Going Green

Shawn Green debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 14, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Shawn Green (Rich Pilling/NBHOF Library)

When Shawn Green was hitting .717 in Little League ball in Orange County, Calif., in the mid-1980s, he began to believe he would overcome the odds and make the major leagues.

But a backup plan was in place, just in case.

“If Shawn doesn’t make the majors,” his mother Judy told The Orange County Register, “he’ll just become a doctor.”

But medical school would have to wait, as Green advanced from prep star to first-round draft choice to big league hero. Now, Green makes his debut on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot.

Born Nov. 12, 1972 in Des Plaines, Ill., Green moved with his family to Tustin, Calif., when he was 13. Playing baseball year-round in Southern California, Green followed the teachings of famed hitting coach Charlie Lau and later Ted Williams to develop a classic left-handed power swing. He was a first-team selection on the 1991 USA TODAY All-USA high school baseball team, then turned down a scholarship to Stanford University after the Blue Jays took him with the 16th pick in the 1991 MLB Draft.

Two years later, the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder was a September call-up for the Jays, who went on to win their second straight World Series that fall. By 1995, Green was Toronto’s regular right fielder – finishing fifth in that year’s American League Rookie of the Year vote after hitting .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBI.

Green remained a work in progress through 1997, consistently hitting in the .280s with decent power. But in 1998, Green erupted for 35 home runs, 100 RBI and 35 stolen bases – the first-ever 30 home run/30 steal season by a Toronto player.

The next year, Green joined the 40 homer/20 steal club – just the 13th player in big league history to reach that level – and also won a Gold Glove Award.

“It’s a thrill to see everyone doing well together and being key contributors on a team that has a chance to do some exciting things,” Green said.

But with free agency looming the following year, Green told the Blue Jays that he was not interested in returning to Toronto after 2000. So before that season, the Jays traded Green and Jorge Nunez to the Dodgers for Raul Mondesi and Pedro Borbon. The Dodgers then quickly signed Green to a six-year, $84 million contract – making Green the highest paid position player in baseball.

Green’s production slipped in 2000 when he hit 24 home runs and drove in 99 runs, but the next year Green recorded career highs in homers (49) and RBI (125) while stealing 20 bases. In 2002, Green belted 42 home runs and drove in 114 runs – highlighted by a May 23 performance when he set a big league record with 19 total bases (four home runs, a double and a single) in a game against the Brewers.

“Trying to get better at something, that’s what makes it all interesting,” Green said.

In Los Angeles, Green became a hero in the Jewish community, immersing himself in his culture. In 2001, he chose not to play on Yom Kippur – the most significant holiday on the Jewish calendar – following in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

“It was a great feeling to know that so many kids were looking up to me just because I was Jewish,” Green said.

Green’s production dropped over the final five years of his career, but he remained durable and dependable. From 2003-06, Green averaged 21 home runs and 77 RBI per season – playing in 156 games per year.

The Dodgers traded Green to the Diamondbacks for four prospects prior to the 2005 season, then Arizona sent Green to the Mets in a stretch-drive trade in 2006. After hitting .291 with 10 homers and 46 RBI for the Mets in 2007, Green retired at the age of 35.

He finished his career with 2,003 hits, 328 home runs, 1,070 RBI, 162 stolen bases, a .283 batting average and two All-Star Game selections.

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