Driving home a point

Two-time MVP Gonzalez debuts on BBWAA ballot

December 16, 2010
Juan Gonzalez is one of 33 players on the 2011 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. (Mangin/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

View a photo gallery of the 2011 BBWAA ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – In an era where huge run totals were the norm, Juan Gonzalez was the RBI king.

Now, those RBI totals – and Gonzalez's all-around play for 17 big league seasons – have brought him to Cooperstown's door.

Gonzalez, who played for 17 major league seasons with the Rangers, Tigers, Indians and Royals, is one of 33 players on the 2011 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the Class of 2011 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Gonzalez is making his debut on the BBWAA 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. 5. 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 2011. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 24 in Cooperstown.

Born Oct. 20, 1969, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Gonzalez signed with the Rangers as an undrafted free agent in 1986 and became a regular in Texas' outfield in 1991 at the age of 21. He quickly established himself as one of the American League's premier power hitters, hitting 27 home runs and driving in 102 runs in '91 – then pacing the AL in home runs in each of the next two years (43 in 1992 and 46 in 1993). At the same time, Gonzalez topped the 100-RBI mark in each of his first three seasons.

"Juan Gone" drove in 85 runs in 107 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season, then added another 82 RBI in 1995 while playing in just 90 games due to injuries.

"The key for me is staying healthy," said Gonzalez, who battled injuries his entire career and played in 150-or-more games in just two seasons. "When I'm healthy, I'm putting (up) the best numbers I can."

From 1996-99, Gonzalez was largely healthy – and incredibly productive. In that four-year span, Gonzalez averaged 43 home runs and 140 RBI a year, taking home the AL Most Valuable Player awards in both 1996 and 1998. He became the first Latin America native to win two MVPs.

In the 1996 American League Division Series against the Yankees, Gonzalez hit five homers and drove in nine runs in four games. He is one of only four players in history with five home runs in one postseason series.

In 1998, Gonzalez made a run at Hack Wilson's single-season record of 191 RBI when he checked in with 101 RBI at the All-Star break. Only Hank Greenberg (103 RBI in 1935) had ever had more RBI before the All-Star Game.

Nagging injuries derailed Gonzalez's shot at Wilson's record, but he still finished with 157 RBI – the most in the AL since 1949.

The Rangers traded Gonzalez to the Tigers after the 1999 season, but Gonzalez struggled in Detroit's spacious Comerica Park and totaled just 22 homers and 67 RBI in 115 games. He left for Cleveland after the 2000 season, turning down millions from the Tigers in favor of a one-year, $10 million deal with the Indians.

In 2001, Gonzalez put together his last great season, hitting 35 home runs and driving in 140 runs en route to his sixth Silver Slugger Award.

"Juan's always got a smile," said then-Indians manager Charlie Manuel. "He just loves to play baseball."

Gonzalez returned to the Rangers from the 2002 and 2003 seasons, but injuries limited him to just 152 games over those two years. He wrapped up his career with stints with the Royals in 2004 and the Indians in 2005 that were cut short due to injuries.

Gonzalez retired with 434 home runs and 1,404 RBI, giving him a 162-game average of 42 home runs and 135 RBI. He was named to three All-Star teams, ranks 15th all-time with an average of 15.1 at-bats per home run and is the career leader for home runs by a Puerto Rican-born player.

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