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Ryan Klesko was better than you remember

Dec 19, 2012, 10:11 PM EDT

Ryan Klesko outdoorsman

The New York Post’s Ken Davidoff ran down every player on the Hall of Fame ballot in his column today, but this is all he had to say about Ryan Klesko:

A name we remember from the ‘90s Braves run, but not for anything in particular he did. He was a solid outfielder. No.

That’s about a quarter of the writeup that Jeff Conine, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Sele received. Only Todd Walker got shorter shrift.

ESPN’s Jim Caple did something similar, though his column, as typical, was as much humor as baseball. Even so, Klesko got the shortest writeup, or at least tied with Jeff Cirillo:

Yes, he belongs on the ballot. After all, he was a one-time All-Star and a third-place rookie of the year finalist!

So, I think Klesko deserves better. One-time All-Star hardly does him justice.

A part-time player initially, Klesko nonetheless had a .907 OPS in 92 games in 1994 and a 1.004 OPS in 107 games in 1995 (both strike-shortened years). In the 11 years from 1994-2003, he never once finished with an OPS under .800. He topped .900 six times. And he did it while typically playing in pitcher’s parks.

143 players have had at least 6,000 plate appearances since 1990. Their OPS+s ranged from 195 (Barry Bonds) to 75 (Brad Ausmus). Klesko comes in 34th on that list at 128, placing him right there with Bobby Abreu, David Justice, John Olerud and Sammy Sosa (all 129) and Moises Alou, Ellis Burks and Tim Salmon (all 128). That’s not quite Hall of Fame territory, but it certainly makes for a heck of a career.

And as for doing nothing memorable, well, you know, he did homer in three straight World Series games for the 1995 Braves in their lone championship in the last 50 years.

So, no, Klesko isn’t a Hall of Famer or anything particularly close. But for 11 years, he was one of the NL’s top threats against right-handed pitching and a guy who typically hit third or fifth for six postseason teams. I think that’s worth a few sentences.

  1. klink6224 - Dec 19, 2012 at 10:23 PM

    I always remember thinking he sucked (hated the Braves) and every time I thought that he’d go deep or make an awesome defensive play.

  2. raysfan1 - Dec 19, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    You’re right,he deserves better. You have now given him the due he deserves. But, no, not a HoF career.

  3. tfbuckfutter - Dec 19, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    What an incredibly wordy was of saying Ryan Klesko was almost as good a player as Moises Alou, Ellis Burks and Tim Salmon.

    But it is nice to finally put the whole Klesko/Alou/Burks/Salmon debate to rest once and for all.

    I mean that quite literally. That is something no one will ever discuss again.

    Now on to more important things, Rual Ibanez/Phil Nevin/Jermaine Dye?

  4. kelshannon19 - Dec 19, 2012 at 10:34 PM

    When I was 11 years old in 2001 Klesko’s Padres came to Houston to play the Astros and hit a go ahead mammoth Grand Slam off Jay Powell and I thought he was some kind of a legend..really my only memory of the guy.

    • Jason @ IIATMS - Dec 20, 2012 at 9:53 AM

      You get my thumbs down because you were born in 1990, not for your comments.

      • kelshannon19 - Dec 20, 2012 at 9:42 PM

        Haha as long as it’s not the comments!

  5. deadeyedesign23 - Dec 19, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    He was also a terrible fielder and totaled 32.8 WAR in his career. A number that Ryan Braun has already passed in half as many games. But anything for another article about the Hall of Fame ballot.

    • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Dec 20, 2012 at 10:41 AM

      Why read the site if its content upsets you so? Perhaps you should find a nice coloring book if you’re looking for alternative ways to pass the time.

      • deadeyedesign23 - Dec 20, 2012 at 2:23 PM

        Because when something not hall of fame related pops up I like it. But for 2 months of the year, every year, it turns into critiquing everyone’s ballot, or in this case, not giving enough of a write up for a player even they agree doesn’t belong in the hall of fame. This is a total non story.

