 AL in RBI. Gonzalez came up as a centerfielder, as did Sosa; the Rangers opted to keep Gonzalez and trade Sosa. Gonzalez eventually settled into right field, where he had a decent arm and adequate speed, but never looked entirely comfortable fielding fly balls and extra-base hits. His value was largely as a hitter, anyway.

By 22, he was the American League home-run champion with 43, one more than Mark McGwire. He hit .260/.304/.529 for a weak OBP but good slugging percentage. He won the first of six Silver Slugger awards and was 5th in the 1992 AL in slugging (only five players topped .500). He was third in total bases (309), 7th in RBI (109), 4th in extra-base hits (69) and 5th in strikeouts (143) with the 1992 Rangers.

In the 1992-1993 Puerto Rican League, Juan Gone batted .333/?/.773 for the Santurce Crabbers and he won the league MVP award despite not playing until after the All-Star break. He smashed 7 homers and led the league despite playing in only 66 games; his average and slugging would have led the loop but he did not get enough plate appearances. Gonzalez did not accompany Santurce to the 1993 Caribbean Series, though.

In 1993, González broke through to true stardom. He led the AL for the second consecutive year with 46 bombs (edging Ken Griffey Jr. 46 to 45), while raising his batting average an impressive 50 points to .310, all this to go along with an AL-leading slugging percentage of .632. That production garnered González an invite to his first All-Star team. During the All-Star Weekend, he participated in the only Home Run Derby of his career. Juan and Ken Griffey, Jr. put on an amazing display of raw power, as they each golfed 7 homers apiece. Gonzalez, however, wowed the national audience even more, becoming the first player to hit a homer into the façade of the upper deck in left field (estimated at 473 feet) at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the green wall behind the center-field fence (estimated at 455 feet). Gonzalez then defeated Griffey in a winner-take-all playoff for the individual Home Run Derby title, 5–4. When asked about the title, Gonzalez responded: "It was very exciting to surprise everybody. I never thought in my mind that I'd win the Home Run Derby. I even surprised myself." Juan also finished fourth in voting for the MVP Award and earned his second consecutive Silver Slugger award. He was also 5th in OPS, second to Griffey with 339 total bases, 4th with 118 RBI, 4th in OPS+, second with 80 extra-base hits and tied Andre Dawson for third in times hit by pitch (13).

In the 1993-1994 winter ball season, Juan hit .268/?/.491 with 7 homers, 3 behind Phil Hiatt.

In 1994, the Rangers moved from Arlington Stadium to The Ballpark at Arlington. Juan hit .275/.330/.472 for a 104 OPS+ for the team, his worst year in the period between 1990 and 2002. He tied Travis Fryman for 10th in the AL in RBI (85), tied for 8th in times hit by pitch (7), tied Mickey Tettleton for 9th in intentional walks (10) and was second to teammate Jose Canseco in double plays ground into (18). He had a 837 OPS on the road but only 771 at home. Due to injuries Gonzalez batted just 19 home runs that year.

Gonzalez joined the San Juan Senators for the 1995 Caribbean Series and hit .375/?/.667 with 6 RBI as the Puerto Rican "Dream Team" won the title. Gonzalez hit 5th, between Carlos Delgado and Ruben Sierra on a team that also boasted Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, Carlos Baerga and Edgar Martinez. San Juan outscored their opponents 49-15.

In the following season, Juan batted .295/.324/.594 while belting 27 home runs and knocking in 82 runs in just 90 games for the 1995 Rangers, playing almost entirely as a DH due to a herniated disc in his back. This injury is also what caused him to miss so much playing time.

By 1996, Gonzalez was healthier, and able to stay on the field longer. Using the whole field, he became a devastating line drive hitter. In the center of an impressive Ranger lineup, Gonzalez averaged more than one RBI per game for a four-year span (1995-1998) with 514 RBI in 511 games. A free swinger, Gonzalez was sometimes vulnerable to chasing pitches low and away, but Heaven help the pitcher who grew complacent and tried to sneak one past Gonzalez up and in. Gonzalez won two MVP awards in this stretch (in 1996 and 1998). Voters were much criticized at the time and in retrospect for looking only at the RBI numbers instead of Gonzalez's middling on-base percentages and his average fielding. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract listed him as the player who had the highest ratio of slugging percentage to on-base percentage in baseball history at that time, ahead of even Dave Kingman and Tony Armas and 4th in RBI per game by an outfielder (behind Sam Thompson, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth). James ranked Gonzalez as the 52nd-best right fielder in baseball history as of mid-2000.

