Former Friar and one-time National League MVP Kevin Mitchell turns 55 today. Of course he won that MVP award after he was traded away from his hometown, but that's to be expected because life is pain and we can't have nice things. That last part isn't entirely true, but it feels that way all too often for anyone who has ever been a fan of a San Diego team in a sport that doesn't involve a goalie.
Enough commiserating with my fellow fans about how bad we have it, and back to Kevin Mitchell. As mentioned, his ties to San Diego go back much farther than the 62 games he played for the Padres in 1987. It's where he was born, grew up, attended high school, and continued to live throughout his baseball career and beyond. In fact, it's still the city he calls home. And for good reason; why would anyone want to live anywhere else in the world unless they had to?
Kevin's home became his office in December, 1986, when Trader Jack McKeon snagged him up from the World Series champion Mets along with others in the deal that sent Kevin McReynolds to New York. Mitchell was coming off a season that saw him finish third in Rookie of the Year balloting while playing six positions, mostly shortstop and the outfield corners. He was used nearly exclusively at third base when he came to the Padres, but that amounted to just 50 starts there until he was traded to the Giants in July.
Mitchell put up decent numbers in brown pinstripes, but once he went to San Francisco he started hitting like his genitals were on fire and the only water was at second base. He raked through the end of the 1987 season and did it again in '88, but in 1989 the man who Gary Carter nicknamed "World" was otherwordly. He had a year for the ages, leading the league in home runs, RBI, slugging, and OPS on his way to winning the MVP award. He received 20 of 24 available first-place votes, with three going to his scumbag teammate Will Clark, and the other to Cardinals' first baseman Pedro Guerrero. And if you're suspecting I tacked on that last sentence just as an excuse to call Will Clark a scumbag, you are one hundred percent correct.
While the impulse is to bemoan the Padres letting a future MVP slip through their fingers, they actually didn't get ripped off like you'd expect when they sent him upstate. In return for Mitch, starting pitcher Dave Dravecky, and reliever Craig Lefferts, San Diego received third baseman Chris Brown, reliever Keith Comstock, and two swingmen named Mark. Brown and Comstock were nothing to write home about, but the Marks, Grant and Davis, were stellar once their efforts were concentrated on relieving. Davis stepped into the closer role in 1988 and was named an All-Star that year and the next, when he won the NL Cy Young Award. Even if they had been a pair of trash sandwiches between the lines, it still would have been worth it just to get Grant in uniform. Without the distinction of being a former Padres player, it's hard to say if he would have gotten a shot to be a Padres broadcaster, and a world without Mud Grant in the booth is not a world I want to think about.
After his MVP season, Mitchell made another All-Star team in 1990 when he hit "just" 35 homers, 12 fewer than the year before. He hit 27 more, with a nice 69 RBI, in just 371 at-bats the next season, his last with at least 100 games played. From there it was to Seattle for a season, and then to Cincinnati for two. It was there that I became a fan of him, as the semi-local Reds were the only team whose games the 10- and 11-year-old me could watch and listen to on any regular basis. No surprise, he hit the hell out of the ball there as well. After putting up an obscene .326/ .429/ .681 (1.110) line with 30 homers in just 95 games in 1994, he headed to Japan like Shane Mack and many others did, sidestepping the indefinite labor unrest back home. He hit well there, but only briefly, then headed back to the states where he saw limited playing time over three seasons with the Red Sox, Reds again, Indians, and A's. That was all she wrote for his big league career, although he did play a bit in Mexico and unaffiliated U.S. leagues the next couple seasons.
Baseball is still in his blood; as recently as a few years ago his name has cropped up in the comments section here, where Gaslamp Ballers mentioned playing alongside him in the San Diego Adult Baseball League. Along with the game, the city that molded him is still close to his heart. Just last year it warmed mine to see a picture of him wearing the Padres' then-brand-new Friday alternate hat.
Oh, and on a side note to close with, you know that theoretical genital fire I mentioned? Turns out that blaze would have a lot of ground to cover. According to the man himself, he never wore a protective cup in his playing days, due solely to the fact that "I couldn’t find one big enough for my junk."