        The same way I took the time to comment about something I didn’t agree with, you took the time to reply. Why read the comment if its content upsets you so?

      • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Dec 28, 2012 at 9:29 AM

        … so did you ever find yourself that coloring book? Or perhaps some nice glue to snack on?

    • gloccamorra - Dec 20, 2012 at 3:53 PM

      Klesko was a first baseman forced to play left field because of Fred McGriff and Andres Galarraga. He played more games for the Padres than Braves, and had a better ops+ with San Diego (132) than Atlanta (128). That’s pretty good baseball.

      • deadeyedesign23 - Dec 20, 2012 at 5:00 PM

        That’s fine, but you only get credit for what you did not what you would have done if you played your natural position. I know as a Trout supporter this year for MVP I didn’t say “Well, Cabrera is a first baseman so we shouldn’t pay attention to his defense.”

  6. rwpsych16 - Dec 19, 2012 at 10:53 PM

    One of my favorite players growing up. He was always good for a nice profane tantrum after an inning ending strike out. First MLB game I ever attending e hit a monster grand slam. Not a great player, but fun to watch and seemed to fit that team well.

  7. townballblog - Dec 19, 2012 at 11:08 PM

    Good stuff, Matt. I agree.

    • 18thstreet - Dec 20, 2012 at 9:08 AM

      Anyone who has a 10-year MLB career was probably better than I remember.

      I love these types of pieces. It doesn’t denigrate a guy like Klesko to say he wasn’t a Hall of Famer. He knows it, too (one assumes). But it’s fun to a take a moment and see what he was.

  8. schlom - Dec 19, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    Klesko also had two of the most unexpected stolen base season of all-time in 2000-2001. After stealing just 26 in the six previous season he somehow stole 23 for the Padres in 2000 and the same number in 2001. He followed that with stealing 19 over the final 5 seasons of his career.

    • ptfu - Dec 20, 2012 at 12:04 AM

      I remember that, it was awesome. Nobody could believe this big guy could run–not the other team, not the fans, not the announcers, nobody. Those 46 swipes came with only 11 CS’s. The man could pick his spots.

      Ryno had some nice years with the mediocre turn-of-the-millennium Padres. Decent first baseman and a really bad outfielder. Flat-out crushed righties, and Phil Nevin (hitting next) crushed lefties, and you knew you’d get at least one good at-bat each trip through the lineup. You took what you could get in those days.

  9. pepefreeus - Dec 19, 2012 at 11:12 PM

    Javy Lopez got the same treatment last year. I guess it makes these guys feel like big men or something.

    • hammyofdoom - Dec 19, 2012 at 11:34 PM

      I dont think the writers do this to sound like “big men”, but to give credit to players that otherwise wouldnt get their due. For example, is Bill Mueller a hall of famer? No, but to simply say “no, he isnt a hall of famer” is doing a damn disservice to a guy that won a batting title out of the blue in 2003. It Ryan Klesko a hall of famer? No, but he WAS a guy that hit between 20 and 34 home runs in 8 of 9 seasons, had a stat line of .279/.370/.500 and seemed to be a solid player from looking at his stats.

      Part of the fun of looking at Hall of Fame ballots to me are the guys who have no chance at making it to the Hall of Fame. Just looking at the Red Sox teams I watched growing up some of my favorites will never make it: Trot Nixon, Bronson Arroyo, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Jason Varitek, Doug Mirabelli, Pokey Reese and others. These guys did nothing Hall of Fame worthy but they all had fascinating careers and these hall of fame ballots may be the last time they are really ever mentioned by sports analysts. Let them have their last moments

      • pepefreeus - Dec 20, 2012 at 7:04 AM

        Which is exactly the point I was making.

        By “these guys”, I was referring to Davidoff and (especially) Caple, not Matthew, who I think put it about right.

