Alonzo Sidney Powell
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 190 lb.
- High School Lincoln High School
Alonzo Powell played baseball professionally for 19 years, winning three batting titles in Japan, and then became a coach and manager in the US minor leagues.
In the San Francisco system
Powell was undrafted out of high school. He signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1983 and struggled that year with the Great Falls Giants (.221/~.284/.282) and Clinton Giants (.195/~.300/.257). In 1984, Alonzo batted .248/~.333/.315 for Clinton and 3 for 17 for the Everett Giants. Despite the struggles, Powell moved up in 1985 to the San Jose Bees and hit a reasonable .258/~.355/.397 weith 33 steals. On October 24, he was traded with George Riley to the Montréal Expos for Bill Laskey.
At age 21 in 1986, Powell emerged as a prospect. He batted .329/~.480/.706 with the West Palm Beach Expos, scoring 20 and driving in 18 in 23 games. He was promoted to the Jacksonville Expos and hit .301/~.377/.493. Overall, he homered 19 times that year and drove in 98. He joined Glenallen Hill and Gary Thurman on the Southern League All-Star team and Baseball America rated him the 9th-best prospect in the SL, between Terry Steinbach and Todd Stottlemyre.
Powell started the 1987 season in Montréal, where he put up a .195/.283/.268 line in 14 games. He was the team's starting left fielder on opening day, replacing Tim Raines, who remained unsigned until May 1 because of collusion; due to his failure to hit major league pitching, Powell was sent down to AAA as soon as Raines became eligible to sign with the Expos. Powell found his hitting stroke again with the Indianapolis Indians, batting .299/~.361/.574 with 10 triples and 19 homers to help lead Indianapolis to a title. Baseball America picked him as the 7th-best prospect in the American Association, tied with Joey Meyer and a couple spots ahead of Rafael Palmeiro. He failed to make the league All-Star team, losing out to Lance Johnson, Dave Clark, teammate Dallas Williams and Steve Stanicek. He was third in the AA in triples, trailing Luis Quinones and Johnson.
Powell's production surprisingly fell at age 23, as he hit .262/~.329/.390 for another champion Indianapolis team. Otis Nixon, All-Star Bill Moore and Rex Hudler battled him for outfield time. In 1989, Alonzo played for a third-straight pennant-winning Indians squad. He hit just .232/~.295/.409 with 106 K's (he also hit .317 in a brief stint with West Palm Beach) and was traded as the player to be named later in a late-season deal to the Minnesota Twins for Jim Dwyer.
Seasons in the Minnesota and Seattle system
Powell played for Portland in 1990 and had a fine rebound year at .322/~.393/.468 with 23 steals. He was 9th in the Pacific Coast League in batting average. He became a free agent after the season and signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners. With the 1991 Calgary Cannons, Alonzo was one of three players to hit a grand slam in a May 16 rout of the Tacoma Tigers in what was believed to be the first three grand slam game by one team in professional baseball history; Dave Cochrane and Chuck Jackson hit the other two. Overall that year, Powell hit a dazzling .375/~.462/.651 in 53 games, but with the 1991 Mariners he only batted .216/.288/.369. He would never get another crack at the majors, with a weak and uncharacteristic .211/.287/.342 line (71 OPS+) in 171 plate appearances. He was still just 26 years old. In the Puerto Rican Winter League, he hit .339, second to Edgar Martinez.
In spring training in 1992, Ken Macha asked Powell if he could recommend him to a team in Japan and Alonzo agreed. He was the last player cut and made a deal with Calgary manager Keith Bodie that he could sit on days the team spent a lot of time travelling. Before a game with the Tucson Toros after such a day of travel, Powell was approached by a Chunichi Dragons representative wanting to know when batting practice was and inquiring about a Mr. Alonzo Powell. Alonzo quickly asked the manager to pencil him back into the game. He hit .343/~.425/.543 for Calgary in 10 games that year, impressed the scout, and joined the Dragons in May.
Getting off the plane in Japan, Powell was approached by "about fifteen TV cameras and about twenty reporters", getting his first introduction to how much attention baseball gets there. He hit a couple homers in his second of three planned games in ni-gun and was called up to Chunichi. He started slowly while learning all the Japanese pitchers. Manager Morimichi Takagi threatened to send him down to the minors but his contract allowed him to stay with the club if he wanted. Takagi put him into a part-time role as a pinch-hitter and defensive substitute. Teammate Hiromitsu Ochiai advised him to stick with what worked for him in the PCL. When Takagi got angry at one of the regular outfielders, he began to play Powell, who caught fire with a long hitting and home run streak and winning player of the month honors in July. Overall, he finished the year at .308/.356/.493 for Chunichi.
In the US, Alonzo had been known as Zo, so in Japan he became Zo-san, which translates into Mr. Elephant.
In 1993, the 28-year-old hit .317/.374/.579 with 27 homers and led the Central League in slugging percentage; he was third in average behind two other gaijin, Tom O'Malley and Bobby Rose. He made his first Best Nine, joining Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Tomonori Maeda in the outfield in the Central League. Ochiai left after the year as a free agent, putting more pressure on Kazuyoshi Tatsunami and Yasuaki Taiho, the remaining star hitters.
