Intensely Good

Hard-working Jeff Cirillo debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 11, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Jeff Cirillo (NBHOF Library)

Jeff Cirillo was always his own toughest critic.

But in the end, a .296 career batting average in 14 big league seasons doesn’t leave a lot to complain about.

Cirillo 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. Cirillo 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 Sept. 23, 1969, in Pasadena, Calif., Cirillo was taken in the 37th round of the 1987 MLB Draft by the Cubs, but opted to attend the University of Southern California and play baseball for the Trojans. Then in 1991, Cirillo was drafted again – this time by the Brewers in the 11th round.

Cirillo advanced quickly through Milwaukee’s minor league system, hitting .299 or better in three full seasons before debuting with the Brewers in 1994. By 1995, Cirillo was Milwaukee’s everyday third baseman.

In 1996, Cirillo established himself as one of the top hitters in the game, posting a .325 batting average with 15 homers and 83 RBI in 158 games. The following year, Cirillo was named to the American League All-Star team, finishing the year with 10 homers, 82 RBI, 46 doubles and a .288 average.

But for Cirillo, it wasn’t good enough.

“I’ve always wanted to improve every year on everything, and ’96 was a year when everything came together for me,” Cirillo said. “(In 1997) I wanted to top everything I did the year before. And when I wasn’t reaching those levels, then I thought I was taking a step backwards. So I’d work harder, I’d think harder, until I became more and more critical and I was doing myself more harm than good.”

Eventually, Cirillo taught himself to relax – and in 1998 he raised his batting average back to .321. He hit .326 in 1999, then was traded to the Rockies prior to the 2000 season in a three-team deal with the A’s. In Colorado, Cirillo posted another .326 season, this time with career-highs in doubles (53), runs scored (111) and RBI (115) – earning his second All-Star Game berth.

“I was put in the spotlight and I wasn’t that comfortable,” Cirillo said. “I’ve always been a blue-plate special.”

Though Cirillo never won a Gold Glove Award, he was thought of as one of the top fielding third basemen in the game for most of his career. Among third basemen, he led his league in putouts twice (1997 and 1999), assists three times (1997-98, 2000) and fielding percentage once (2002).

Following the 2001 season – when he hit .313 to go with 17 homers and 83 RBI, Cirillo was traded to the Mariners for three prospects. But Cirillo slumped to a full-season low of .249 at the plate that year.

After an injury-plagued 2003 season in Seattle, Cirillo spent the final four seasons of his big league career with the Padres, Twins and Diamondbacks – as well as another stint with Milwaukee. He retired following the 2007 season with a .296 career batting average, including 1,598 hits, 343 doubles, 112 home runs and 727 RBI.

“Jeff never gives away any at-bats,” said Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd. “And that breeds a certain type of hitting on the club in general.”

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