12/26/10 11:10 AM EST
Juan Gone makes debut on Hall of Fame ballot
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
A decade before Luis Gonzalez took over the nickname and years before Luis passed it on to San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez and countless other players, Juan Gonzalez was a Texas Ranger and he was the game's most famous "Gonzo."
Juan was also known as "Igor." He was once considered one of the American League's best power hitters and is still recognized as one of Puerto Rico's favorite sons.
Gonzalez had a flair for the dramatic. The song "Juan Gone," used when he strolled to the batter's box in Arlington, was Star Wars' Imperial Death March, better known as Darth Vader's theme song.
The music suited him. Gonzalez was a baseball hero during those glory years in Texas. Looking back, some might have considered him a villain.
But is Gonzalez a Hall of Famer? Gonzalez, who has not played in a big league game since 2005, is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time with a group that includes Jeff Bagwell, former teammate Rafael Palmeiro and Tino Martinez. Early in his career, Gonzalez was one of the most productive players in the game. Later on, he was an enigma, riddled with injuries and suspicion.
Gonzalez finished his career with 434 home runs and 1,404 RBIs in 17 seasons. He starred in the postseason in 1996 when he hit .438 with five home runs and nine RBIs in the AL Division Series against the Yankees.
The question remains: Will the slugging outfielder receive the ultimate honor for a baseball player or are the Cooperstown chances for Juan ... gone?
"Juan is a Hall of Famer," said Jorge Colon Delgado, a noted author and former official historian of the Puerto Rican Baseball League. "If you compare Juan Gonzalez with the right fielders in the Hall of Fame, he has the second-best home run-to-at-bat ratio behind Babe Ruth. In runs batted in, only Babe Ruth and Sam Thompson had a better ratio per at-bat. That alone tells you how good Juan was."
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible BBWAA members to gain election. Andre Dawson was the only player selected for the Hall of Fame's class of 2010. Manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey were elected by the Veterans Committee.
"His 434 home runs don't seem impressive, but when you analyze all the numbers and examine how good he was, it becomes clear he deserves recognition," Colon said. "Clemente is Clemente, a great right fielder, but he didn't have the power that Juan did. In that aspect, Juan was better than Clemente."
Originally signed by the Rangers, Gonzalez played 11 consecutive seasons with Texas from 1989-99, winning two AL MVP Awards in three seasons during that stretch, before being traded to Detroit for the 2000 season. In 2001, he hit 35 home runs and collected 140 RBIs with Cleveland, but he was slowed by a series of back and leg injuries.
He hit .282 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in the first of two injury-plagued seasons during his second stint with the Rangers starting in 2002, and he played in only 33 games for Kansas City in 2004 because of a hamstring problem. Overall, he played in only 186 games from 2002-05. Gonzalez was later named in the Mitchell Report and Jose Canseco's book "Juiced."
Gonzalez denied using performance-enhancing drugs and said Canseco's claims about him are false.
"If he's on the ballot, he should be eligible for the Hall of Fame," Colon said. "If there is proof he has used steroids, don't put him on the ballot. Nothing has been proven about Juan Gonzalez, so treat him the same as the other players."
Gonzalez played for the Long Island Ducks in 2006. He attempted a comeback in '08 with St. Louis, but another injury, this time an abdominal strain, ended the bid and his hopes for a return to the big leagues.
He is still playing in amateur leagues in Puerto Rico.
"Juan had a short career, but his numbers are impressive. He had power and average," Colon said. "If he wasn't hurt, he would have 600 home runs and probably 1,800 RBIs. Maybe he would be even in the neighborhood of 3,000 hits. He was a great batter and a great player."