  10. wpjohnson - Dec 19, 2012 at 11:32 PM

    Ryan Klesko was the favorite player of a very precious person and brought her happiness both in person and in his on field play. Thus, Ryan Klesko will always be extremely special to me. Thank you, Ryan Klesko.

  11. chaseutley - Dec 19, 2012 at 11:48 PM

    After Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Chipper, Justice, Gant, Pendelton, McGriff, Wohlers, and John Rocker, Klesko falls somewhere just outside of the Top 10 memorable Braves of the 90’s for me. Granted, I’m not a Braves fan, but I am a fan of the division and the Braves were on TV all of the time back then.

    For argument’s sake, ask yourself this: Will Ryan Klesko ever be inducted into the Atlanta Braves’ Hall of Fame?

    • schlom - Dec 20, 2012 at 12:41 AM

      He’s only in the Braves all-time top 10 in three categories: 5th in HR per AB, 4th in slugging percentage, and 5th in OPS (behind only Aaron, Chipper, Eddie Mathews, Wally Berger – that’s pretty good company).

  12. drunkenhooliganism - Dec 20, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    Ryan Klesko’s career grew just as baseball’s national broadcasts did. For some reason, I would never watch TBS, but if it was on ESPN’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday game in the mid 90’s, me and my friends would watch.

    As mostly former high school baseball players at a college where only the elite of the elite baseball players could play, we moved on to softball and beer. And all of us agreed that the violence in Ryan Klesko’s swing would make him the greatest beer league softball player of all-time.

  13. spellingcops - Dec 20, 2012 at 12:47 AM

    Wow that’s a gorgeous buck in that picture. Even though it’s a whitetail.

  14. louhudson23 - Dec 20, 2012 at 5:36 AM

    Ryan Klesko,to this day most likely still has no concept whatsoever of what a cut off man is or does. You could rely on him to give up the extra base time after time as he wound up and sent a satellite towards the plate. I can see everyone’s head go down as yet another runner trotted into second on the overthrow…. That and his Cano-esque, extra base limiting posing on anything that had a chance…….a great 90’s tv and stats player …a baseball player…not so much…..

  15. FinFan68 - Dec 20, 2012 at 5:48 AM

    He put on some impressive shows in BP. He was a solid role player but not a HoF guy.

  16. rdillon99 - Dec 20, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    tl;dr

  17. buddaley - Dec 20, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    I think it’s fun to look back at players who were not stars but were contributors. Perhaps his defense was poor, but he was an accomplished hitter as his career line indicates. A career OPS+ of 128 is one indicator that he was a solid hitter. He demonstrated power and patience.

    He was not a player to build around, but a team that needed some power he was an important complement. Most players with 10+ year careers are contributors which makes them worthwhile remembering and appreciating.

  18. umrguy42 - Dec 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Ahhh, I remember Royce Clayton. Not even his fault, really, but as a (then-teenaged) Cards fan, my thoughts of him at the time were “well, he’s no Ozzie”.

    Question – who elects Managers? Is it the Veterans’ Committee?

  19. lazlosother - Dec 20, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    I was in San Diego on a business trip, so I took the light rail out to the stadium (Jack Murphy) and saw Ricky Henderson tie Cobb for Runs scored. He scored from first on a Ryan Klesko liner down the right field line. I have some good memories at Jack Mrurphy, Winfield and McCovey going back-to-back, Johnny Bench hitting one out, and Nuumberrr 11 Enzo Hernandez, Hernadez at short.

  20. kirkvanhouten - Dec 21, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    Oh, this time of year…when baseball writers feel compelled to mock guys who were really, really good at baseball, just not among the very elite.

    I appreciated a few years back when Beyond the Boxscore created the idea of “The Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of Fame”. The idea that guys like Ray Lankford, Ryan Klesko, Ellis Burks, etc may not HOF material, but they were damn fine players in their own right and an incredible boon to any team.

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