A Song for the Well-Traveled First Basemen by Steve Weddle

Steve Weddle is an editor, short story writer, and novelist. His fiction has appeared in numerous literary and crime/noir journals, he is the editor of Needle, and he blogs at DoSomeDamage.

Think of “First Basemen of the 1990s” and you’re picturing Frank Thomas of the White Sox. Jeff Bagwell of the Astros. Mark Grace of the Cubs. Mark McGwire of the Cardinals. Rafael Palmeiro.

Those big sluggers you could count on, and not just at the plate. For the most part, you could count on these guys to be in the same place from one year to the next. Not a one of these guys was a “journeyman.”

Then you have David Segui. Wil Cordero. John Olerud.

Cordero played for the Expos (twice), Red Sox, White Sox, Indians (twice), Pirates, Marlins, and Nationals. (Does that last one make three times for the Expos?) He’d move to a new team in the offseason, just to show up on a new injury report for the next season. Or the waiver wire. But he was always around somewhere.

Much like David Segui, who played here and there (mostly there) throughout the 1990s. He came up with the Orioles in 1990, then moved to the Mets, Expos, Mariners, Blue Jays, Rangers, Indians, and finally back to the Orioles for a few seasons in the 2000s. Segui may be remembered, not for the 15 years he played with nearly as many clubs, but for appearance in the Mitchell Report. Segui reportedly had a doctor’s note allowing him to take HGH, but no doctor gave anabolic steroids. He had to get those in the Mets clubhouse. Still, his .291 career average meant that he was able to find work as a slugger – on many, many teams.

And that brings us to John Olerud. Blue Jays. Mets. Mariners. Yankees. Red Sox. Twice a World Champ. Twice an All-Star. Thrice a Gold Glove winner. Often a Rickey Henderson teammate.

Olerud had a brain aneurysm when he was playing for Washington State University. Because of that, he would wear a batting helmet even when playing the field, which led to the great story involving Rickey Henderson. When Henderson and Olerud were standing around the batting cage, the story goes, Rickey said to John that he’d played with another dude who also wore a helmet in the field, just like Olerud. To which Olerud replied, “That was me.” Turns out, according to someone who had to go and do “research” on it, that the story is an urban legend.

Olerud fought for playing time with Joe Carter and Carlos Delgado when he was with the Jays, so they shipped him off to the Mets for someone called Robert Person.

Olerud, along with infielders Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez, and Robin Ventura, provided a fantastic core for the Mets team for a few years.

Thinking back to the 1990s, it seems Olerud was always on first base – whether playing in the field with the Mets or Jays or taking a 3-2 count and drawing a walk or scraping out a single.

Olerud was a great defensive first baseman who batted .295 for his career. He’d go on in the 2000s to play in Seattle with a kid named Griffey, where Olerud would win three Gold Gloves.

So while you’re thinking of the Big Hurt for the White Sox, of the Killer B in Houston, of McGwire, and Grace, and all the other stud first basemen that you only had to buy one jersey for, don’t forget Segui and Cordero and Olerud.

3 Responses to “A Song for the Well-Traveled First Basemen by Steve Weddle”

  • I always liked John Olerud. I grew up in Toronto and saw him play for the Jays. I thought of him as the thinking man’s first baseman (a “thinking man” being one lacking home run power).

  • Don’t forget that Fred McGriff played for at least two teams (Blue Jays, Padres) before holding down first for the Braves for many years (and ending with the Rays, I think). Not a nomad on the scale of these other guys, but a lot of stops for such a good player.

    And I SO wish that Ricky story was true.

  • I think life is better when we believe every story about Rickey.

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