The newest Long Island Duck veteran may take a familiar path back to the bigs
This past Tuesday evening, former major leaguer Juan Gonzalez made his home debut with the Long Island Ducks. It isn't everyday that a two-time American League MVP takes the field in an Atlantic League game. Especially a player as prolific as 'Juan Gone.'
Gonzalez, 36, broke into the big leagues in 1989 after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Texas Rangers three years earlier. His first full season was in 1991, when he hit .264, 27, and 102. He won his first AL MVP award in 1996, when he batted .314, 47, and 144. He earned a second MVP trophy two seasons later, with .318, 45, and 157.
His numbers began to decline in 2000 when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. The spacious new ballpark in Mo Town, Comerica Park, was not kind to Gonzalez, who batted .289, 22, and 67. He became a traveler after that season, playing in Cleveland, Texas, and Kansas City. Last season, he had one at-bat with the Indians before injuring himself and sitting out the rest of the way.
Batting second in the bottom of the second inning in a scoreless tie, Gonzalez was introduced to the Citibank Park crowd, who responded with a big round of applause. A swinging strikeout at a low off speed offering from Lancaster Barnstormers starter Scott Sobkowiak reminded us that even players entering their 21st season in professional baseball have to shake off a bit of that rust.
Unfortunately, Gonzalez' first game in front of the home town fans was not a victory. The Ducks fought back in the later innings to tie the game at five, but eventually fell to the Barnstormers 6-5 in 12 innings. His one hit in five plate appearances was a long double off the wall leading off the eighth inning, after which he came around to score the Ducks' first run. Currently batting .313, Gonzalez has hit safely in all four games since signing with Long Island.
The Atlantic League has been a good springboard for veteran players such as 'Juan Gone' to find their way back to the major leagues. Some of the more popular names that have done so are Ricky Henderson, Carlos Baerga, Jose Canseco, Ruben Sierra, and Jose Lima. Would it be any surprise if Gonzalez shows that he still has it in his first month on Long Island to catch the eye of a major league scout looking to fill a hole on a roster? Especially an American League team looking for a corner outfielder/DH that will come cheaply and be a veteran presence to replace a few injured players. Sound familiar? Over in the Bronx, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui are both on the shelf, and will be for a good part of the season. Even though a youngster such as Melky Cabrera has shown himself worthy of the job, it may be a smart move to sign a Juan Gonzalez as a bench player, who can pinch hit, DH and be a spare outfielder. They have nothing to lose by doing so. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman will fill a void without having to give up any current players or prospects. It would be an ingenious move if Gonzalez can be even half the player that he once was. You heard it here first.