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Juan Alberto Gonzalez Vazquez
  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 3", Weight 210-230 lb.
  • High School Vega Baja High School
  • Debut September 1, 1989
  • Final Game May 31, 2005
  • Born October 20, 1969 in Arecibo, P.R. (Not Oct 16th as commonly reported)
  • Knicknames Igor, Gonzo, Juan Gone
Biography

The Texas Rangers signed Juan Gonzalez as a free agent in Puerto Rico at the age of 16 (their Caribbean scouting was exceptionally good; they had signed Sammy Sosa the year before and would sign Ivan Rodriguez two years later). With a massive upper body and slender hips and legs, Gonzalez was almost a cartoon caricature of a slugger, and was nicknamed "Igor" in honor of his grotesque strength.

Gonzalez batted cleanup behind future Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams on his youth league team in Puerto Rico, where both competed against Gonzalez' future teammate Ivan Rodriguez.

1986-1990: Minor leagues

In May of 1986 a sixteen year-old Gonzalez signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent. Gonzalez debuted with the 1986 GCL Rangers and hit a mere .240/~.303/.266 in 60 games. He only had 5 extra-base hits (none of them homers) in 233 AB and struck out 57 times. He tied Harvey Pulliam by grounding into a Gulf Coast League-leading 9 double plays.

In 1987, Juan showed some promise with the Gastonia Rangers, though Mark Whiten and Junior Felix clearly were deemed better outfield prospects in the South Atlantic League. In ratings by Baseball America, Gonzalez tied Ryan Bowen for 10th place on the prospect listing. He hit .265/~.306/.401 with 14 HR and 74 RBI.

Gonzalez spent 1988 with the Charlotte Rangers and batted .256/~.327/.415 with 8 HR in 277 AB; one of his outfield mates that year was Sosa. The next year, he showed some more pop with the Tulsa Drillers. He hit .293/~.322/.506 with 21 homers and led the Texas League with 254 total bases. He outhomered Sosa by 14 and was third in the TL in homers, behind teammate Dean Palmer (25) and Chris Cron (22). Gonzalez was rated the league's #4 prospect by Baseball America, behind Ray Lankford, Andy Benes and Jose Offerman. Lankford and Warren Newson joined him in the TL All-Star outfield. The 19-year-old was a September call-up but only hit .150/.227/.250 for the 1988 Rangers.

In the 1989-1990 winter ball season, Juan hit .269/~.345/.500 for the Criollos de Caguas and hit 9 home runs, one less than Puerto Rican Winter League leader Greg Vaughn.

Gonzalez then put on a power display for the 1990 Oklahoma City 89ers. The youngster led the American Association in home runs (29), RBI (101) and total bases (252). He made the AA All-Star outfield alongside Lankford and Bernard Gilkey and was named the league MVP. Baseball America named him the top prospect in the league in a poll of managers. He hit .258/~.343/.508 for the 89ers. In the AAA All-Star Game, Gonzalez hit 4th for the AL prospects and played DH. He went 2 for 5 with a double, one of the game's two homers (a shot called "colossal" by Baseball America), two runs and two RBI in the AL's 8-5 loss. Gonzalez got another September call-up and did far better this time, batting .289/.316/.522 for the 1990 Rangers.

1991-1999: Glory days in Texas

Gonzalez was a regular starter for the 1991 Rangers at age 21, hitting .264/.321/.479 with 27 HR and 102 RBI, almost duplicating his prior year in Oklahoma City. He was 7th in the 1991 AL in RBI. Gonzalez came up as a centerfielder, as did Sosa; the Rangers opted to keep Gonzalez and trade Sosa. Gonzalez eventually settled into right field, where he had a decent arm and adequate speed, but never looked entirely comfortable fielding fly balls and extra-base hits. His value was largely as a hitter, anyway.

By 22, he was the American League home-run champion with 43, one more than Mark McGwire. He hit .260/.304/.529 for a weak OBP but good slugging percentage. He won the first of six Silver Slugger awards and was 5th in the 1992 AL in slugging (only five players topped .500). He was third in total bases (309), 7th in RBI (109), 4th in extra-base hits (69) and 5th in strikeouts (143) with the 1992 Rangers.

In the 1992-1993 Puerto Rican League, Juan Gone batted .333/?/.773 for the Santurce Crabbers and he won the league MVP award despite not playing until after the All-Star break. He smashed 7 homers and led the league despite playing in only 66 games; his average and slugging would have led the loop but he did not get enough plate appearances. Gonzalez did not accompany Santurce to the 1993 Caribbean Series, though.

Gonzalez won another home run title in 1993, edging Ken Griffey Jr. 46-45. He hit .310/.368/.632 and clearly had his best season with a 169 OPS+. He made one of his three All-Star squads and won a Silver Slugger again. He won the Home Run Derby preceding the 1993 All-Star Game. He was fourth in voting for the 1993 AL MVP. He led the 1993 AL in slugging percentage, was 5th in OPS, second to Griffey with 339 total bases, was 4th with 118 RBI, 4th in OPS+, second with 80 extra-base hits and tied Andre Dawson for third in times hit by pitch (13).

In the 1993-1994 winter ball season, Juan hit .268/?/.491 with 7 homers, 3 behind Phil Hiatt.

In 1994, the Rangers moved from Arlington Stadium to The Ballpark at Arlington. Their new park had yet to acquire the characteristics that later made it a phenomenal hitters' park. In 1994 and 1995, Gonzalez struggled with injuries and with the distant left-field wall in the Ballpark, which had been built (perversely) to offer a "home-run porch" to left-handed hitters; Gonzalez, the team's reigning slugger, batted right.

Juan only hit .275/.330/.472 for a 104 OPS+ for the 1994 Rangers, his worst year from 1990-2002. He tied Travis Fryman for 10th in the 1994 AL in RBI (85), tied for 8th in times hit by pitch (7), tied Mickey Tettleton for 9th in intentional walks (10) and was second to teammate Jose Canseco in double plays ground into (18). He had a 837 OPS on the road but only 771 at home.

Gonzalez joined the San Juan Senators for the 1995 Caribbean Series and hit .375/?/.667 with 6 RBI as the Puerto Rican "Dream Team" won the title. Gonzalez hit 5th, between Carlos Delgado and Ruben Sierra on a team that also boasted Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, Carlos Baerga and Edgar Martinez. San Juan outscored their opponents 49-15.

In the regular season, Juan batted .295/.324/.594 in 90 games for the 1995 Rangers, playing almost entirely DH. He did not finish among the league leaders in anything, though it was an improvement on his 1994 effort.

By 1996, Gonzalez seemed to have figured things out. Using the whole field, he became a devastating line-drive hitter. In the center of an impressive Ranger lineup, Gonzalez averaged more than one RBI per game for a three-year span (1996-98). A free swinger, Gonzalez was always vulnerable to chasing pitches low and away, but heaven help the pitcher who grew complacent and tried to get one past Gonzalez up and in. Gonzalez won two MVP awards in this stretch (1996 and 1998). The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract listed him as the player who had the highest ratio of slugging percentage to on-base percentage in baseball history at that time, ahead of even Dave Kingman and Tony Armas Sr. and 4th in RBI per game by an outfielder (behind Sam Thompson, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth). James ranked Gonzalez as the 52nd-best right fielder in baseball history as of mid-2000.

Gonzalez hit .314/.368/.643 in 1996 for a 150 OPS+, second-best of his career. He edged Alex Rodriguez by one first-place vote (11-10) and 3 award points (290-287) in very close voting. He won his third Silver Slugger as an OF. He was second in the 1996 AL in slugging (87 points behind McGwire), was 9th in OPS (1011), 5th in total bases (348) and homers (47), second in RBI (144, 4 behind Albert Belle), 9th in OPS+, 4th in extra-base hits (82) and tied for fifth in intentional walks (12). In the ALDS, he did a heroic job, homering five times in four games and batting .438/.526/1.375 with 9 RBI but Texas was still booted by the 1996 Yankees.
Gonzalez tied Jeffrey Leonard's 1987 NLCS record by homering in four straight post-season games and joined Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only players to hit five home runs in a single post-season series.

Juan batted .296/.335/.589 as a DH-RF for the 1997 Rangers. Gonzalez won his fourth Silver Slugger. In the 1997 AL, he was 4th in slugging, 6th in total bases (314), third in homers (42) and RBI (131), 10th in extra-base hits (69) and tied for 6th with 10 sacrifice flies.

With the 1998 Rangers, the 28-year-old produced at a .318/.366/.630 rate. He topped 100 RBI before the All-Star break, the first player to do so since Hank Greenberg 63 years earlier. He won his fifth Silver Slugger, made his second All-Star team and won his second MVP. He hit cleanup for the AL in the 1998 All-Star Game and decisively won this MVP award, a stark contrast to 1996. Juan was 10th in the 1998 AL in batting average, second to Belle in slugging, fourth in OPS, 6th in hits (193), 4th in total bases (382), first in doubles (50), tied for fourth with Manny Ramirez in home runs (45), first in RBI (157), tied with Griffey for 8th in OPS+ (149), second to Belle in extra-base hits (97), tied for third in sac flies (11), tied for sixth in intentional walks (9) and tied for third in double plays ground into (20). In April, he drove in 35 runs, a major league record for the month. He only was 1 for 12 in the ALDS

In 1999, the Puerto Rican slugger batted .326/.378/.601 for Texas, posting the best batting average of his career. He was 9th in the 1999 AL in average, 4th in slugging, 6th in OPS, 10th in runs (114), 6th in total bases (338), 6th in home runs (39), 5th in RBI (128), 7th in extra-base hits (76) and 2nd in sacrifice flies (12), one behind Roberto Alomar. In the ALDS, he hit .182/.250/.455 with one homer as Texas was swept by New York for the second straight season.

