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Juan Gonzalez

Juan Gonzalez

Position(s):
CF, LF, OF, DH, RF
Nicknames:
Juan Gone, Igor
Born:
October 20, 1969
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 3"
Weight:
175 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-01-1989 with TEX
Allstar Selections:
1992 SS, 1993 SS, 1996 MVP, 1996 SS, 1997 SS, 1998 MVP, 1998 SS, 2001 SS

A muscle-bound right-handed slugger, Juan Gonzalez developed into one of the most prolific RBI men to anchor a lineup since World War Two. A full-time player at the age of 21 and a two-time MVP before his 30th birthday, Gonzalez explained his propensity for bringing runners home merely by saying, "I concentrate more when I see men on base."

Gonzalez batted cleanup behind future Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams on his youth league team in Puerto Rico, where both competed against Gonzalez' future teammate Ivan Rodriguez. In May 1986 the 16-year-old Gonzalez signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent. He reached the major leagues in September of 1989, just over a month shy of his twentieth birthday. Over the course of two late season callups in 1989 and 1990, Gonzalez hit only five home runs and drove in nineteen runs in 150 at-bats.

When Texas gave their prize prospect a chance to be an everyday player in 1991, Gonzalez made the most of the opportunity, cranking 27 home runs and driving in 102. He followed that up with a league-leading 43 home runs the next season, despite an atrocious 143-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The free-swinging Gonzalez seldom let a hittable pitch pass unchallenged.

The following season Gonzalez broke through to true superstardom. Leading the league with 46 homers while driving in 118 runs, he raised his batting average 50 points to a .310 mark. Unfortunately, the young slugger paid a price for his burgeoning power. As Juan became more muscled, back problems hindered his flexibility and speed. After slumping to .275 with diminished power numbers in 1994, Gonzalez lost more than 50 games in 1995 to a herniated disk and a bone spur in his neck. Still, in just 90 games he belted 27 home runs and drove in 82.

In 1996 a leaner and more flexible Gonzalez reminded the baseball world of his awesome talent. Although a torn quadriceps muscle landed him on the disabled list in May, Juan won the AL MVP award on the strength of a .314 average, 47 home runs, and an astonishing 144 RBIs in just 134 games. In addition, he led the Rangers to their first AL West title. While the Rangers fell in four games to the Yankees in the Division Series, Gonzalez produced epic numbers in a losing cause, batting .438 with five home runs and nine RBIs. Gonzalez tied Jeffrey Leonard's 1987 NLCS record by homering in four straight post-season games and joined Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only players to hit five home runs in a single post-season series.

After the triumphs of 1996, 1997 began on a sour note. Torn ligaments in his left thumb kept the slugger out of the season's first 24 games. When he returned, he promptly picked up where he had left off, slamming 42 home runs and piling up 131 RBIs in 133 games. But the Rangers slipped below .500 to a third place finish.

In 1998, a scorching first half on a high-scoring Texas team produced historic numbers for Gonzalez. With 101 RBIs at the All-Star break he became the second player in history (following Hank Greenberg in 1935) to reach the century mark at baseball's mid-summer classic. The gargantuan total inspired speculation that he could break Hack Wilson's major league record of 191. Although unable to maintain that torrid pace, Gonzalez still finished with 157 RBIs, the most in the American League since 1949. Backed by a .318 average, 45 home runs and another AL West Crown for the Rangers, Gonzalez easily won his second AL MVP.

Unfortunately for Texas, a return to the playoffs included another matchup with the Yankees, who dispatched them in three straight first-round games en route to a World Championship. Part of a teamwide offensive collapse, Gonzalez managed just one hit in twelve at bats during the ALDS.

Gonzalez hit .326 in 1999 while topping 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the fourth consecutive year. But preoccupied with marital difficulties and his daughter's recurrent ear infections, which were bad enough to require surgery after the season, Gonzalez was exceptionally moody. In July, he made headlines when he refused to participate in the All-Star Game unless he was voted in as a starter. (He wasn't, and AL skipper Joe Torre dropped him from the team.) Two weeks later, he dropped out of the exhibition Hall of Fame Game, complaining his uniform pants were too big.

After the season, the slugger was traded to Detroit as the centerpiece of a blockbuster nine-player deal, becoming the first two-time MVP to be traded since Dale Murphy was sent from Atlanta to Philadelphia in 1990. Gambling that they would be able to extend his contract past the 2000 season, the Tigers reportedly offered Gonzalez an eight-year, $140 million contract soon after the deal was struck.

Gonzalez refused, which turned out to be the bigger gamble. He began the season badly, hobbled by foot pain and unable to adjust to the spacious dimensions of Detroit's new Comerica Park, where the left-center field fence stood nearly 400 feet from home plate. By mid-season he had announced that the Tigers would have to bring the fences in if they wanted to re-sign him as a free agent.

Detroit shopped Gonzalez before the trading deadline, but a deal that would have sent him to the Yankees for outfielder Ricky Ledee and two minor leaguers was scuttled when the outfielder made it clear that he didn't want to play in New York. After missing the last weeks of the 2000 season, he was granted free agency on November 1, and signed with the Cleveland Indians as a free agent on January 9, 2001.

Gonzalez saw another amazing season in 2001, hitting over .330 and passing both the 100-RBI and 30-homer markers while leading the Indians past the upstart Twins to the AL Central title.

Through 11 full major league seasons, González had 392 homers and 1263 RBI, an average of 36 homers and 115 RBI per year. He had driven in 1161 runs over the last 10 seasons, the most of any major league player in that time frame.
2002-2003: Return to Texas

On January 8, 2002, González made his return to Arlington by signing a two-year $24 million contract with the Texas Rangers. He hit .282/.324/.451 (94 OPS+) the first year in 70 games. On June 18, he participated in the first MLB game ever with four players with 400+ home runs to that point. Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff joined Sosa and Gonzalez, which Texas lost to the Chicago Cubs 4-3. His first season back in Arlington he had a .358 (29-81) average versus Lefties and hit .328 (21-64) with runners in scoring position whil posting a .307 mark(42-137) in Arlington. He hit just .171 (6-35) with 2 homers and 4 RBI as the DH. He had Texas' only hit, a leadoff double in the 8th, off Cory Lidle on July 19 at Oakland.

In 2003, Gonzalez started the first few weeks rather slowly. He had a .230 average with 4 homers and 8 RBI in his 1st 18 games through April 20. He quickly picked it up though and went on a .349 (29-83) tear with 9 homers and 24 RBI in his next 21 games, improving to .293 by May 5. As of May 7, Gonzalez was tied for the Major League Lead in HR with 12. He followed that up by going just 8-for-39 (.205) in his next 9 games, falling to .276 through May 25. He started a hot streak yet again though by hitting .321 (42-131) with 10 homers and 36 RBI in the next 34 games. But his season was cut short by a calf injury on July 19. At the time, Gonzalez was hitting .294 and ranked 3rd in HR (24) 4th in SLG% (.572) and 7th in RBI (70) in the AL. Gonzalez was on pace to recapture his 2001 Indians form, but the calf injury lingered and the injury proved to be the end of his season.

Gonzalez hit 2 homers in a game 4 times: April 5 vs. Seattle; April 29 and May 1 at Toronto and July 10 against Minnesota. Juan's 47 career multi-homer games are 12th most all-time. He also hammered 5 homers in 3 games, April 29-May 1 at Toronto, the 4th time in Rangers history that feat had been accomplished. He had a season best 5 RBI on April 29 at Toronto and drove in 4 runs in a game on 3 occasions. Gonzalez had 18 RBI in a 9-game span, April 22-May 1, including 10 in 3-game series at Toronto, April 29-May 1. He was selected as A.L. co-player of the week for April 28-May 4. He also had a season high 9-game hitting streak, June 3–17.

He started 57 games in right field and 24 games as the designated hitter. He did not make an error in 108 total chances in the outfield and was tied for 6th in the league in outfield assists (10), despite his short season. He ranked 5th on the club in home runs (24), and completed his 11th season with 20 or more home runs. The Rangers were however preparing for a youth movement and on October 26, 2003, he was granted free agency.

2004 to 2008: Comeback attempts

On January 6, 2004, González was signed by the Kansas City Royals. However, his back worsened during in the middle of May and his season came to an end. He ended up hitting .276/.326/.441 in 33 games. His $4.5 million deal was one of the largest on the club so on October 28 of the same year, the Royals granted free agency.

He was signed by the Cleveland Indians for the 2005 season, and was activated in May. Despite a thorough workout regimen, Gonzalez suffered a major hamstring injury (he tore his right medial hamstring totally off the bone at the knee joint) in his first plate appearance of the season while running out a grounder. This put him out for the season after just one at-bat.

González signed on with the independent Atlantic League in 2006, playing for the Long Island Ducks. He hit .323/.377/.515 in 36 games, with 6 HR and 23 RBI. His time was again limited by injuries.

The St. Louis Cardinals invited Gonzalez to spring training prior to the 2008 season. He was one of 26 non-roster invitees, participating in full roster workouts that began on February 19, 2008. He hit .308 with a .462 SLG% in spring training with 1 home run, 1 double and 5 RBI in 9 games. However, he was put on the inactive list with an abdominal strain and he returned to Puerto Rico with an invitation to rejoin the Cardinals once he was healthy. Gonzalez decided to stay in Puerto Rico, and did not rejoin the Cardinals.


Career in Puerto Rico

In the 1989-1990 Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League, González hit .269/~.345/.500 for the Criollos de Caguas and hit 9 home runs, one less than former league leader Greg Vaughn.

During the 1992-1993 season, he batted .333 for the Santurce Crabbers and won the league MVP award despite not playing until after the All-Star break. He hit 7 home runs and led the league despite playing in only 66 games. González did not accompany Santurce to the 1993 Caribbean Series. The next season, he ended up hitting .268 with 7 homers, 3 behind Phil Hiatt.

In 1995, González joined the San Juan Senators for the 1995 Caribbean Series and hit .375 with 6 RBI as the Puerto Rican "Dream Team" won the title. González hit 5th, between Carlos Delgado and Rubén Sierra on a team that also boasted Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, Carlos Baerga and Edgar Martínez. San Juan outscored their opponents 49-15.

During the 2006-2007 Puerto Rican League, in 33 games playing for the champion Carolina Giants, González hit .281 with 18 RBIs and 4 homers. In 12 playoff games, he batted .369 with 3 home runs and 5 RBIs. González claims he is healthy and no longer feels pain in his legs. He was 10 for 26 (.385) in the 2007 Caribbean Series and made the All-Star team at DH.

Right now he is the owner of the baseball team in his hometown Vega Baja in the Confederative Baseball League in Puerto Rico. Where he also plays as a DH.
Drug allegations

González was one of several baseball players who Jose Canseco claims to have given steroid injections, according to Canseco's book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. González was also one of many players who were named in the Mitchell Report, in regards to a 2001 incident in which a piece of team luggage belonging either to González or his personal trainer was found to contain then legal (but now illegal) drugs. It is still disputed whether or not the bag actually contained steroids. A story ran in the New York Daily News that claimed the bag contained steroids. But, the team and MLB looked into the matter and nothing was ever proven. According to Gonzalez's then trainer, Angel Presinal, the bag contained Soladek, (a painkiller) Dolo-neurobion, (a vitamin B complex used in fighting the flu,) and Clenbuterol, (a stimulant similar to ephedrine, which is believed within the bodybuilding community to promote muscle tone and weight loss.) These three substances are currently available for purchase without a prescription at a Santo Domingo pharmacy. Gonzalez said the bag was Presinal's, while Presinal said the bag was Gonzalez's but refuted that the bag contained steroids. Gonzalez has refuted the idea of ever taking steroids multiple times, and is in fact a vegetarian.

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