After a big spring training in 1994, Powell only "hit about .190" the first month before catching fire. Powell broke his right big toe while trying to make a catch in Meiji Jingu Stadium halfway through the year. Returning to the US for treatment, he had the option of season-ending surgery or playing with an orthotic in pain and having surgery later. Chunichi just lost the pennant by one game to the Yomiuri Giants, losing a head-to-head duel in the season-ender. Despite the injury, Powell had a huge year - .324/.387/.520, his first All-Star team in Japan, 20 homers, his second Best Nine (joining Maeda and Glenn Braggs in the outfield), 3rd in slugging (behind Braggs and Taiho) and the batting title, edging Akira Eto and Maeda by three points. Eto was leading the race going into the finale; Powell got hits in the first two at-bats. Eto, who had sat out the Hiroshima Carp game to that point to see what Powell would do, then came in and went 0 for 2 and Alonzo won the championship. Genji Kaku informed him that he should give presents to his teammates. Based on his Mr. Elephant zou-san translation, he had T-shirts made of an elephant swinging a bat; he would repeat this with his other batting titles.
In 1995's spring training, Alonzo spoke to Ichiro Suzuki, who had just won the Pacific League title and they decided to do it over - and they did. Powell spent three weeks on the disabled list with a pulled quad muscle but still had his best year, putting up a .355/.405/.584 line. He made the Best Nine along with Hideki Matsui and Tomoaki Kanemoto in the outfield. In addition to the batting title, he was second in slugging (behind Eto) and third in OBP, behind O'Malley and Ochiai. In average, he beat out runners-up Rose and Kenjiro Nomura by 40 points!
For 1996, Suzuki and Powell had a friendly bet for dinner on who would finish with the higher average. An 0 for 12 finish ruined Alonzo's bid to finish first but he still led the CL; his line was .340/.393/.510 in his final big year. He only homered 14 times but cracked 42 doubles. He led the league in average (7 points ahead of Hatsuhiko Tsuji), doubles and hits (176, 11 more than runner-up Tatsunami and one shy of the Chunichi record), made his second and last CL All-Star team and his fourth straight Best Nine (Matsui and Takeshi Yamasaki were the other outfielders). Only the legendary Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh had won three straight CL batting titles; no one has yet won four.
In 1997, Powell hit a homer in Nagoya Dome estimated at 520 feet, one of the longest in Nippon Pro Baseball history. Overall, it was not a good year, though, and he slipped to .253/.321/.404 at age 32. Chunichi released him and he felt that they should have done it face-to-face instead of over the phone.
The Hanshin Tigers signed Alonzo and gave him another chance in 1998, but his performance was nearly identical to 1997 - .255/.332/.436 in 78 games. Hanshin wanted to send him to ni-gun but Powell asked for a release instead and got it. Overall, he hit a very good .313/.371/.510 in parts of six seasons in Japan. Among players with 2,000+ at-bats in NPB, he is 16th in average as of 2005, tied with Tetsuharu Kawakami.
Back in the US
After being let go by Hanshin, Powell still drew interest from major league teams. The Toronto Blue Jays picked up the faded veteran and assigned him to the Syracuse Chiefs, where he hit .229/~.327/.438 in 15 games late in the year. Alonzo moved to the New York Yankees chain in 1999 and had a .315/~.417/.521 year for the Columbus Clippers, but was not called up. He had hit 24 homers, drove in 90, scored 97 and drew 82 walks while spending the majority of his time at DH, where the Yanks had Chili Davis. Powell was 9th in the International League in average, tied for 9th in homers and 8th in RBI. He was only four walks behind league leader Jon Zuber and presumably was in the top 10 in OBP, runs and slugging as well.
In 2000, Zo hit .264/.324/.406 in 64 games for Columbus, then hit .259/.368/.431 in 21 contests for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. At age 36, he moved on to the independent leagues and hit .294, slugging .532 for the Newark Bears. He led the team in homers (16) and RBI (59) despite the presence of Jose Canseco, Pete Incaviglia and Hensley Meulens. He just missed the Atlantic League top 10 in average. Newark made it to the league finals before falling 3 games to 2 to the Somerset Patriots. It was Powell's final season as a player.
He was a coach for the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2002-2003, managed the Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League in 2004 (a last-place 48-92 year) and 2005 (60-79 and last again) and was a coach for the Dragons in 2006. After the 2006 season, Powell was named Minor League Hitting Coordinator for the Seattle Mariners. Powell was the hitting coach of the Tacoma Rainiers from 2008 to May 2010. On May 9, 2010, Powell was named the Mariners' hitting coach taking over the duties from the fired Alan Cockrell. Powell returned to Tacoma in 2011. In 2012, he was named assistant hitting coach of the San Diego Padres. In 2016, he joined the Houston Astros coaching staff as assistant hitting coach.
Remembering Japanese Baseball by Robert Fitts, 1984-1985, 1989 and 1991 Baseball Guides, 1986 and 1987 Baseball America Statistics Reports, 1988-1993 and 1999-2002 Baseball Almanacs and Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland.