Kris Benson

Kris Benson

November 7, 1974
6' 4"
205 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-09-1999 with PIT

Before the 2000 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons proclaimed the Bucs young hurler Kris Benson to be his dark horse choice to win the National Leagues Cy Young Award.  After all, he was coming off a fine rookie season and was the man whom GM Cam Bonifay thought could lead the team into a new Championship Era when he chose him in the first round of the 1996 free agent draft.

Even though he didn’t win the award in 2000, he still established himself as the ace of the Bucco staff with a fine performance and was looking forward to a fine 2001 campaign in the team’s new facility, PNC Park.  Unfortunately, one does not know when bad luck will rear its ugly head, and for Benson, it occurred not long after he signed a four-year contract extension on March 8th.  In what was first diagnosed as an elbow strain, turned into the Clemson alumni and the Pirates worst fear when it was determined that he would need season ending reconstructive surgery on his arm, putting is career as an ace starter in serious jeopardy

Before the setback, everything in Benson’s baseball life had been like a dream.  He was only the second pitcher to win the Baseball America’s college player of the year in 1996 when he was 14-0 with a 1.40 ERA also garnering him a selection as a first team all-American and the Dick Howser Award, college’s equivalent of a Cy Young Award.  Kris was also part of the 1996 US Olympic Baseball team that won a Bronze Medal in Atlanta.

The Wisconsin native was selected first overall in the free agent draft and rapidly rose through the Bucs minor league organization, making the opening day roster in 1999.  Benson led all NL rookie hurlers in ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts well coming only 3 strikeouts short of the all time Pirate rookie record.  Benson also had the distinction of being only the second overall number draft pick to win his first start ever when he beat the Cubs 2-1.

Things continued to improve in 2000 as Benson lowered his ERA to 3.85, was ninth in the NL in Opponents Batting Average with a .249 mark and set the all-time team record for strikeouts by a right hander when he broke Bob Friend’s 1960 record of 183.
2001 was supposed to be the year Benson became one of the leagues premiere pitchers when the injury occurred.

By no means was it a certainty that Kris would return to the team especially as the team’s ace of the staff, but through hard work and a successful minor league stint to start the 2002 season, Benson made his season debut on May 13th against the Diamondbacks.  While it was great to see him on the hill once again, it certainly was not encouraging when he was tagged for 9 runs in only 3 2/3 innings.  By the end of May, Kris was 0-3 with an astronomic 9.72 ERA.

While some worried that Benson may not ever be the pitcher most though he would become, their worries proved to be unwarranted as eventually Kris got into a rhythm looking as sharp as ever, finishing the last two months of the season with a 5-1 record and a much more respectable 3.53 ERA.

The New York Mets acquired him near the trading deadline of the 2004 season. During that period, Benson put together a string of 70 consecutive innings without surrendering a home run. He was awarded the Mets Best Pitcher during the month of September that year with a 2.25 ERA. He beat Randy Johnson twice in the interleague Subway Series, throwing 12 innings of shutout baseball against the Yankees.

On January 21, 2006, Benson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Jorge Julio and John Maine. Some speculated that the pitcher had been ushered out of town partly as an excuse for the Mets to part ways with his wife, outspoken model Anna Benson, who had "perturbed team officials with her risqué wardrobe and provocative comments." Kris Benson also felt that the Mets had traded him because of his wife, a position disputed by Mets management. The newly minted Oriole beat the Mets that season in interleague play. During the game, he hit his first professional home run off All-Star and Cy Young Award-winner Pedro Martinez.

Benson missed the entire 2007 season with a torn rotator cuff. Steve Trachsel replaced Benson in their starting rotation before being traded to the Chicago Cubs for minor league players. On November 1, 2007, the Orioles declined to pick up his $7.5 million option and instead paid a $500,000 buyout.

On February 13, 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Benson to a minor league deal. On June 29, 2008, after two years away from competitive baseball, Benson made his Triple-A debut for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, throwing 73 pitches. He played 11 games for the IronPigs, but was 1–4 with a 5.52 ERA. However, after two rough initial outings, he went 1–2 with a 3.80 ERA over his remaining 9 starts. He was released on August 30, 2008.

On February 21, 2009, Benson signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Texas Rangers. Benson made the Opening Day 25 man roster as one of the Rangers' starting pitchers, but after a short stint on the disabled list, he was relegated to the bullpen in long relief. Benson had made over 200 consecutive starts before the move to the bullpen. After proving ineffective as a sporadic reliever upon his return, he was outrighted to the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, on June 9, 2009.

On March 15, 2010, Benson signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. On April 15, it was announced that Benson would be the fifth starter for Arizona. He had two effective starts when he first got called up, but injured his shoulder again during his third start against the Colorado Rockies. He also pitched for the Diamondbacks Triple-A affiliate in Reno, Nevada, the Reno Aces.

Benson retired on Jan 10th, 2011.He finished his 10-year career with a 70–75 record in 200 starts (206 appearances) and 61 no-decisions.

Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia

Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Kris Benson, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, MLB Current, New York Mets, Oklahoma City RedHawks, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Reno Aces, Texas Rangers, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia
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