Editor’s note: I’m pleased to present a first-ever guest edition of “Any player/Any era” by Albert Lang, one of the voters and writers for my project last month on the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.
What he did: Over the holidays, my fiancé’s sister gave me some unopened baseball card packs from the late 80s/early 90s. I got a shocking amount of Pedro Guerrero cards, including the 1990 Donruss MVP one. I sort of remembered Guerrero but certainly not as an MVP type guy. So, obviously, I had to cruise to Baseball Reference, and, my god, Guerrero slugged: .300/.370/.480 for his career with 215 HRs in 6,115 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Despite hitting well (.305/.355/.470) in his first four tastes (658 plate appearances) of the majors with the Dodgers, the team would not give him a full time role until 1982, when he was 26. Of course, it probably helped that he slugged five RBIs in game five of the 1981 World Series. Guerrero took the opportunity and ran with it, hitting .304/.378/.536 with 32 HRs, 27 doubles and 22 steals in ‘82. In so doing, he became the first Dodger with 30 HRs/20 SBs in a season. He became the second player to do so the following season.
While those years were all well and good, 1985 would be his East of Eden: .320/.422/.577, leading the league in OBP and slugging. During one stretch, he reached base 14 consecutive times, two plate appearances short of the record set by Ted Williams. Unfortunately, he ruptured a tendon during Spring Training in 1986. He did have some successful seasons thereafter, but he was never quite the dominant force he was with the Dodgers. Still Guerrero was a filthy hitter, a player Bill James called “the best hitter God has made in a long time.”
Era he might have thrived in: We’re sticking him in the American League in 1925. This was a pretty decent hitter’s era, one that would emphasize Guerrero’s ability to get on base. More importantly, he would fit in perfectly on the ’25 Philadelphia Athletics. He could slide in for Jim Poole at first base and greatly improve an already potent line-up. In addition, he could take at bats from the somewhat light-hitting outfielder Bing Miller. Of course, he’d be pushed out of the way once the Athletics decided to use Jimmie Foxx. Until then, Guerrero would be something.
Why: To quote Bill James in referencing Guerrero trying to play the infield: “Guerrero’s long war with third base.” Guerrero simply could not play third base. In 1983, he made 30 errors, tied for the 24th most by a third baseman in a season since 1946 (numbers via the SABR Baseball List and Record Book).
Without the burden of trying to play third, Guerrero would be free to do what he did best: mash. If you use his neutralized batting, Guerrero would be an absolute force from his age 25 through 29 seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics. At 29, he would hit .358/.462/.650 and his career line would be .333/.405/.529 with 242 HRs.
Had Guerrero played in the 20s, his numbers would look a lot more astounding. That said, even in his era, Guerrero compiled an .850 OPS, the 52nd best in MLB history by a right-handed batter (min. 5,000 PA) (numbers again from the SABR Baseball List and Record Book).
Also, hopefully playing in simpler times would help the simpleton Guerrero. In 1999, Guerrero was arrested while trying to buy 33 pounds of cocaine. He was eventually acquitted of drug conspiracy charges after his lawyer argued his low IQ made it impossible for him to grasp that he had agreed to a drug deal. In addition, later in ’99, O.J. Simpson called 9-1-1 to report his girlfriend missing. During the call he said she had been using drugs with Guerrero.
The 1920s, a simpler, better time for Pedro Guerrero.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Al Simmons, Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Cesar Cedeno, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Don Drysdale, Eddie Lopat, Elmer Flick, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack Morris, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film), Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Ollie Carnegie, Paul Derringer, Pedro Martinez, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Wes Ferrell, Will Clark, Willie Mays