Thursday, November 4, 2010

Feature: Replacement Players

Without a doubt, one of the darkest times in baseball history was the 1994 players' strike. I was only 13 years old at the time, and I was devastated. A lot of fans never came back. Many did, but it took some time. If I was a more cynical child at the time, who knows what I would have done.

In 1995, owners brought on several replacement players, career minor leaguers, washed-up veterans, players who were young but not thought of enough to consider a major league future. After the strike was over, most of these players went back to their respective jobs or were never heard from again. Then, there were several who defied the odds and made the Major Leagues. Their success was made difficult by the stigma of being scabs and strike-breakers. To this date, these players are not entitled to the benefits of being on the Major League Baseball Players' Association. Therefore, they do not share in the marketing opportunities other players do, are not entitled to royalties, and are not entitled to the pensions that other players are. I think it's about time to change this unfair categorization, but to date, nothing has been done.

The Red Sox have had several players over the years that were replacement players, some who were very successful, others who were only around briefly. Let's take a look at them:

RON MAHAY: Mahay was the first player I was aware of that was a replacement player. He may have also been one of the first former replacement players to make the Major Leagues. I cannot imagine what taunts he may have been subject to. Anyway, Mahay started out as a speedy outfielder, but then decided to try his hand at pitching. He was an outfielder in 1995 with Boston but was sent back to the minors and came back as a left-handed reliever in 1997 where he was moderately successful for two years in Boston, with an overall ERA of 3.00 in 51 total innings of work, one save, and four wins. Mahay then bounced around, a lot. He eventually pitched for eight teams over the course of a 14 year career. He was definitely one of the longer lasting replacement players in the Majors.

LOU MERLONI: Merloni was a fan favorite in Boston, mostly due to the fact that he was from nearby Framingham. Merloni first came up in 1998, as I previously mentioned since I witnessed his major league debut. He was never really much of a hitter, but his versatility kept him on the team. He was able to play every infield position as well as the outfield. He was closest to being a regular at third base in 2000 when John Valentin was hurt and Wilton Veras was ineffective. Merloni was placed on waivers and picked up by San Diego and then re-acquired by Boston in a trade in 2003. After the season, he played a couple more years with Cleveland and Los Angeles, never quite playing regularly.

BRIAN DAUBACH: Daubach was the first really good replacement player I remember. Daubach had very good power and a decent eye at the plate, able to take a walk. He mostly had mid-range batting averages, but he made up for it with his slugging and on-base percentages. In 1999, he finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year vote mostly due to his incredible hot streak in August. Daubach topped 20 home runs and 70 RBIs in four straight seasons beginning in 1999. He did strike out a lot, but that tends to come with big power. The big burly first baseman was also reasonably good in the field. He also played with the White Sox, Marlins, and Mets for one year each, but spent most of his career with the Red Sox.

BENNY AGBAYANI: I do not have as much to say about Agbayani. He was only with the Red Sox for 13 games at the end of the 2002 season. He was a fan favorite while playing for the Mets and is still revered due to his Hawaiian heritage. Agbayani produced a decent batting average and a high on-base percentage, but he had no power, only hitting one extra base hit. He was out of the Majors the next year.

KEVIN MILLAR: Kevin Millar was one of the most fun players to watch on the 2004 Red Sox team. Always joking around and having a good time, Millar brought a lot of personality. He was also a pretty good player, particularly in 2003 and 2004. Millar was selected off waivers from the Florida Marlins prior to the 2003 season when he was in the process of being sold to the Chunichi Dragons. GM Theo Epstein coveted his ability to get on base and disobeyed unwritten rules in picking him up. Millar responded by cracking 25 home runs with 96 RBIs in his first season. His power dropped the next year, but his batting average and on-base percentage both increased in 2004. He was also a catalyst in the ALCS comeback against the Yankees by drawing a crucial walk against Mariano Rivera and was replaced at first by Dave Roberts. Millar slumped in 2005 and was not brought back as a free agent. He played for Baltimore and Toronto before giving it up in 2010.

BRENDAN DONNELLY: Donnelly was acquired from the Angels prior to the 2007 season for minor leaguer Phil Seibel. I thought that it was a pretty decent trade, and Donnelly was pretty good in the beginning of the season prior to being lost to injury. He had a 3.05 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP before going down. Good, but not great numbers. As it was, he did not contribute much to the World Championship. He was allowed to leave as a free agent after the season and has bounced around a little since then. His name was revealed on the Mitchell Report as having purchased performance enhancing drugs.

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