As noted by the Cincinnati Enquirer, today is legendary barely-remembered-as-Reds-slugger Kevin Mitchell's 53rd birthday.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Happy 53rd birthday to former <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Reds?src=hash">#Reds</a> outfielder Kevin Mitchell <a href="http://t.co/NjF3mkiMd6">pic.twitter.com/NjF3mkiMd6</a></p>— Enquirer Sports (@ENQSports) <a href="https://twitter.com/ENQSports/status/555039772771876864">January 13, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Mitchell was the offensive battleship in the middle of the 1993 and 1994 Reds lineups after originally being acquired from the Seattle Mariners for Nasty Boy Norm Charlton just after the end of the 1992 season, and he returned to Cincinnati just prior to the 1996 trade deadline when Boston shipped him back in exchange for Brad Tweedlie and Roberto Mejia. He was certainly no no-name when he made his way to Riverfront, as he'd won a World Series as a rookie with the New York Mets in 1986, possibly killed his girlfriend's cat, and won the 1989 NL MVP while leading the San Francisco Giants to the NL Pennant and the earthquakey World Series against their Bay Area rival Oakland Athletics. The guy had quite the penchant for off-the-field issues, to say the least, and that's likely the driving reason behind why some of his on-the-field prowess sits forgotten. As SI's Tom Verducci said in 1997, "he is the Wile E. Coyote of baseball."
From the perspective of Reds fans, though, he likely gets overshadowed because he never had the chance to play a full season with the team. As Verducci noted, he missed time during his first Reds stint with a broken bone in his foot, back, shoulder, and hamstring issues, illnesses, and rib strains, and in 1996, he famously missed time after not showing up much at all. More than anything, though, was the 1994 MLB player's strike ending what had all the makings of a blissful season for the Reds, cutting short both Mitchell's time in Cincinnati and a season that had the chance to cement his name in Cincinnati history.
He hit .341/.385/.601 in '93, good enough for a 160 OPS+ and the type of free-swinging, RBI-punching, walk-avoiding mantra that should have Paul Daugherty and Marty Brennaman cracking Votto jokes in his name to this day. And that was his single worst season as a Red, from a rate point of view.
His '94 season saw him post career highs in OBP, SLG, and OPS, and he stayed healthy (healthy for him, at least) by playing in 95 of the team's 114 games before the strike shut the season down for good. With 48 scheduled games left to be played at the time, Mitchell was hitting .326/.429/.681 with a 185 OPS+, 30 dingers, and 77 RBI, all marks good enough to see him finish 9th in the eventual MVP voting that trailed the season's abrupt end. His 1.110 OPS bested that of both Ken Griffey, Jr. and Barry Bonds, finishing 4th best in all of baseball behind Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, and Hall of Best Players Angry Old-Timers Would Never, Ever Consider Voting For Despite How Amazing They Were-er Albert Belle.
To conclude his Reds career, in just 37 games played after the '96 trade from Boston, Mitchell hit .325/.447/.579 - good enough for a 169 OPS+ - walked 26 times against just 16 strikeouts, and finished the season suspended after failing to report back to the team after a nasty bout of illness two weeks from the end of the season.
All told, he hit a blistering .332/.414/.631 in 225 career games as a Red, with his career Reds OPS of 1.045 ranking as the single highest in team history among players who had at least 870 PA with the franchise. He was undoubtedly an odd bird, one who spent time with 8 different MLB teams (and one in Japan) during his 15 year stint as a major leaguer, as well as one who struggled to keep himself out of trouble and to keep from eating himself out of the league. His friends and teammates called him 'Folsom' due to the high number of California friends he had incarcerated there, and his feline exploits could lead one to anoint him 'Curiosity,' but as strictly a baseball player he'll be remembered both as a Red and a Giant as a guy who could absolutely destroy a baseball with his thunderous bat.
Indeed, he was batman.
In other Reds news, FanGraphs' David Laurila had a few things to say about the Reds in his latest Sunday notes column, none of which will make you feel warm or fuzzy inside. He openly call's Joey Votto's contract "an albatross," calls Marlon Byrd "over-the-hill" while conspicuously not actually naming him, and refers to the off-season plan thus far as mere "wheel-spinning." I would love to openly disagree with him, but I find that rather hard to do. If there's one qualm I can make, it's pinning the current state of the Reds entirely on this single off-season, though, since it's the moves (and non-moves, really) of the last few winters that left the Reds with their backs against both payroll walls and dwindling contract walls, and their hand has been forced quite a bit. Either way, it sure hasn't inspired much optimism from my brain, and that's the first time I've felt that way since this time in 2009. Is that emblematic of a "window" closing? I don't know, and while I hope it is not, it sure does feel that way.
The ball flies over the net towards the line, but a Zack Cozart diving dig pops it up and in play just enough to keep things alive. Alert, as usual, Sam LeCure races to the net for the perfect set, deftly lining up the eventual spike with a well-perfected flick of his wrists. Then, racing in from the back line comes Aroldis Chapman, bounding like a gazelle and lining up the ball with impeccable footwork and his cannon of a left arm cocked and ready. He leaps, winds, and unleashes a 105 mph spike that puts a Yucatan-sized meteor crater in the sand that delicately paints the back line.
"Aroldis Chapman - Pro Volleyball Player" just sounds devastating. He's built like he could be one, and his track record of scaring the living hell out of his opponents when a ball is in his hand speaks for itself, but it may not be such a far-fetched idea as it sounds. Apparently, he's a big fan of the game, and as a result, he recently made a rather generous donation to the Mount St. Joseph's Men's Volleyball team to help them renovate their locker room. While it's a clear sign that Chapman has some very philanthropic bones in his body, it's also a sign that he's been around long enough to start making big, big money, so while this story in isolation is one each and every Reds fan should be proud of, it's also one that we unfortunately may not see happen in the Cincinnati area for much longer. Or, perhaps he's just a huge Top Gun fan. Regardless, enjoy him while you can, folks.
Finally, Mark Sheldon has notes on the state of the Reds' shortstop position over at Reds.com, openly wondering whether Cozart will be able to hit enough in 2015 to hold on to his full-time job. The acquisition of Eugenio Suarez in the Alfredo Simon trade will serve as a pressure-putter on Cozart, which is something he's yet to really have in his stint as the Reds go-to SS. Cozart was awful at the plate in 2014, but he was also banged up and had a rather awful BABIP, and while I don't expect him to be a juggernaut or anything, I do expect a decent bounce from him in the upcoming season. He gets pricey after that, however, and having Suarez in the fold as the potential next in line is the exact kind of move I'd hope Walt Jocketty would make in waves.