Diamond Power

Ryan Klesko debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 17, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Ryan Klesko (NBHOF Library)

From a sore-armed high school pitcher to one of the big league’s most powerful batters, Ryan Klesko’s baseball career took him to places he never dreamed.

Now, he’s one step short of immortality at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Klesko is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Klesko is making his debut on the ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born June 12, 1971 in Westminster, Calif. – on the 32nd anniversary of the opening of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – Klesko was a dominant left-handed high school pitcher before injuring his arm. But at a tryout camp at Dodger Stadium, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Klesko caught the eye of Braves general manager – and later Klesko’s manager with the Braves – Bobby Cox during batting practice.

“He didn’t just hit ‘em out, he hit ‘em 10 miles,” Cox said.

The Braves took Klesko with their fifth pick of the 1989 draft, and by 1992 Klesko had debuted in the major leagues as a September call-up. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote in 1994 after hitting 17 home runs in just 94 games, and the following season Klesko hit 23 homers and drove in 70 runs in part-time duty as a left fielder/first basema with Atlanta – helping the Braves win the 1995 World Series. During the Fall Classic, Klesko became the first player to homer in three consecutive World Series road games when he hit long balls in Games 3, 4 and 5 against the Indians in Cleveland.

Klesko played in a career-high 153 games and hit a career-best 34 home runs in 1996, the second year of a stretch of eight-of-nine seasons where he topped the 20-home run mark.

Klesko appeared in postseason games with the Braves every year between 1995 and 1999, homering at least once in every year. The Braves traded Klesko and Bret Boone to the Padres following the 1999 season in a deal that netted Atlanta Wally Joyner, Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras, and Klesko responded with three of his best seasons from 2000-02, averaging 28 homers and 100 RBI per season in his return to his home of Southern California. He was named to the NL All-Star team in 2001.

“I fell in love with San Diego because of pretty much everything,” Klesko said. “From Day One, they made me feel like I fit in with their plans. Being from Southern California, I just fit back into the scene.”

Injuries began to slow Klesko during the middle of the decade, and he missed virtually the entire 2006 season with a shoulder injury. He played the 2007 season with the Giants, then retired in early 2008.

Klesko finished his 16-year big league career with 278 home runs, 987 RBI and a .279 batting average.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum