Sunday February 19, 2012
Sam Evans: In the midst of all the great power hitters of the nineties, Danny Tartabull’s name often gets lost. This offensive-minded outfielder usually ended up on bad teams, but he found ways to put up strong numbers for most of his career
Tartabull was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1962. His father, Jose, played in parts of seven Major League seasons for the Athletics and Red Sox. Growing up under the lights of Hiram Bithorn stadium, and with a father who played professional baseball, there must have been pretty high expectations for Danny Tartabull. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round of the 1980 MLB amateur draft. The Bull’s first couple of seasons in the minors were pretty impressive. His numbers show that he demonstrated a great ability to get on base. Nonetheless, Tartabull spent four seasons in the minors before he finally got at a shot at the majors with the Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners from 1984-1986 had a record of 215-271. These were Tartabull’s only major league years with the team, and every year, they never finished closer than ten games out of first place at the end of the season. Tartabull, was one of the bright spots on the Mariners roster. Unfortunately, in 1984 and 1985, Tartabull was blocked by Phil Bradley, Dave Henderson, and Al Cowens. In those two years, he only played 29 games but he managed to hit .321 with a 160 OPS+. Meanwhile, when Tartabull wasn’t with the Mariners, he was becoming sort of a Triple-A legend. In 1985, Tartabull hit forty-three homers, which helped him towards his 1.001 OPS.
Looking back at it, the Mariners should have given Tartabull more playing time. They understood he was a great hitter ( they even attempted to move him to second base, so he could play), but he never got an extended stretch of playing time in the majors. There were some rumors that Tartabull had a bad attitude, but what slugger during this era didn’t? Playing the twenty-two year old Tartabull over the thirty-three year old struggling outfielder Al Cowens, would have helped the team greatly.
In 1986, the Mariners finally gave Tartabull his well-deserved chance. He played in 137 games in the majors that year, and he never returned to the minors after that. 1986 was Tartabull’s first full complete Major League season, and he looked like a star right away. He batted .270 with 25 homers and finished sixth in the AL ROY voting. After the 1986 season, the Mariners made an inexplicable move. They traded away Tartabull and Rick Luecken for Scott Bankhead, Mike Kingery, and Steve Shields. Bankhead and Kingery weren’t complete busts, but the Mariners obviously made a mistake.
Danny Tartabull blossomed into an above-average regular, and a one-time All-Star for the Royals. He spent his next five seasons with the Royals, and he was worth 15.6 WAR. The best year of Tartabull’s career came in 1991, where he hit 31 homers, with a .397 OBP, and a wRC+ of 168. This was his first All-Star year, and he was also named Royals player of the year.
After the 1991 season, Tartabull left the Royals in free agency to play for the Yankees. Looking back at his years with the Royals, Tartabull was often overshadowed by the Royals left-fielder at the time, Bo Jackson. In terms of offensive production, Tartabull’s years in Kansas City were the best of his career.
The Yankees paid a hefty price to get Tartabull. His four-year, $20 million contract, came as a shocker to most of his baseball. In 1992 and 1993, Tartabull seemed to be worth his lucrative contract, hitting over twenty-five homers both years. Interestingly, in ’92 and ’93, Tartabull also had his two best years in terms of total walks. He had 103 BB in 1992, and 92 walks in 1993. He must have just decided to walk more than he ever had, or maybe the Yankees encouraged him to walk more. If I had the opportunity to ask Tartabull one question, it would probably be about his rapid increase of walks after the 1991 season.
Another interesting tidbit of information about Tartabull has to do with his speed. In 1987, Tartabull stole more bases (nine) than he did any of his other MLB seasons. Somehow, that speed didn’t translate to another part of his game. In addition to his steals, Tartabull hit into fourteen double plays, which was more than he hit into any other year. What does this mean? Nothing, probably, but it shows how speed doesn’t always equal less double plays.
In 1994, at the age of 31, Danny Tartabull started the natural decline that most players have in their thirties. His 1994 year was his a sign that he his career was close to being over. In 1995, at the trade deadline, Tartabull was shipped to the Athletics for Ruben Sierra and a minor-league pitcher. Overall, the Yankees probably expected more production out of Tartabull, but it’s not like he completely flopped. The Bull gave the Yankees three years of great offensive production.
Playing for the Yankees under the rule of George Steinbrenner, wasn’t always favorable for the players. As a great of an owner as he was, Steinbrenner didn’t always get along with his players. Tartabull and Steinbrenner were rumored to have a shaky relationship, and that might be why Tartabull was traded. In fact, after The Bull was traded, he told The Sporting News, that being traded felt like being released from jail.
Danny Tartabull was known for his defense, just not in a good way. Tartabull never played solid defense based on his former managers, and even sabermetrics. The Yankees finally decided that he was too much of a liability to the team’s defense, so they started playing him primarily at designated hitter. Tartabull never played for a National League team (except for three games with the Phillies in 1997), and the designated hitter rule definitely benefited him and his career.
After Tartabull finished out the year with the A’s in 1995, he signed a one-year, $5.6 million contract with the White Sox. 1996 was a great year for baseball, and Tartabull, as well. He hit 27 homers, and he had a 111 OPS+. Unfortunately, the White Sox finished 85-77, and just missed the playoffs. After the season, Tartabull signed with the Phillies, but he only played in three games in a sad end to his lengthy career.
The saddest part about Danny Tartabull’s fourteen seasons in the majors is that he never made the playoffs. He was a valuable player on pretty much every team he played on, but he never got the chance to play into the winter. He’s not the first player who never made the playoffs, but you’d think with all the teams he played on, he would’ve gotten a chance.
Danny Tartabull is not a Hall-of-Famer. But he definitely was a solid baseball player. He played fourteen seasons for various teams, and he should be remembered for the great offensive outfielder that he was. The Bull was a great player, and hopefully when we look back at the nineties in the future, we don’t forget this superstar outfielder.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***
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