Quick baseball trivia question: who is the only player to hold the single-season batting average record for two different teams? The answer: John Olerud. Olerud hit .363 for the Blue Jays in 1993, and .354 for the Mets in 1998. Though he is most known for wearing a helmet while playing the field, John Olerud was far more than that. Playing 17 seasons in the majors, Olerud was a key piece in the back-to-back championships of the Blue Jays, the consistently solid Mets of the late ’90s, and the 2001 Mariners, who hold the single-season wins record. Being a part of all of that success must mean Olerud got his due. However, Olerud’s name is rarely brought up with other stars of the ’90s.
John Olerud was drafted by the Blue Jays in 1989, and even made it up to the majors for a few at-bats by the end of that same year. From that fall on, Olerud would be the everyday first baseman for the Jays until he joined the Mets in 1997. Over the course of his seven full seasons in Toronto, Olerud slashed .293/.395.471, while also posting a fielding percentage of at least .992 in all but one of those seasons (the other being .986). Throughout all of his seasons in the majors, Olerud never had a better season than 1993. In that season, Olerud slashed .363/.473/.599 in 157 games. He made the all-star team, finished 3rd in MVP voting, and even won the World Series. With Olerud a stalwart at first for the Jays, success was plentiful.
With one year left on his contract, John Olerud was traded to the New York Mets in the 1996-97 offseason. Olerud picked up right where he left off with Toronto, batting .294/.400/.489 in his first season in New York. Knowing what they had at the time, New York made sure to resign Olerud to a two-year deal the following offseason. The contract paid dividends the very next season when Olerud would set the single-season batting average mark for the Mets. Olerud followed that season with another Olerud season, slashing .298/.427/.463 in 1999, riding with the Mets all the way to the NLCS. His Mets tenure showed to be his best statistically. Olerud ended his Mets tenure slashing .315/.425/.465 over three seasons. Though Olerud did not receive any recognition in terms of awards, his presence was extremely important to the Mets’ success in the late ’90s.
Mariners and Beyond
Olerud would leave the Mets after 1999 and sign with the Seattle Mariners. During his tenure in Seattle, Olerud would be a part of the most successful regular-season team in Major League history. Olerud was a catalyst that season, making his second and final all-star appearance, slashing .302/.401/.472, and playing in 159 games. Olerud would spend the next 2.5 seasons in Seattle, playing as well as he had for his entire career. Seattle released Olerud in May of 2004, and he would sign with the Yankees for the remainder of the season. Following 2004, Olerud would sign with the Red Sox the following May, where he would finish his career. All tolled, Olerud ended his career with a 58.2 career WAR, 2 all-star appearances, and 3 gold gloves.
John Olerud was a smooth fielding first baseman who could hit for average. In a time when steroids were so prevalent in the game of baseball, Olerud played his own brand of baseball, and he played it well. Olerud was overshadowed by players in his era that were hitting the ball farther and harder than he was, and his accolades reflect that. Olerud actually finished the 1993 season with a higher WAR than the MVP Frank Thomas, however, Thomas mashed 41 homers with 128 RBIs compared to Olerud’s 24 and 107. John Olerud was a more than solid player during his 17-year career, and although he may not deserve Hall of Fame recognition, his career should be looked on with praise nonetheless.
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