Gonzalez hit .314/.368/.643 in 1996 for a 150 OPS+, second-best of his career. He edged Alex Rodriguez by one first-place vote (11-10) and 3 award points (290-287) in very close voting for the MVP. He won his third Silver Slugger as an OF. He was second in the AL in slugging (87 points behind McGwire), was 9th in OPS (1011), 5th in total bases (348) and homers (47), second in RBI (144, 4 behind Albert Belle), 9th in OPS+, 4th in extra-base hits (82) and tied for fifth in intentional walks (12). In the ALDS, he did a heroic job, homering five times in just four games and batting .438/.526/1.375 with 9 RBI, but Texas was still booted by the New York Yankees. González tied Jeffrey Leonard's 1987 NLCS record by homering in four straight post-season games and joined Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey, Jr. as the only players to hit five home runs in a single post-season series. Gonzalez, however, accomplished his feet in just 4 games, while Griffey needed 5 games and Jackson needed 6.

Juan batted .296/.335/.589 as a DH-RF for the 1997 Rangers. Gonzalez won his fourth Silver Slugger. In the AL, he was 4th in slugging, 6th in total bases (314), 3rd in homers (42) and RBI (131), 10th in extra-base hits (69) and tied for 6th with 10 sacrifice flies. González missed the first month of the season and was not activated from the DL until May 2nd due to a torn ligament in his left thumb. Despite the injury he still managed to earn American League Player of the Month honors in September (.337, 10 HR, 26 RBI) and was the Rangers Player of the Month in both August and September. González was selected to Baseball America's American League All-Star Team.

With the 1998 Rangers, the 28-year-old produced at a .318/.366/.630 rate. He topped 100 RBI (101) by the All-Star break, just the second player to this day to accomplish this feat (Hank Greenberg had 103 RBI 63 years earlier). He won his fifth Silver Slugger, made his second All-Star team and won his second MVP award. He hit cleanup for the AL in the All-Star Game and decisively won this MVP award, a stark contrast to 1996. Juan was 10th in the AL in batting average, second to Belle in slugging, fourth in OPS, 6th in hits (193), 4th in total bases (382), first in doubles (50), tied for fourth with Manny Ramirez in home runs (45), first in RBI (157), tied with Griffey for 8th in OPS+ (149), second to Belle in extra-base hits (97), tied for third in sacrifice flies (11), tied for sixth in intentional walks (9) and tied for third in double plays ground into (20). In April, he drove in 35 runs, a major league record for the month that still stands today. He only was 1 for 12 in the ALDS

Juan became the first 5-time winner of the Rangers Player of the Year Award and was also named as the AL's Most Valuable Player by USA Today and USA Today Baseball Weekly. González was selected to major league all-star teams selected by the Associated Press (of) and Baseball America (dh) and to The Sporting News A.L. all-star squad (of). He was named as an outfielder on the AL Silver Slugger Award team for the 5th time in his career, his third consecutive year. González shared Rangers Player of the Month honors with Ivan Rodriguez in April and won the award outright in May. González also received the American League Player of the Week award, for August 31-September 6. He received 21 of 28 1st place MVP votes and 7 2nd place votes for 357 total points to defeat Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, who had 5 1st place votes and 232 points. Juan also became the first native of Latin America to ever win multiple MVP awards since the award was instituted in 1931. This award also made him the 16th player to capture 2 MVPs in a 3-year span. The Rangers reached the playoffs, only to be swept by the Yankees in the ALDS. The Rangers offense was miserable in the Division Series, scoring just one run on a Pudge Rodriguez single that knocked in Juan (who had doubled to lead off the inning.)

In 1999, the Puerto Rican slugger batted .326/.378/.601 for Texas, posting the best batting average of his career. He was 9th in the 1999 AL in average, 4th in slugging, 6th in OPS, 10th in runs (114), 6th in total bases (338), 6th in home runs (39), 5th in RBI (128), 7th in extra-base hits (76) and 2nd in sacrifice flies (12), one behind Roberto Alomar. The Rangers reached the playoffs again, but they wound up being swept for the second consecutive year by the Yankees in the ALDS. Juan wasn't able to do much in the 3-game series, hitting .182/.250/.455 with 1 HR, but, Juan's solo bomb was the only run the Rangers scored in the series.

Gonzo was one of the players accused of taking steroids by Jose Canseco in his book Juiced which caused great controversy in media circles during the early 2000s. The two were Texas teammates during part of 1992, and in 1993-1994.

[edit] 2000-2001: Detroit and Cleveland

That November, he was traded with Danny Patterson and Gregg Zaun to the Detroit Tigers for Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, Justin Thompson and Alan Webb.

Gonzalez struggled with Comerica Park and with new injuries. Back spasms were his particular nemesis, but he also developed leg miseries. He hit .289/.337/.505 and did not rank among the league leaders in anything. He spurned a big multi-year contract from the Tigers that would have made him the highest-paid player in MLB history at the time. Gonzalez was not a fan of Comerica Park, nor was he a fan of the colder Detroit temperatures. Being a native of Puerto Rico, and playing most of his career in Texas where he enjoyed warm temperatures, Juan didn't want to finish his career in Detroit.

On January 9, 2001, he signed a one-year $10 million contract with the Cleveland Indians, who enjoyed one of their best Free Agent signings in club history. Gonzalez opened the season with a great start, batting .388 (40–103) with 9 homers and 32 RBIs in the season's first 25 games through May 2nd. Gonzalez completed the first half on a torrid pace. He was voted in as an All-Star Game starter and batted 5th. Gonzalez hit .347 with 23 HR 83 RBI in 79 games (.640 SLG% / 1.031 OPS%) in the first half. He appeared to be on his way to easily capturing the RBI title, but an RBI drought at the end of the season (0 RBI in last 10 games) allowed Bret Boone to pass him by one. Gonzalez hit over .300 in each of season's first 5 months before dropping to .299 for the month of September. His top months were .387 (36 for 93) in April and .356 (26 for 73) in July. Gonzalez was hitting as high as .360 on June 5th, then went 17 for 64 (.266) in his next 17 contests, dropping to .338 through June 26th. He had a .351 (73 for 208) mark in his next 56 games and was at .344 overall, 2nd in the AL, through September 9th. After this he hit just .130 (6 for 46) in his final 13 games, going 3 for 34 (.088) in his last 10 contests. Gonzalez was hitless in his final 15 trips after his single on September 24th. Despite his cold streak over the last week and a half of the season, he still finished with a .325/.370/.590 batting line and an 147 OPS+ - close to his MVP seasons. He also won his sixth Silver Slugger Award and finished fifth in MVP voting. His .325 average was one point shy of his career high (set in 1999) and marked his 5th .300 season, 3rd in the last 4 years.

He was sixth in the league in batting average, 5th in slugging, 6th in OPS, 9th in home runs (35), 2nd in RBI (140, ((in 140 games)) one behind leader Boone), 8th in OPS+, tied for third in double plays grounded into (18) and ranked 1st with 16 sacrifice flies. Gonzalez was also a 2nd team selection on Baseball America's Major League all-star squad and was named as the Indians player of the year by Baseball America. This proved to be the last season in which Gonzalez averaged an RBI a game. Although Gonzalez finished the regular season rather slowly, he showed up in a big way in the ALDS where he had a .348/.348/.739 batting line for Cleveland, with 3 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI in 5 games. Despite this Cleveland still fell in defeat.

[edit] 2002-2003: Return to Texas

On January 8, 2002, González made his return to Arlington by signing a two-year, $24-million contract with the Texas Rangers. He hit .282/.324/.451 (94 OPS+) the first year in 70 games. On June 18th, he participated in the first major league game ever with four players with 400+ home runs to that point. Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff joined Sosa and Gonzalez, when Texas lost to the Chicago Cubs, 4–3. He had a .358 (29 for 81) average versus lefties and hit .328 (21 for 64) with runners in scoring position while posting a .307 mark (42 for 137) in Arlington. He hit just .171 (6 for 35) with 2 homers and 4 RBI as the DH. He had Texas' only hit, a leadoff double in the 8th, off Cory Lidle on July 19th at Oakland. Juan missed a lot of time in 2002 with a torn muscle in his right hand, limiting him to just 70 games.

In 2003, Gonzalez started the first few weeks rather slowly. He had a .230 average with 4 homers and 8 RBI in his first 18 games through April 20th. He quickly picked it up though, and went on a .349 (29 for 83) tear with 9 homers and 24 RBI in his next 21 games, improving to .293 by May 5th. As of May 7th, Gonzalez was tied for the Major League lead in homers with 12. He followed that up by going just 8-for-39 (.205) in his next 9 games, falling to .276 through May 25th. He started a hot streak yet again though by hitting .321 (42 for 131) with 10 homers and 36 RBI in the next 34 games. But his season was cut short by a tear in his calf muscle on July 19th. At the time, Gonzalez was hitting .294 and ranked 3rd in home runs (24) 4th in slugging percentage (.572) and 7th in RBI (70) in the AL. Gonzalez was on a pace to recapture his 2001 Indians form, but the tear lingered and the injury proved to be the end of his season.

Gonzalez hit 2 homers in a game 4 times in 2003: on April 5th vs. Seattle; on April 29th and May 1st at Toronto and on July 10th against Minnesota. Juan's 47 career multi-homer games are the 12th most all-time. He also hammered 5 homers in 3 games, from April 29th to May 1st at Toronto, the 4th time in Rangers history that feat had been accomplished. He had a season-best 5 RBI on April 29th and drove in 4 runs in a game on 3 occasions. Gonzalez had 18 RBI in a 9-game span from April 22nd to May 1st, including 10 in the 3-game series at Toronto, when he was selected as the American League co-Player of the week.

He started 57 games in right field and 24 games as the designated hitter. He did not make an error in 108 total chances in the outfield and was tied for 6th in the league in outfield assists (10), despite his short season. He ranked 5th on the club in home runs (24), and completed his 11th season with 20 or more home runs. GM John Hart tried to deal Juan to the Montreal Expos for 3 prospects before the trading deadline, but Gonzalez exercised his no-trade clause saying "Texas is a very special place to me." The Rangers were going young and had no interest in the veteran, so on October 26th, he was granted free agency.

[edit] 2004-2008: Ending of MLB Career

On January 6, 2004, González was signed by the Kansas City Royals. However, his back worsened during the middle of May and his season came to an early end. He ended up hitting .276/.326/.441 in 33 games. His $4.5 million deal was one of the largest on the club, so on October 28th of the same year, the Royals granted him free agency once again.

Juan returned to the Cleveland Indians for the 2005 season as a free agent. He was activated in May after playing 5 games with the Buffalo Bisons on a rehab stint where he hit .286 (6 for 21). Despite a thorough workout regimen, Gonzalez suffered a major hamstring injury (he tore his right medial hamstring totally off the bone at the knee joint) in his first plate appearance of the season while running out a grounder. This put him out for the season after just one at-bat.

Gonzalez signed on with the independent leagues in 2006, playing for the Long Island Ducks. He hit .323/.377/.515 in 36 games, with 6 HR and 23 RBI. His time was again limited by several injuries. During the 2006-2007 winter, in 33 games for the Puerto Rican League champion Carolina Gigantes, Gonzalez hit .281 with 18 RBIs and 4 homers. In 12 playoff games, he batted .369 with 3 home runs and 5 RBIs. "Igor" claimed he was healthy and no longer felt pain in his legs. He was 10 for 26 in the 2007 Caribbean Series and made the Series All-Star team at DH.

Early in 2007, he was quoted on MLB.com as saying: "I still can play and I couldn't before because I was hurt... I can't do anything about that anymore because that is history. I have a goal and that is I want to hit 500 home runs and maybe then I will retire." According to Gonzo, at least four major league teams expressed interest in signing him for the 2007 season. Some published reports in Puerto Rico stated that the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, and Baltimore Orioles had all contacted the former American League MVP. All the teams downplayed their interest when reached by the US media and Juan did not play major league baseball that season.

The St. Louis Cardinals invited Gonzalez to spring training prior to the 2008 season. He was one of 26 non-roster invitees, participating in full roster workouts that began on February 19th. He hit .308 with a .462 slugging percentage in spring training with 1 home run, 1 double and 5 RBI in 9 games. However, he was put on the inactive list with an abdominal strain and he returned to Puerto Rico with an invitation to rejoin the Cardinals once he was healthy. Gonzalez decided to stay in Puerto Rico, and did not rejoin the Cardinals.

[edit] Post-career

Gonzalez was a coach for the Puerto Rican national team in the 2008 Americas Baseball Cup, which his homeland won to advance to the 2009 Baseball World Cup.

He then became the owner of the baseball team in his hometown of Vega Baja in the Confederative Baseball League in Puerto Rico, where he also played as a DH. Aside from baseball, Juan focused on helping the community in Puerto Rico, with one condition: he doesn't want any attention from the media when he becomes involved in a cause. "What value does it have to help someone and then publicizing it in newspapers? That is not giving. I help, but I ask them to please not say anything."

[edit] Analysis

As the Rangers' best player for several years, Gonzalez drew constant media attention. Shy with reporters and unsure of his English, Gonzalez was never a media favorite in the Dallas area, and as his injuries accumulated, he became the butt of much fan and press dissatisfaction with the team. Even a record-tying 1996 playoff series against New York couldn't shake fans' unmerited unsatisfaction with him. His well-publicized series of marriages and divorces underscored fan disapproval. "Juan is probably one of the most misunderstood players, and I think he gets a bad rap," Rafael Palmeiro, close friend of Gonzalez said. "He's a great person, but he's not one to express a lot of emotion to the media. He doesn't let things get to him and he doesn't let people provoke him into a reaction. Most people don't like that, and they end up trying to trample him or make him look like the bad guy. Really, he is just a quiet simple guy."

His four-year peak, not coincidentally, aligned with the first three postseason appearances in the Rangers' history. He also contributed greatly to the Indians' 2001 division championship. Juan was a great post-season hitter, with career marks of .290/.333/.742 and a 1.075 OPS, with 15 RBI in 15 games while going yard 8 times in 66 plate appearances. Gonzalez ranks in the top ten all-time in several postseason categories, including ranking #1 all-time in postseason history in home runs per plate appearances (minimum 60 PA) with a homer every 8.25 plate appearances.

Gonzalez's career batting line in the majors was .295/.343/.561 for a 133 OPS+. When he retired, he ranked 16th all-time in slugging percentage, 51st in OPS, 40th in home runs, 69th in RBI, 4th all-time in plate appearance/HR (16.49), 7th all-time in RBI/game with .831.

Although a two-time MVP, there are only two Hall of Famers on the similarity scores list of the ten most similar players. The most similar player is listed as Albert Belle, which seems a good comparison. He did rather poorly in balloting for Cooperstown, however. In 2011, he barely cleared the 5% hurdle to stay on the ballot, with 5.2%, and in 2012 fell to 4.0%, ending his eligibility through BBWAA voting.

[edit] Notable Achievement

  • 1990 MVP American Association Oklahoma City 89ers
  • 3-time AL All-Star (1993, 1998 & 2001)
  • 2-time AL MVP (1996 & 1998)
  • 6-time AL Silver Slugger Award Winner (1992, 1993, 1996-1998 & 2001)
  • AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1993)
  • AL Doubles Leader (1998)
  • 2-time AL Home Runs Leader (1992 & 1993)
  • AL RBI Leader (1998)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 11 (1991-1993, 1995-2001 & 2003)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 7 (1992, 1993, 1996-1999 & 2001)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1992, 1993 & 1996-1998)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 8 (1991-1993, 1996-1999 & 2001)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1993, 1998 & 1999)


AL MVP
1995 1996 1997
Mo Vaughn Juan Gonzalez Ken Griffey, Jr
1997 1998 1999
Ken Griffey, Jr Juan Gonzalez Ivan Rodriguez

[edit] Trivia

[edit] Sources

Sources include 1987-2007 Baseball Almanacs, 1989 and 1991 Baseball Guides, and MLB.com, among others.

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