Sunday, July 14, 2013

Unknown Heroes Pt. 32: Mike Stanley

Mike Stanley is one of those rare players who came to Boston directly from the Yankees as a free agent.  Even rarer, he actually played well, possibly even better than he had with the Yankees.  That is the biggest reason that I am such a fan of Mike Stanley.  Stanley had a huge 1993 season with the Yankees, winning the Silver Slugger Award at catcher and made the All Star team in 1995.  He joined the Red Sox as a free agent for the 1996 season.

Stanley took over for Mike Macfarlane at catcher and provided a lot of pop for the position.  He was third on the team with 24 home runs and fifth on the team with 69 RBIs.  He had a very good season in 1996, comparable to his big 1993 season.  He finished the year with a .270/.383/.506/.889 line, pretty big numbers for a catcher.  Unfortunately he was not a terrific defensive catcher, only throwing out 17% of base-stealers and leading the league in errors and passed balls.  It did not help that he was catching a knuckleballer every five days.  Still, it was becoming clear that he was much better with the bat than behind the plate.

In 1997, Stanley became the right-handed half of the designated hitter platoon with Reggie Jefferson and also picked up at first base when Mo Vaughn went on the disabled list.  He did make the occasional game at catcher as well.  His batting average was up, but his power numbers were down.  He was hitting .300/.394/.515/.910 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs when he was traded.  The Red Sox were not going anywhere and Stanley was a free agent at the end of the season, so he was expendable.  Reggie Jefferson was having a very good season anyway and Mo Vaughn was back from his injury.  Boston traded Stanley back to the Yankees for Tony Armas Jr. and Jim Mecir.  Neither player would ever play a game for the Major League team.  Mecir was left unprotected in the expansion draft and was selected by the Devil Rays.  Armas was one of two players Boston sent to the Expos for Pedro Martinez.

The Mike Stanley story was not over in Boston though.  After helping the Yankees down the stretch, he signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent in 1998.  At the trading deadline, he was traded back to the Red Sox for Pete Munro and Jay Yennaco, neither of whom made it to the Majors with Toronto.  Stanley was back as a first-baseman/designated hitter.  Stanley helped the Red Sox make the playoffs by hitting .288/.388/.500/.888 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs.  He had four singles in 15 at-bats in the ALDS.

In 1999, Stanley was almost a full-time first-baseman, also playing at designated hitter and splitting time at the positions with rookie Brian Daubach.  He had his last good season that year, hitting .281/.393/.466/.859 with 19 home runs and 72 RBIs.  He performed well in the playoffs, hitting .500 in the ALDS against the Indians.  The following season, his overall numbers were way down, though he did have 10 home runs.  It was apparent he was not going to be productive much longer and he was released by the Red Sox, only to hook on with the Athletics.

Mike Stanley was exactly the kind of high-OBP player that would have been revered had his career lasted just a little bit longer.  His career OBP was .370, very high, particularly for a player who spent most of his career as a catcher.  He was always a good hitter, but he would have been held in higher regard had he played at a time when getting on base was much more revered.

As for my personal collection regarding Mike Stanley, he is notable for being the first player I ever got a 1/1 for, my 1999 Flair Showcase Masterpiece card.

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