"Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three."
-Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Stretching the term "greatest" in the loosest sense possible, #56 on our list is Brent Mayne.
I've gotten the emails, I've read the comments. I know this list is depressing at times with the number of mediocre, even crappy players that rank surprisingly high on the list. Take heed that many of these players were elevated on the list by sticking around for so long. It wasn't that they were great, it was that Royals management was too inept or too lazy to find someone better.
Brent Mayne was one such mediocre player. He was so amazingly mediocre that the Royals employed him in two separate stints. He is on this list for one reason only - he is 20th in Royals history in games played. He has played more games for Kansas City than Danny Tartabull, Brian McRae, Darrell Porter, Bo Jackson or Paul Splittorff. He spent nine seasons in Kansas City, more than Bret Saberhagen, Joe Randa, Steve Busby or Carlos Beltran. He is a reflection of both the weakness of using Win Shares to compile such a list, and the weakness of Royals management in the mid 90s.
Brent Mayne was actually a first round pick out of college baseball powerhouse Cal State-Fullerton. He was taken ahead of Cal Eldred, Mo Vaughn and Chuck Knoblauch, although in fairness, he was taken right after Jeff Juden. A lot of other teams felt he was a stretch for a first-round pick. He was a left-handed hitting catcher and baseball guys love left-handed hitting catchers. I've never really figured that out. Here are the left-handed or switch-hitting catchers taken in the first round from 1989-1999:
1989 - Tyler Houston (2nd), Atlanta
1989 - Alan Zinter (24th), NY Mets
1990 - Paul Ellis (30th), St. Louis
1990 - Marcus Jensen (33rd), San Francisco
1994 - Mark Johnson (26th), Chicago White Sox
1995 - Ben Davis (2nd), San Diego
1999 - Eric Munson (3rd), Detroit
Not an All-Star in the group. Sure you'll have your Joe Mauers every once in awhile, but I've never been impressed with the myth of the left-handed hitting catcher.
After just seven games in low A ball, Mayne began 1990 all the way in AA where he hit .267 with two home runs and 61 RBI, and found himself in Kansas City for a cup of the coffee at the end of the year. In the spring of 1991, Mayne beat out Tim Spehr for the chance to backup starting catcher Mike MacFarlane. He began the year with a 3-for-3 game against the Yankees and was hitting .301 as late as July of his rookie season. A second half slump dropped him to .251/.315/.325 in 85 games, as he filled in for an injured MacFarlane.
With MacFarlane blocking him for a starting role, the 23 year old Mayne was the subject of trade talk in the winter of 1991. The Astros were interested in him and were willing to deal a speedy outfielder named Kenny Lofton for Mayne. When the Royals insisted on also receiving reliever Antonio Osuna, the Astros balked, and instead dealt him to Cleveland. Oops.
Failing to land some bats in exchange for Mayne, the Royals picked up some bats from the Mets instead. They dealt Bret Saberhagen in a blockbuster deal for infielders Keith Miller, Gregg Jefferies and outfielder Kevin McReynolds. Complicating the situation was the Royals acquisition of catcher Bob Melvin from the Orioles for pitcher Storm Davis. Melvin was added just in case Mayne was dealt, but in the end, the Royals had to carry all three catchers on the roster. The Royals got off to an awful start that year, and Mayne was no exception. Without regular playing time, he would struggle much of the year, finishing at .225/.260/.272.
Brent would spent the next three seasons in Kansas City, serving mostly as Mike MacFarlane's backup until 1995 when Mac left for Boston. Over 1993-1995 Mayne would post very consistent numbers, hitting between .251 and .257, posting an on-base percentage between .313 and .323 and posting a slugging percentage between .326 and .347. After giving Mayne a starting job in 1995 and seeing Mayne post his consistently pedestrian numbers, they decided to bring Mac back and dealt their former first round pick to the Mets for minor leaguer Al Shirley.
Mayne bounced around as a backup catcher from the Mets to the Athletics to the Giants to the Rockies. He had career years in 1999 and 2000, hitting .301 each year and posting an on-base percentage in the .380s. In 2000, he posted career highs in games played, at bats, home runs, RBI, and walks. He even pitched an inning an earned a win with an 83 mph fastball, becoming the first position player to earn a victory since 1968.
Despite a decent season in 2000, the Rockies decided to go with young Ben Petrick and shopped Mayne around. On June 24, the Royals re-acquired Mayne in exchange for P Mac Suzuki and C Sal Fasano.
"He is an above-average receiver...He has the experience we need at the major-league level to continue the development of our pitchers here as well as the guys we will bring up."
-General Manager Allard Baird
"He doesn't supply a whole lot of power, but that's not what we're looking for. We're looking for contact and the ability to move some runners. He supplies that."
-Manager Tony Muser
"No comment right now."
-Catcher Brent Mayne
Mayne was less than thrilled to be dealt to the hapless Royals and called the trade "unsettling." He split time the rest of the season with Gregg Zaun for the 97 loss Royals, hitting .241/.283/.313 and providing untold veteran presence for a young pitching staff that produced a 4.87 ERA. He went into 2002 as the starting catcher and hit .236 while shepherding a pitching staff with a 5.21 ERA.
I'm sure catchers can have an impact on pitching staffs. But just because a catcher is old and wise, doesn't mean he will have that impact.
Pitchers stats against while Brent Mayne was catching: .281/.349/.462 in 3257 at bats
Pitchers stats against while A.J. Hinch was catching: .285/.348/.468 in 2345 at bats
Virtually no difference.
Mayne was finally rewarded for sticking around Kansas City so long when in 2003 the team got off to an amazing start and led the American League Central Division for much of the season. He hit .245 with six home runs and 36 RBI. The pitching staff did seem to fare a bit better under his guidance than under that of backup catcher Mike DiFelice, although in fairness, they probably were scared DiFelice would light their rear-ends on fire .
After the season, the Royals let the thirty-five year old Mayne go and he signed on with Arizona. He was dealt midseason to the Dodgers and that fall appeared in his first post-season, collecting two hits. When the Dodgers declined to pick up his contract that winter, Mayne decided to retire.
So here's to you Brent Mayne. You didn't hit for much of an average. You didn't hit for any kind of power. You didn't draw walks. You didn't magically turn around pitching staffs. You didn't even throw out basestealers at a very high rate. But you were quiet, hard-working and you persevered. The fact that you appeared in 1279 big league games without a seeming ability to do anything particularly well is quite a testament to something. I'm just not sure what that is.