John O'Brien (minors14)
John Joseph O'Brien
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4", Weight 220 lb.
- School Oral Roberts University
First baseman John O'Brien spent 11 years in the minors, primarily in the independent leagues, hitting over 200 home runs. He won three home run titles and one MVP award. He is the brother of Charlie O'Brien, brother-in-law of Erik Sonberg and uncle of Chris O'Brien. John's son Austin is a senior infielder for the University of Oklahoma in 2017.
With Oral Roberts University, he went to the finals of the 1991 NAIA College World Series. He was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 34th round of the 1991 amateur draft. While it was late in the draft, there was still a chance he would get to the majors; the guy taken right before him, Tim Davis, did so.
O'Brien began his pro career with the Hamilton Redbirds and did very well, hitting .308/.385/.500 with 23 doubles and 10 home runs in 77 games. He led the New York-Penn League in doubles, tied for 5th in homers, was 8th in average (between Lyle Mouton and Mike Cantu) and was second in slugging. He lost All-Star honors at 1B to Derrick White. In '92, he fell to .243/.322/.390 for the Springfield Cardinals and his error percentage at 1B more than doubled from .007 to .017. He fielded .999 with just one error in 1993, which he split between the Savannah Cardinals (.249/.283/.449, 66 RBI in 68 G) and St. Petersburg Cardinals (8 for 23, 2B, HR, 2 BB).
O'Brien then played in the independent leagues from 1994-2001, all in the Texas-Louisiana League. In '94, he hit .281/?/.581 with 21 dingers for the Rio Grande Valley White Wings. He was second in the new Texas-Louisiana League in homers (two behind leader Steve DeAngelis) and was named the All-Star first baseman. A year later, he put up a .276/.367/.541 line with 29 doubles, 21 home runs and 81 RBI for the White Wings. He tied Kinnis Pledger and Chris Norton for third in the TLL in home runs, was 5th in doubles, 5th in RBI and was 8th in slugging. Cantu won All-Star honors at first that year.
In his third season with Rio Grande Valley, the Tulsa native hit .315, slugged .565 and slammed 25 long balls. He was third in slugging (after Jorge Alvarez and Rod Brewer) while winning the home run crown (6 ahead of former major leaguer Brewer). He was picked as the All-Star first baseman. The 28-year-old hit .314 with 24 homers and a .610 slugging while moving to the Alexandria Aces in 1997. He finished third in the home run race (behind Chris Cassels and Bryan Warner), third in slugging (behind Cassels and Warner, the league Co-MVPs) and led with 90 RBI (three ahead of Cassels). For the third time in four years, he was named the TLL's best first baseman.
In 1998, the big first baseman's numbers were even better: .351, .713 slugging, 32 home runs and 93 RBI. He again led the league in RBI as well as homers (6 ahead of Jay Davis) and was 4th in slugging (between Malvin Matos and Cassels). He had his habitual spot as the All-Star first baseman. The next season, he had his gaudiest statistics with 39 homers, a .324 average and a .780 slugging in 296 at-bats. He easily led in home runs (13 ahead of Matos) and slugging and his 104 RBI were second, behind leader Gabe Duross. He was named the All-Star 1B for the 5th time in six years and finally got the MVP as well. The 39 home runs were an independent league record, a mark that only stood for a year before Ozzie Canseco cracked 48 in 2000.
O'Brien became Alexandria's player-manager in 2000. He posted a batting line of .280/.401/.598 with 23 HR and 59 RBI in 76 games while guiding the club to a 51-61 campaign. He was second in home runs (two behind Guy Giuffre) and second in slugging (behind Chad Tredaway). His run of All-Star honors ended at three in a row as Duross got the nod this time. In his final season playing, O'Brien batted .244/.332/.506 with 12 home runs and 35 RBI in 52 games, now mostly being used at DH. He managed the team to a 27-20 record in the first half, then 34-14 to take the second half, but they fell to the San Angelo Colts in an upset in the playoffs. O'Brien managed one more year, going 59-37 as the team again won the Central Baseball League (successor to the TLL) second-half title only to fall in the playoffs (this time to the Jackson Senators).