Second to none

Carlos Baerga makes first appearance on BBWAA ballot

December 10, 2010
Carlos Baerga played 14 big league seasons, including three with the Mets. (Pilling/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

View a photo gallery of the 2011 BBWAA ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Carlos Baerga began his career as one of the best hitting second basemen ever to play the game.

By the time he finished, Baerga was one of the game's top utility players – and the owner of a stat line which would make any middle infielder proud.

Baerga, who played 14 big league seasons with the Indians, Mets, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Padres and Nationals, 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. Baerga 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 Nov. 4, 1968, in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Baerga was signed as an amateur free agent by the Padres on his 17th birthday. Four years later, San Diego sent Baerga to the Indians – along with Sandy Alomar Jr. and Chris James – in the Joe Carter trade.

It marked the start of the rebirth of the Cleveland franchise – and a stretch of incredible years for Baerga. After becoming a regular midway through the 1990 season, the switch-hitting Baerga spent most of 1991 as a third baseman and posted 171 hits, 11 homers and 69 RBI. The next year, Baerga returned to his original position of second base and hit .312 with 205 hits, 20 homers and 105 RBI.

"(Baerga) consistently takes the fat part of the bat and puts it on the ball better than almost anyone I've seen," said then-Indians hitting coach Charlie Manuel. "To me, he's the most natural hitter on the team."

Then in 1993, Baerga virtually duplicated his 1992 season with a .321 average, 21 homers, 200 hits and 115 RBI. That made him the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby in 1922 to have two straight seasons of at least 200 hits, 20 home runs, 100 RBI and a .300 average.

"Everything came easy to me in those two years," Baerga said.

It would not always be so. Baerga hit .314 in both 1994 and 1995 – with his final RBI and home run totals lower because labor strife shortened both seasons. He helped the Indians reach their first World Series in 41 years in 1995, and was named to his third All-Star team that year.

But in 1996, the Indians traded Baerga to the Mets midway through the year – receiving Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino in return. The player who had been the face of the rebuilt Indians suddenly was in New York.

"I thought they'd never trade me," Baerga said.

The Mets received a 27-year-old three-time All-Star. But Baerga struggled over the next two-and-a-half years, hitting just 18 home runs and driving in 116 runs in 306 games. The Mets made no attempt to retain Baerga when he left via free agency after the 1998 season.

Baerga struggled with the Padres and in another stint with the Indians in 1999, then "retired" from the game in 2000 due to injuries. But after a stint with the independent Long Island Ducks and the Korean Baseball Organization's Samsung Lions in 2001, Baerga returned to the majors with the Red Sox in 2002 – hitting .286 with 52 hits in 73 games.

In 2003 he was even better, hitting .343 in 105 games as a utility player for the Diamondbacks. He spent 2004 with Arizona as well before finishing up with the Nationals in 2005.

His final totals: 1,583 hits, 279 doubles, 134 home runs and a .291 batting average in 14 big league seasons.

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