John Olerud debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – John Olerud's pro baseball career started at the top.
From there, Olerud ascended even greater heights – and today he stands on the edge of Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.
Olerud, who jumped directly from the campus of Washington State to the majors en route to 17 big league seasons, 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. Olerud 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 Aug. 5, 1968, Olerud starred for the Cougars as a pitcher and a first baseman before being drafted by the Blue Jays in the third round in 1989.
In college, Olerud suffered a brain aneurysm – an injury that compelled him to wear a batting helmet even while playing in the field. But his career at Washington State was so outstanding that the John Olerud Two-Way Player Award was created by the College Baseball Foundation in 2010.
Olerud needed no time in the minors, debuting with Toronto that summer and taking over the job as the Jays' starting first baseman in 1990 en route to a fourth-place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year race.
After hitting .284 with 16 homers and 66 RBI for the Blue Jays' first World Series winner in 1992, Olerud put together a monster 1993 season – hitting an AL-best .363 with 24 homers, 107 RBI and leading the league with a .473 on-base percentage and 54 doubles. Toronto again captured the World Series crown.
"In terms of achievement, 1993 World have to be the highlight of my career," Olerud said. "I was hitting about .450 after three weeks, and I was still around .400 in August."
Olerud's numbers moderated over the next four seasons, with his batting average usually hovering in the .290 range. Toronto traded him to the Mets following the 1996 season, and in 1998 Olerud again exploded onto to baseball consciousness with a .354 average, including 22 homers and 93 RBI.
"More the norm for me is to hit somewhere in the .290s," Olerud said. "It's not like I'm upset when I don't hit .300, but that's always what I shoot for."
Olerud left for Seattle as a free agent after the 1999 season, and continued his consistent play with the Mariners. He won his first Gold Glove Award in 2000, was named to the American League All-Star team in 2001 after hitting 21 homers and driving in 95 runs for the 116-win Mariners and won Gold Glove Awards in 2002 and 2003 before being released by Seattle midway through the 2004 season.
Olerud played down the stretch with the Yankees in 2004, then closed out his career in Boston in 2005 – after spending time his first stint in the minors early in that season.
His final numbers in 17 years with the Blue Jays, Mets, Mariners, Yankees and Red Sox: a .295 career average, with 2,239 hits, 500 doubles, 255 home runs and 90-plus RBI in seven seasons.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum