Given his eligibility for the Hall of Fame this year, its time we reflect back on the strange career of Gary Gaetti, especially his brief tenure as a Royal.
Did you know that Gaetti lasted 19 seasons in the major leagues? Or that he hit 360 career home runs, finished with over 2200 hits and 1341 RsBI? Weirder still, Gaetti's 360 total is only one behind some guy named Joe DiMaggio, which has to be one of the more shocking things I've seen all week.
Gaetti is most known for his Twins time (1981-90), playing for the World Champion '87 team. Most notably, Gaetti was the '87 ALCS MVP, thanks to a .300/.348/.650 line against Detroit.
After Minnesota, Gaetti spent two and a half seasons in California with the Angels, before being released on June 3rd, 1993, thanks to a .180/.250/.220 line through 20 games. (He had only hit .226/.267/.342 in 1992.) Two weeks later, he was signed by the Royals, beginning his strange rebirth as a hitter. On the brink of forced retirement, Gaetti then survived the rest of the 1990s, making it all the way to a brief appearance with the 2000 Red Sox.
In 82 games with the Royals in '93, Gaetti returned to respectability, hitting .256/.309/.477 with 14 homers. Sure, he was an out machine, but the '93 Royals had very little power, and only Mike Macfarlane (20), George Brett (19) and Wally Joyner (15) finished with more homers. Similarly, The Rat's .477 SLG was second on the team Macfarlane.
G-man resigned with the Royals for the '94 season, which was infamously stopped short by the Player's Strike. 1994 was the last season the Royals finished with a winning record before 2003, thanks in part to Gaetti, who along with Bob Hamelin provided the pop to a lineup which featured Jose Lind, Greg Gagne, Brian McRae, Vince Coleman and Felix Jose. Gaetti wasn't great in '94, but he did hit .287/.328/.462. From 1990 to 1998, this was essentially Gaetti's level of performance, perhaps a little singles heavy and homers light (his career BA was .255). Gaetti finished with 14 homers when the season ended in '94, and continued to play abover-average defense.
In 1995 an alien invaded Gaetti's body as he exploded for a .261/.329/.518 line and an insane 35 homers, his career high, and the most since his 34 in 1986. Gaetti was 36 years old.
Gaetti finished 7th in the AL in Homers, behind Albert Belle (50), Jay Buhner (40), Frank Thomas (40), Mark McGwire (39), Raf Palmeiro (39) and Mo Vaughn (39). Gaetti won the AL 3B Silver Slugger Award and finished 10th in the AL MVP Race, recieving 45 points (but no first place votes).
More incredibly, Gaetti hit his 35 homers in a shortened season, as the '95 Royals went 70-74. Continuing a trend, the Royals had almost no power in 1995 and in general had a hard time scoring runs, finishing dead last in the American League in runs scored. Gaetti's 35 homers eclipsed anyone else on the team, a full 21 ahead of the 2nd most powerful Royal, Joe Nunnally. Wally Joyner finished third on the team with 12 homers.
Gaetti's low batting average and lack of patience kept his rate stats out of the Royals Top Ten single season annals, but his 35 homers still stands as the second most in team history, behind only Balboni's 36 in 1985. For a little over one million dollars, Gaetti had one of the best offensive seasons a Royal ever has.
Since the early '90s Gaetti occasionally DH'ed and played first base from time to time, as his incredible slowness pushed him from the Hot Corner. Still, in '95 The Rat was a bonafide third baseman, although no longer a Gold Glover.
From there, Gaetti signed with the crossstate Cardinals, with mixed results. Gaetti never approached 1995 again, but in two and a half seasons in St. Louis he stayed near his .270/.320/.470 level. Nevertheless, the G-man slumped badly in 1997, hitting .251/.305/.404 for a 73-89 Cardinals team that struggled across the board. Worse, LaRussa either lacked or looked away from other options, sending Gaetti out for 538 PAs.
Gaetti's song had one more verse however, as he was waived by St. Louis in August of 1998, with a .269/.335/.454 line in 91 games. In those 91 games, Gaetti had still managed 11 homers, which wasn't bad, but also wasn't spectacular in 1998. Signed by the Cubs two weeks later, Gaetti proceded to hit .320/.397/.594 in 37 games with a Cubs team that chased down 90 wins, a one-game playoff and a Wild Card berth. Gaetti's out-of-his-mind performance (including 8 homers and 11 doubles) helped the Cubs over the top and ingratiated him to thousands of insane Cub fans.
Naturally, the Cubs signed him for another season, which he rewarded them with a .204/.260/.339 line in 113 games. The '99 Cubs won 67 games, and at 40, Gaetti was the oldest player in baseball. Gaetti popped up one last time, playing 5 final games with the 2000 Red Sox, going 0-10 and driving in one run.
Gaetti's Royal legacy is stronger than you might think, given the short (and recently terrible) lifespan of this franchise and Gaetti's surprisingly bright performance in blue. Gaetti is 16th All-Time in Royal homers, with 61. Gaetti's 61 ties him with D. Porter and is only 4 behind the much more famous and richer Johnny Damon. Gaetti managed less doubles as a Royal, only 60, ranking 43rd All-Time, one behind the infamous Jorge Orta. Gaetti is 49th All-Time with an even 300 hits, which again ranks juuuuust behind Orta's 302. Incredibly slow, towards the end of his career Gaetti was one of the top GiDP men in the National League, however, with the Royals, he ranks only 68th All-Time, with 18 GiDPs.
Last month, Jay Jaffe wrote this about The Rat's Hall of Fame chances:
Affectionately known as the Rat, Gaetti was a classic low-average, high-slugging third baseman who was excellent with the leather. Not only did he own the AL Gold Glove from 1986-1989, he's tied for fifth all-time in FRAA among third basemen (Brooks Robinson leads at 176, followed by Jimmy Collins at 172). He's done in by the fact that he didn't have much patience at the plate, leading to just a .308 OBP. The otherwise vaguely similar Ron Cey (who hit .261/.354/.445 with 316 homers over a career some 1500 plate appearances shorter) scores at a much more robust 74.9 JAWS thanks to better plate discipline if considerably worse defense. No to the Rat.
Jaffe's JAWS system thinks highly of OBP, as one might expect, which sadly was the weakest facet of Gaetti's game. Still, he's probably not a Hall of Famer by any standards. Especially notable is Gaetti's lack of a dominant peak (although he was pretty damn good in Minny for two seasons) and ocassional propensity to be below average for seasons at a time. His near-meltdown in California and semi-collapse in St. Louis quell any serious consideration of his chances, but he wasn't without his moments. His 1998 glory run with the Cubs (probably the best team to do it for short of NY or Boston) effectively capped a career and sealed his veneration in the minds of many, despite his somewhat pathetic hanging on for two more seasons.
According to baseball-reference, Gaetti made over 26 million dollars in baseball, (which is probably conservative) including a career high $3 million per with tha Angels (coincidentally his worst performance more or less).