Juan Gonzalez is a two time AL MVP. Stop and think about that and the company he is in. The Baseball Writer’s Association of America began to vote for the American League and National League Most Valuable Player in 1931.
The following players have multiple MVPs since then:
Ernie Banks (2)
Johnny Bench (2)
Yogi Berra (3)
Barry Bonds (7)
Miguel Cabrera (2)
Roy Campanella (3)
Mickey Cochrane (2)
Joe DiMaggio (3)
Jimmie Foxx (3)
Lou Gehrig (2)
Hank Greenberg (2)
Carl Hubbell (2)
Mickey Mantle (3)
Roger Maris (2)
Willie Mays (2)
Joe Morgan (2)
Dale Murphy (2)
Stan Musial (3)
Hal Newhouser (2)
Albert Pujols (3)
Cal Ripken (2)
Frank Robinson (2)
Alex Rodriguez (3)
Mike Schmidt (3)
Frank Thomas (2)
Mike Trout (2)
Ted Williams (2)
Robin Yount (2)
And oh yeah, Juan Gonzalez (2).
Look at the names in that list. They are all either Hall of Famers or their involvement with PEDs will at best delay their entry to the Hall of Fame or Mike Trout who will BE a Hall of Famer provided he stays healthy. I believe eventually Bonds and A-Rod will be in, as will Pujols and probably Trout. Dale Murphy fell short of Cooperstown despite a brilliant peak.
Then there is Juan Gonzalez.
Think about some of the names NOT on that list.
Hank Aaron won it just once. Ken Griffey Jr. only had one. So did George Brett. So did Roberto Clemente. So did Rickey Henderson. Jackie Robinson only took it home once. Wade Boggs never had one. Neither did Derek Jeter. Neither did Roberto Alomar. Neither did Al Kaline. Neither did Dave Winfield.
Babe Ruth isn’t either but remember, this is starting in 1931.
Gonzalez gate crashed a list of the elite players of all time. Has there ever been a two time MVP who has made a smaller impact on the game than Juan Gonzalez?
I think I just demonstrated that the answer is NO.
On the surface, Gonzalez is a huge success story. He grew up in an dangerous part of Puerto Rico and avoided the crime associated with his neighborhood. His dad was a teacher and he and his mom made sure their kids stayed on the straight and narrow. He used a lot of his money to build baseball diamonds in his home town and develop new Gonzalez’s. “Igor” was a great role model, or at least that is what it looked like.
In the late 1980’s, the Texas Rangers were developing many new hitters to fill their developing team. They had to make a choice between Gonzalez and another player they were developing, Sammy Sosa.
The went with Gonzalez and included Sosa in the deal for Harold Baines. The 19 year old Gonzalez made his debut with the Rangers in 1989. After cameos with the team in 1989 and 1990 while tearing up Triple A, Gonzalez was up for good in 1991. He was 21 years old and clobbered 27 homers, drove in 102 and had an OPS of .800. He was teammates with fellow Puerto Rican Ruben Sierra and helped make the Rangers lineup one of the most feared in the game.
He was ready.
In 1992, he led the AL with 43 homers and at the end of the year was teammates with Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro.
1993, the 23 year old Gonzalez had become one of the brightest stars in the game. He was an All Star, leading the league with 46 homers and a slugging percentage of .632. His batting average soared to .310 and his OPS was 1.000 as he finished fourth in the MVP vote.
The Rangers were a rising team, moving into a new ballpark. Gonzalez continued his steady play and in 1996, everything came together. He batted .314, his OPS was 1.011, he hit 47 homers and drove in 144 runs. He led the league in non of those categories but was among the league leaders across the board. After the season, he was named the AL MVP.
Most importantly, the Rangers made the post season for the first time in their history. They were facing a Yankees team that had not won a post season series in 15 years and were still smarting from the 1995 loss to Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr. and the Seattle Mariners.
The one man wrecking crew they would face in 1996 was Gonzalez. In Game 1 of the Division Series, he crushed a 3 run go ahead homer off of David Cone to give the Rangers the lead for good as they took the opener.
Not to be outdone, he hit a solo shot and then a 3 run shot off of Andy Pettitte in Game 2 to give the Rangers the lead.
In Game 3, he tied the game with a homer in the 4th before the Rangers took the lead in the 5th and in Game 4, he greeted reliever Brian Boehringer with a massive homer in the 3rd inning to help Texas pull away early.
In all the 26 year old batted .438 in the 4 game series, slugging a staggering 1.375 while posting a supernatural OPS of 1.901. Gonzalez also matched Reggie Jackson’s single series record with 5 homers. Reggie did it 6 games. Gonzalez only needed 4. He shone brightest on the biggest stage against the biggest market team.
There was only one problem with his performance: The Rangers bullpen. Despite having late leads in games 2, 3 and 4, the Rangers lost all three games and it was the Yankees who advanced, not the Rangers.
1997 saw another solid Gonzalez season. A .924 OPS, 42 homers, 131 RBI but the Rangers fell to the Mariners in the AL West.
Then came 1998. It was the summer of Sosa and McGwire in the National League. Meanwhile in the American League, the Yankees dominated with a 114 win season.
Gonzalez, however, was cruising in the AL MVP race. He amassed 100 RBI before the All Star break. Back then, people really cared about RBI. He led the AL with 157 RBI and 50 doubles while cracking 45 homers and seeing his OPS rise to .997. Once again the Rangers won the AL West and Gonzalez took home his second MVP plaque.
At this point the 28 year old looked like he was a surefire Hall of Famer. He already 301 homers and didn’t look like he was slowing down anytime soon. And while the Rangers were clubbed by the superior Yankees in the playoffs, Gonzalez was now among the elite of the elite.
After the 1999 AL West title was won by the Rangers, Gonzalez looked like he was going to be too expensive for Texas. He was traded in a multiplayer deal to the Detroit Tigers, hoping he would sign an extension. Detroit offered an 8 year $140 million contract. Gonzalez, seeing that he was now in a pitcher friendly ballpark, turned it down.
All of his numbers were down and his free agent value plummeted. He decided to sign a one year deal with the Indians and build his value back up.
He had a rebound season, finishing in the top 5 in the MVP vote as he filled the power void left by the departing Manny Ramirez. He batted .325, had an OPS of .960, clubbed 35 homers and drove in 140.
Gonzalez got a 2 year deal out of that season, returning to the Rangers for 2002. But injuries and declining stats had begun. He never played in more than 85 games again and by 2004, he played in just 33 games for the Royals.
A comeback attempt with the 2005 Indians last one single game. By 2006, he was playing for the independent Long Island Ducks, hoping to catch on for another comeback. He never did. If he had signed with the Tigers, he would have had 2 more years on his deal while he was toiling for the Ducks.
He never played professional ball again.
His former Rangers teammate Jose Canseco mentioned Gonzalez in his book “Juiced” and said he used performance enhancing drugs. Exactly which of Canseco’s allegations turned out to be untrue?
A bag belonging to his trainer was confiscated in Toronto after they found PEDs in it. Gonzalez denied using them and fired the trainer.
Is that why his career, which had an astonishingly effective peak, has faded from our collective memory? He played 15 plus seasons and was an elite slugger in 8 of those years. He had a historic Division Series.
His peak on the Hall of Fame ballot was 5.2% in 2011 before falling off in 2012.
Did we forget him because he is lumped in with the PED era? Is he forgotten because he played in Texas and not a big baseball hot bed? Is he now obscure because his greatest season was overshadowed by McGwire and Sosa? Was his amazing post season performance now an obscure footnote because the Rangers never advanced?
It probably was a combination of all of those factors. But his peak was pretty terrific and worth at the very least a salute here.
Just remember, if someone offers you an 8 year deal worth over $100 million, TAKE IT!
Now let’s enjoy some of his heroics in the 1996 post season.