Johnny O Hangs It Up

For Mets fans, at least, a sad day: John Olerud has retired. Olerud can still play – he batted .289/.451/.344 this season, and he drove in 37 runs, which projects out to 128 RBI per 600 at bats – but he’s really a bench player at this stage of his career, and I suppose he didn’t want to keep playing in that role. Olerud could possibly have been a Hall of Famer if he’d (1) not had a couple of lost years at age 26-27 with the Blue Jays and (2) kept chugging rather than falling off after age 33; his career .295/.465/.398 line is a very solid one, but like Keith Hernandez he was the kind of player who really needed a long career and some milestones to be immortalized.
You’ll never see another player cooler under pressure as Olerud – the guy is absolutely unflappable. Throughout his career, he always had a knack for hitting when the rest of his team was cold. I’ll always remember his crucial grand slam off Greg Maddux on September 29, 1999, giving the Mets the juice to snap a 7-game losing skid in the heart of the pennant race and set up their miraculous run to the wild card, as well as his reaching base 14 straight times over a key weekend in mid-September 1998. The Mets might well have won the World Series in 2000 if they’d kept Olerud, and even with his later struggles at the end of his Seattle contract, they would have avoided the Mo Vaughn fiasco. Olerud’s three-year tenure at Shea left him as the Mets’ career leader in batting, OBP and OPS. At his absolute peak, Olerud was a monster offensive force, a fine glove man, and a calm, steadying presence.

14 thoughts on “Johnny O Hangs It Up”

  1. Happy to see him retire by his own choice.
    That 1999 team is one of my favorite Met teams. Look at that lineup! By that point in the season — after penciling in Hamilton & playing both Rickey & Cedeno — the Mets has an offensive attack that only the ’86 team could match. Rickey, Edgardo, Olerud, Piazza, Ventura? Those are 5 tough outs and 5 guys who could spray XBHs.
    Olerud anectdote: I lived in the Village in the late 90s and used to play chess in Washington Square Park regularly. And who did I see playing one of the “fellas” on a fine autumn afternoon in 1997? None other than John Olerud, sitting next to his stunning wife.
    He got his ass handed to him, as you’d expect against a guy who makes his living moving the pieces. But Olerud clearly knew what he was doing, didn’t commit any serious blunders, and as you’d expect, handled the defeat with a smile and dignity. I asked him if he played often and he said something like “I used to when I was younger.” Then I left him alone, he paid the “fella” the fee for the game, and strolled off.
    I was very pleased to see that he was just as classy, cool & intelligent in real life as he looked on the ballfield. Good guy.
    I was truly bummed when he left after ’99, and I agree: Olerud as opposed to Zeile might have helped matters in ’00 against the Yanks. And maybe Olerud’s fly ball clears the wall rather than bounces off it, and Jeter doesn’t have the chance to throw out Timo. But let’s not go there.
    Good luck, John.

  2. Let’s not forget that Olerud suffered from a brain aneurism when he was with Toronto. He’s lucky to be alive, let alone have a great career. I don’t recall who the Mets gave up to get him, but it’s got to be one of the greatest deals in Met’s history. It’s always nice to see a player go out quietly, and with dignity. Maybe he can work on his chess game now.

  3. The brain aneurism reminds me of my other favorite Olerud story.
    We know Olerud wore a helmet in the field to protect against a beaning. So in 2000, after jogging out a “single” off the left field wall (because “I know when a ball is gone, and that ball was gone”), Rickey was ignominiously sent to Seattle, where he re-joined 1999 Met teammate, John Olerud.
    Rickey apparently found Olerud’s habit of wearing a helmet in the field interesting, and told Olerud, “I played with a guy once who wore a helmet in the field.”
    That guy was, of course, the same John Olerud, with whom Rickey *also* played in 1993 in Toronto.
    Just Rickey being Rickey. It may be a favorite Olerud story, but for the Rickster, nothin but another day at the park.

  4. Not just a sad day for Mets fans, but a sad day for baseball fans in general, I think. Not only was Olerud a great player, but he was a true class act too. MLB needs more players like him.

  5. Olerud was one of the guys about whom the traditional and Sabermetric scouts agreed. Olerud’s swing was smoooooth. You could look at him and tell that he was a hitter. Watching him in his prime reminded me of watching clips of Ted Williams swing the bat.

  6. I love Olerud, but “could possibly have been a Hall of Famer”??? Come on. He went to all of two all-star games!

  7. Somebody asked Olerud about the Rickey story, and he said it didn’t happen, but it sounds like something Rickey would say.

  8. Too bad.
    Such a funny story, and so Rickey-ish, too.
    He did, however, insist that the “single” off the wall was “gone,” even though it clearly was not. I enjoyed that one.

  9. Great post and great blog overall (the politics and baseball) but I have one question: why do you insist on doing BA/SLG/OBP when the rest of the world does BA/OBP/SLG?

  10. Olerud was a class act. However, the Mets did try to resign him. He always wanted to go back to his home town. He enjoyed the Mets and NY so much though, that he did give it some serious consideration, something he admitted he owuld not have done with any other team.
    That said, although he is a Keith type of player, I still think Keith Hernandez deserves Cooperstown, I don’t think Olerud does. Keith was a perennial All-Star contender, an MVP winner (and a clear winner, unlike Stargell’s vote, off of one good month), and possibly the greatest defensive first baseman of all time–having not seen Grimm, or Power, or Hodges, I can only go by what I have seen.

  11. Wes Parker, Frank McCormick. There were other competitors.
    I saw David Segui, who was not much of an all-around player, but boy, could that dude field.
    I think Keith falls just short, for my money. But I agree, he’s a more viable candidate than Olerud.

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