A Tall Tale

Richie Sexson debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 03, 2013
2014 Hall of Fame candidate Richie Sexson. (NBHOF Library)

Standing 6-foot-8, a young and athletic Richie Sexson once considered basketball his sport of choice. Though a talented hoopster, he would eventually come to the conclusion that baseball was where his future lie.

Able to produce jaw-dropping home runs thanks to a stroke enhanced with his long-limbed leverage, Sexson, the longtime first baseman with the powerful right-handed bat, developed into one of the top sluggers from the first decade of the 21st century.

One of the tallest position players the game was ever seen, Sexson, who would end his storied big league career with more than 300 homers and almost 1,000 runs batted in, debuts this fall as one of 36 players on the 2014 Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame 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. 8. 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 2014. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 27 in Cooperstown.

Richmond Lockwood Sexson was born Dec. 29, 1974 in Portland, Oregon. Raised in Brush Prairie, Wash., he graduated from Prairie High School, where he earned All-State honors in football, basketball and baseball, in 1993.

[Scouting reports on Richie Sexson]

Though Sexson was offered a scholarship to play baseball and basketball at the University of Portland, he elected to turn pro when selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 24th round of the 1993 June draft.

After an inauspicious start to his professional career in 1993, hitting only one home run in 97 at-bats with a rookie league team in Burlington, N.C., Sexson was named MVP of the Carolina League in 1995 when he topped the loop in hits (151), total bases (251), doubles (34) and RBI (85). After clubbing 31 home runs for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in 1997, Sexson made his major league debut playing five games for the Indians late in the season.

Sexson became a fan favorite at the big league level in 1998, when, filling in at first base after Jim Thome broke his right hand in August, he hit .310 with 11 homers and 35 RBI. 

“Just to get here and contribute a little bit and help the team is the best feeling,” said Sexson late in the ’98 season. “I think that’s everybody’s dream to play at the top level in the world.”

In 1999, the 24-year-old’s first full big league season with Cleveland, he socked 31 homers and drove in 116 runs. This would be the first of six seasons Sexson would hit 30 or more home runs and drive in at least 100 runs in his career.

With Cleveland looking to shore up its bullpen for a pennant run, on July 28, 2000, Sexson was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers with pitchers Paul Rigdon and Kane Davis and a player-to-be-named (Marco Scutaro) in exchange for pitchers Bob Wickman, Jason Bere and Steve Woodard.

“I’m excited to be here,” said Sexson when he arrived in Milwaukee. “I’m really looking forward to trying to start something here. I’ve never had the luxury of just walking into the clubhouse and not having to check the lineup card.”

“The different he made in our team was immediate – as soon as he put the uniform on,” Milwaukee manager Davey Lopes told Sports Illustrated early in 2001. “He’s a great young talent who hasn’t touched what he’s capable to doing. This deal will go down in history next to those for [Lou] Brock and [Jeff] Bagwell. Taking nothing away from the guys we traded, but Richie is going to have the kind of career that will make people forget whom he was traded for.”

In 2001, Sexson was sixth in the National League in home runs (45) and tied for ninth in RBI (125). He also paired with Jeromy Burnitz to become the first teammates in major league history to each hit three home runs in the same game. Two seasons later, when he finished second in the NL with 45 homers and fourth in RBI with 124, he also became the first player since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1986 to play every inning of every game in a 162-game season.

From 2001 to ‘03, Sexson’s three full seasons playing for the Brewers, he averaged 40 home runs and 117 RBI. But with only one year remaining on his contract, Arizona acquired Sexson along with pitcher Shane Nance and a player-to-be-named (minor league outfielder Noochie Varner) in exchange for pitchers Chris Capuano and Jorge De La Rosa, infielder Craig Counsel, second baseman Junior Spivey, catcher Chad Moeller and first baseman Lyle Overbay on Dec. 1, 2003.

“It’s a tough deal for the fans. It’s a tough deal for the ballclub,” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. “But we feel we have to move on, and we feel we have filled a lot of holes with this trade.”

“I really don’t know what the future holds for me,” Sexson said after the trade was announced. “Obviously, Arizona is sure someplace I would love to stay for a long time.”

Unfortunately, in 2004, his only season with Arizona, an injured shoulder limited Sexson to only 23 games. Signed to a four-year, $50 million free-agent contract by the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 15, 2004, Sexson said, “I am very excited about coming home to play for the Mariners. My preference all along was to sign with Seattle and to return to the Northwest.”

“Our primary goal this offseason was to add offense,” Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said. “Richie was one of the premier free agents available on the market and we were extremely pleased to be able to add him to our club.”

“Anytime you add a hitter with numbers like Richie has produced, it helps to legitimize your lineup,” said Seattle manager Mike Hargrove, who Sexson played under in Cleveland from 1997-99. “Richie is a proven middle-of-the-order hitter and one of the better power and production hitters of the last four years.”

In 2005, Sexson’s first season with Seattle, he homered twice on Opening Day, becoming just the ninth player to homer in his first at-bat as a Mariner. He would go on to hit 39 home runs and drive in 121 that year.

Sexson’s offensive assault continued in ‘06, when he cracked 34 home runs and drove in 107. His homer count included a single-season, franchise-record five grand slams, falling just one shy of tying the major league record.

But declining offensive numbers led to Sexson being cut by the Mariners on July 10, 2008. A week after being released, he signed with the New York Yankees and ended his major league career with a 22-game stint with the team.

“When you first get up here, everybody is in awe, but it wears off,” Sexson said. “It’s really cool to do it for a living, but it’s a competitive business and there’s always a guy right behind you, so you’ve got to keep plugging. That’s the mental side of the game.”

A two-time American League All-Star (2002 and ’03), Sexson finished his 12-year big league career, spent with the Indians, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Yankees, with a .261 batting average, 306 home runs and 943 RBI. 

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
1997 22 CLE 5 11 11 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .273 .273 .273
1998 23 CLE 49 183 174 28 54 14 1 11 35 1 1 6 42 .310 .344 .592
1999 24 CLE 134 525 479 72 122 17 7 31 116 3 3 34 117 .255 .305 .514
2000 25 TOT 148 607 537 89 146 30 1 30 91 2 0 59 159 .272 .349 .499
2000 25 CLE 91 356 324 45 83 16 1 16 44 1 0 25 96 .256 .315 .460
2000 25 MIL 57 251 213 44 63 14 0 14 47 1 0 34 63 .296 .398 .559
2001 26 MIL 158 667 598 94 162 24 3 45 125 2 4 60 178 .271 .342 .547
2002 27 MIL 157 652 570 86 159 37 2 29 102 0 0 70 136 .279 .363 .504
2003 28 MIL 162 718 606 97 165 28 2 45 124 2 3 98 151 .272 .379 .548
2004 29 ARI 23 104 90 20 21 4 0 9 23 0 0 14 21 .233 .337 .578
2005 30 SEA 156 656 558 99 147 36 1 39 121 1 1 89 167 .263 .369 .541
2006 31 SEA 158 663 591 75 156 40 0 34 107 1 1 64 154 .264 .338 .504
2007 32 SEA 121 491 434 58 89 21 0 21 63 1 0 51 100 .205 .295 .399
2008 33 TOT 96 327 280 29 62 9 0 12 36 1 0 43 86 .221 .321 .382
2008 33 SEA 74 292 252 27 55 8 0 11 30 1 0 37 76 .218 .315 .381
2008 33 NYY 22 35 28 2 7 1 0 1 6 0 0 6 10 .250 .371 .393
12 Yrs 1367 5604 4928 748 1286 260 17 306 943 14 13 588 1313 .261 .344 .507

 

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum