- C, OF, RF, 1B, LF, DH, 3B
- November 2, 1966
- 180 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 6-27-1990 with PIT
Orlando Merced, a onetime switchhitting shortstop, provided line drive power for the Pirates as a left-handed hitting outfielder-first baseman, helping the team to three division titles and later twice hitting .300.
Merced was born and raised in Puerto Rico and was friends of a relative of Roberto Clemente. He was signed by the Pirates as an 18-year-old infielder in 1985. A natural left-handed hitter despite throwing right-handed, Merced began switch-hitting in his first professional season. After three unimpressive years, including 1987 when he appeared in only eight games due to injuries, Merced hit .292 with a .450 slugging percentage while playing second and third for Salem. Filling out physically, it became obvious Merced would have to play somewhere other than the middle of the diamond and he started playing more first base and outfield, although he still played some third. He first came to the Pirates in 1990, being recalled on three different occasions when other players were injured. Although all of his at bats that year came as a pinch hitter, it was ironic that the first glove he wore in a major league game was a catcher’s mitt.
Still considered a rookie in 1991, Merced finished a distant second to Houston’s Jeff Bagwell in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Seeing most of his action at first base against right-handed pitching, Merced hit .275 with 10 homers and 50 RBI’s. His first major league homerun won a 1-0 contest for Zane Smith over the Astros’ Pete Harnish on May 3 and seven of his 10 round trippers either tied or won games. Not blessed with great speed, Merced had a decent batting eye and Manager Jim Leyland usually batted him lead off. Merced was productive in that role, scoring 83 runs in 120 games and opened Game 3 of the NLCS with a homerun against the Braves.
Merced got off to a slow start in 1992, but got hot in September, hitting .313 during the final 21 games. Still platooning with Gary Redus at first, Merced hit in the middle of the lineup that year, usually fifth or sixth and when he wasn’t starting contributed off the bench by hitting .400 (10-for-25) as a pinch hitter and driving in 11 runs. Although he was just one for ten in the NLCS, he did drive in a run in Game 7 helping to Pirates to an early, but sadly, not big enough lead.
With the team rebuilding in 1993, Merced became one of its offensive leaders as he hit .313 that year and .300 with 15 homeruns and 83 RBI’s in 1995. With Kevin Young arriving in 1993, Merced began to play more right field than first base and although he wasn’t acrobatic, he performed adequately and displayed a strong arm. Also, the Pirates decided to have Merced, who had always had trouble hitting from the right side in the majors, bat left-handed fulltime.
“O,” as he was sometimes referred to by Pirate broadcasters, played one more year with the Pirates in 1996 and hit a career high 17 homeruns while batting .287. But by this time it had become obvious the Pirates, while having some good players such as Merced, Jeff King and Jay Bell, weren’t going to ride them to the top as the team suffered its second strait last place finish. It was time to rebuild again and Merced was packaged in a nine-player deal with Toronto, which brought the Bucs six players, three of whom, Craig Wilson, Abraham Nunez and Jose Silva eventually played for the big club.
1997-2000: Four years, seven teams
After spending his first 11 pro seasons with one organization, Orlando's life changed to one of wild fluctuation. It began in November of 1996 when Pittsburgh made one of their better team-rebuilding moves. They dealt the declining Merced, Garcia and Dan Plesac to the Toronto Blue Jays for a slew of prospects including Jose Silva, Brandon Cromer, Abe Nunez and Craig Wilson (the latter two were players to be named later.
Merced hit third for the 1997 Blue Jays, batting in front of Joe Carter, and hit .266/.352/.413 before being moved up to second in the lineup later in the year. His OPS+ fell to 99; he was 30 years old and his best years were behind him.
Toronto did not re-sign Orlando when he became a free agent and he moved on to the Minnesota Twins. Merced produced at a .289/.345/.422 clip for the 1998 Twins, mostly playing at first base. As the trading deadline neared, Orlando was shipped with Greg Swindell to the Boston Red Sox for John Barnes, Matt Kinney and Joe F. Thomas. With the 1998 Red Sox, Merced was a miserable 0 for 9, mostly as a pinch-hitter. They let him go barely a month after trading for him and he was picked up by the Chicago Cubs. With his third team of the year, Merced was 3 for 10 with a walk, homer and 5 RBI in a fine job in limited time off the bench for the 1998 Cubs.
Merced joined the Montréal Expos as a free agent signee and hit .268/.353/.464 for a respectable 101 OPS+ as a backup. He hit .286/.366/.514 in 41 games in the difficult pinch-hitting role for the 1999 Expos.
In a 1999 poll of major leaguers, Merced surprisingly finished second among least-desired teammates, with 11% of the vote, sandwiched between well-known selfish players Barry Bonds (#1) and Albert Belle (#3).
Orlando signed with the Orix BlueWave for 2000 and homered in his first at-bat for the club. He only hit .225/.259/.350, though, in 23 games with Orix, and was let go in August. Troy Neel and Yasuo Fujii, Orix's main DHes, were far more productive.
Merced signed with the Houston Astros after leaving Japan and hit .269/.290/.373 in 17 games for the New Orleans Zephyrs.
2001-2003: Astros and stability
Returning to Houston, Merced was the main pinch-hitter for the 2001 Astros and 2002 Astros. He hit .263/.333/.453 the first year to show he could still hit well and .287/.350/.434 for a 102 OPS+ in 2002. He went 0 for 1 in the 2001 NLDS1 as his post-season efforts resulted in three first-round losses. Backing up the likes of Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo and Bagwell meant that Merced got few starts with Houston. He hit .259/.323/.552 in 65 games as a pinch-hitter in 2001 and .229/.373/.271 in 59 pinch-hit appearances the next year.
Merced played for the Caguas Criollos in the 2003 Caribbean Series and hit an impressive .375/?/.875. He scored five, drove in six and hit 3 homers, the most in the tournament. Orlando made the All-Tournament team in the outfield alongside Luis Polonia and Jose Valentin. Amazingly, the old-timer also stole six bases.
Merced struggled for the 2003 Astros as the 36-year-old veteran only managed a .231/.283/.373 line for a 67 OPS+, clearly his career-worst in the majors (and similar to his time in Japan). He batted .188/.250/.319 in 76 pinch-hit appearances, spent 7 games at DH and only played 41 games in the field.
In thirteen seasons, he played in 1,391 Games and had 3,998 At Bats, 564 Runs, 1,108 Hits, 229 Doubles, 28 Triples, 103 Home Runs, 585 RBI, 57 Stolen Bases, 487 Walks, .277 Batting Average, .355 On-base percentage, .426 Slugging Percentage, 1,702 Total Bases, 3 Sacrifice Hits, 30 Sacrifice Flies and 53 Intentional Walks.
1991 National League Championship Series
1992 National League Championship Series
2001 National League Divisional Series
Nine Other Players Who Debuted in 1990
* Pittsburgh Pirates (1990–1996)
* Toronto Blue Jays (1997)
* Minnesota Twins (1998)
* Boston Red Sox (1998)
* Chicago Cubs (1998)
* Montreal Expos (1999)
* Orix Blue Wave (2000
* Houston Astros (2001–2003)
Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia
- 1991 NLCS, 1992 NLCS, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos, New Orleans Zephyrs, Orix Blue Wave, Orlando Merced, Pittsburgh Pirates, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia, Toronto Blue Jays