2000-2001: Detroit and Cleveland

That November, he was traded with Danny Patterson and Gregg Zaun to the Detroit Tigers for Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, Justin Thompson and Alan Webb.

Gonzalez struggled with Comerica Park and with new injuries. Back spasms were his particular nemesis, but he also developed leg miseries. He hit .289/.337/.505 and did not rank among the league leaders in anything. He spurned a big multi-year contract from the Tigers from a desire to go to a friendlier ballpark for right handed hitters.

He signed with the Cleveland Indians and had a strong season with the 2001 Indians; however, it proved to be his last hurrah. He hit .325/.370/.590 and his 147 OPS+ was close to his MVP seasons. He won his sixth and last Silver Slugger and made his third and final All-Star team; he hit fifth for the AL in the 2001 All-Star Game. He finished fifth in MVP voting. He was sixth in the 2001 AL in batting average, 5th in slugging, 6th in OPS, 9th in home runs (35), second in RBI (140, one behind leader Bret Boone), 5th in strikeouts (149), 8th in OPS+, tied for third in double plays grounded into (18) and led the league with 16 sacrifice flies. He hit .348/.348/.739 for Cleveland in the ALDS with 3 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI in five games but they still fell to put his teams' record in playoff series at 0-4. He never finished among the league leaders in any key statistic again.

2002-2003: Return to Texas

Gonzalez landed back in Arlington as a well-paid but not even half-time player in 2002 and 2003. He hit .282/.324/.451 (94 OPS+) the first year in 70 games. On June 18, he participated in the first MLB game ever with four players with 400+ home runs to that point. Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff joined Sosa and Gonzalez in the contest, which Texas lost 4-3. In 82 contests the next season, batted .294/.329/.572 (123 OPS+) and had wrist surgery. GM John Hart tried to trade away Gonzalez, but he used his no-trade clause to block those deals.

2004- : Further decline

A bad back stopped him cold with the 2004 Royals (he hit .276/.326/.441 in 33 games. His $4.5 million deal was one of the largest on the club. He was limited to a single at-bat with the 2005 Indians, straining his hamstring in the season opener. He played five games for the Buffalo Bisons that year, going 6 for 21 with no walks or extra-base hits.

Gonzalez signed on with the independent leagues in 2006, playing for the Long Island Ducks. He hit .323/.377/.515 in 36 games, with 6 HR and 23 RBI. His time was again limited by several injuries.

According to MLB.com, during the 2006-2007 Winter, in 33 games for the Puerto Rican League champion Carolina Gigantes, Gonzalez hit .281 with 18 RBIs and 4 homers. In 12 playoff games, he batted .369 with 3 home runs and 5 RBI's. "Igor" claims he is healthy and no longer feels pain in his legs. He was 10 for 26 in the 2007 Caribbean Series and made the Series All-Star team at DH.

Analysis
As the Rangers' best player for several years, Gonzalez drew constant media attention. Shy with reporters and unsure of his English, Gonzalez was never a media favorite in the Dallas area, and as his injuries accumulated, he became the butt of much fan and press dissatisfaction with the team.

His four-year peak, not coincidentally, aligned with the first (and to date, only) three postseason appearances in the Rangers' history. He also contributed greatly to the Indians' 2001 division championship.

Through 2006, Gonzalez's career batting line in the majors was .295/.343/.561 for a 133 OPS+. He ranked 21st all-time in slugging percentage, 60th in OPS, 36th in home runs, 63rd in RBI, 66th in extra-base hits (847), 99th in strikeouts (1,273), 79th in sacrifice flies (78) and 15th in home run frequency.

Notable Achievements
  • 1990 MVP American Association Oklahoma City 89ers
  • 3-time AL All-Star (1993, 1998 & 2001)
  • 2-time AL MVP (1996 & 1998)
  • 6-time AL Silver Slugger Award Winner (1992, 1993, 1996-1998 & 2001)
  • AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1993)
  • AL Doubles Leader (1998)
  • 2-time AL Home Runs Leader (1992 & 1993)
  • AL RBI Leader (1998)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 11 (1991-1993, 1995-2001 & 2003)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 7 (1992, 1993, 1996-1999 & 2001)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1992, 1993 & 1996-1998)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 8 (1991-1993, 1996-1999 & 2001)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1993, 1998 & 1999)

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