#CardCorner: 1994 Donruss Carlos Baerga
“Carlos loves playing the game and the competition,” Indians manager Mike Hargrove told the Akron Beacon Journal. “You have to look at (him) as having Hall of Fame talent.”
Baerga’s career began to decline when a shocking trade during the 1996 season sent him to the Mets. But for a time, Baerga put together a stat line that few second basemen have ever approached.
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 a trade for Joe Carter.
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.
He became the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby in 1929 to have at least a .300 batting average, 20 home runs, 200 hits and 100 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.”
The Indians made Baerga a centerpiece of their future by signing him to a six-year extension worth $21.4 million on April 6, 1993. That season, Baerga virtually duplicated his 1992 campaign with a .321 average, 21 homers, 200 hits and 115 RBI. That made him the first second baseman since Hornsby in 1921-22 to have two straight seasons of at least 200 hits, 20 home runs, 100 RBI and a .300 average.
No other second basemen have ever had two similar seasons in a row.
“Everything came easy to me in those two years,” Baerga said.
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. He is one of only 10 second basemen ever with at least a .290 batting average 1,500 hits, 130 home runs and 700 RBI.
“I just want to keep getting better every year,” Baerga told the Akron Beacon Journal early in his career. “Keep improving.”
For a player who set standards that still have yet to be surpassed, it was a pretty impressive goal.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum