Offerman98

U.L.’s Toothpick: The Year Of The Card–Jose Offerman, 1998

It is perhaps the best tricky trivia question about Royals’ history: which player has the highest career batting average in franchise history (minimum 1,000 at-bats)? Most people, unsuspecting, would guess George Brett. Someone expecting an unusual answer might throw out Hal McRae or Mike Sweeney or someone like that. Most people probably don’t know the answer is Jose Offerman, who hit .306 in 1,592 at-bats in Kansas City, finishing just ahead of Brett’s career .305 average.

Jose Antonio Offerman Dono was born on November 8, 1968, in the baseball hotbed of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. The Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent in 1986, and Offerman quickly made a name for himself as a prospect, hitting .331/.421/.438 in 1988 for Great Falls in the rookie-level Pioneer League. He followed that up with a .296/.387/.375 line in 1989, split almost evenly between Class A and Class AA ball. After hitting .326/.416/.410 at Class AAA in 1990, Offerman made his major-league debut on August 19 of that year. It was a pretty good debut—Offerman homered in his first MLB at-bat, taking Dennis Martinez deep to lead off the first inning. He also singled twice and stole a base.

There’s really only way to go after a debut like that, and of course Offerman went downhill, hitting just .155/.210/.207 in 63 plate appearances for the 1990 season. He struggled again in the majors in 1991, hitting .195/.345/.212 in 140 plate appearances, although he hit .298/.396/.353 in AAA. But when he got the chance to play regularly in 1992, he responded with a solid .260/.331/.333 line. The slash line was decent but there were some negative factors, too: Offerman stole 23 bases but was caught 16 times, a poor 59% success rate. And then there were the 42 errors. I don’t know who first came up with the line, but it was a good one: “How do you spell Offerman? With two f’s and about 40 e’s.”

Offerman’s defensive shortcomings continued to undermine some decent offensive numbers. You can imagine how that might be frustrating for fans, but it was perhaps still a bit of a surprise when, in 1995, the announcement that Offerman had made his first All-Star Game was greeted with boos at Dodger Stadium.

It wasn’t just Offerman’s defense that got him on the fans’ bad side. In a 1994 game, Offerman threw a fit when manager Tommy Lasorda asked him to bunt. Although he was banished to Class AAA for the rest of the year, that was probably impossible to live down. He also had earned a reputation for not always hustling and occasionally fighting teammates. Clearly a change of scenery was needed.

Following that 1995 season, Royals shortstop Greg Gagne became a free agent, then signed with the Dodgers. Offerman was expendable, and the Royals were able to pick him up in exchange for relief pitcher Billy Brewer. The Royals were sacrificing defense to pick up some offense.

It didn’t take long into the 1996 season for that trade off to become too much for the team to take. So in an unusually shrewd move for the Royals of that era, Offerman was moved to first base in late April, with David Howard taking over at shortstop. For a defensive player who had range but an erratic arm, first base was a much better fit. The move woke up Offerman’s bat—he was hitting .216/.237/.243 when the change was made, but ended the season with a .303/.384/.417 line. It also helped improve the team overall. After a 5-14 start, the Royals went 70-72 the rest of the way. Not great, but not abysmally bad like the pace they had been on.

After the 1996 season, the Royals traded for shortstop Jay Bell and first baseman Jeff King, moving Offerman to second base. But 1997 was a year Offerman might like to forget, as he suffered a thigh injury in April, a case of chicken pox in July, and a sprained ankle in August. He played in just 106 games and hit .297/.359/.394—still acceptable, but his worst season as a Royal.

But Offerman bounced back well in 1998, posting the best season of his entire career with 4.6 WARP. He hit .315/.403/.438, stole 45 bases, and led the league in triples with 13. He also collected 89 walks, leading the Royals by a wide margin. As a team, the Royals improved by five wins over 1996.

Offerman was hot right from the start of the season. After an 0-4 on Opening Day, he had a nine-game hitting streak, going 17-39 in those games. When that was snapped, he immediately started an eight-game streak, and ended April with a .330/.388/.413 line.

From an average standpoint, May was not as good for Offerman. But his slugging and on-base percentages went up, with a .281/.420/.461 line for the month. Nine of his 25 hits were for extra bases, and he walked 22 times. It’s hard to ask much more from someone hitting second or third in the order.

June was easily the worst month of Offerman’s 1998 season. Although he had a seven-game hitting streak late in the month, his overall line was just .233/.315/.405. There was probably some bad luck involved, as evidenced by a .255 BABIP. Still, Offerman ended the month with an overall line of .280/.372/.424.

Things improved quite a bit for Offerman in July. The month began quietly enough—he went 0-7 over two games on the 2nd and 3rd. Then he picked up single hits in three straight games. After an 0-4 on July 10, the line drives began. Offerman went 1-4 on July 11 in Chicago, and got at least one hit in every game the rest of the month. He ended July with a .373/.467/.431 line and a 20-game hitting streak.

That streak continued for the first week of August. Finally, on August 8, the Yankees held Offerman hitless, snapping his streak at 27 games. That was just three short of Brett’s franchise record 30-game hit streak. Undeterred, Offerman immediately had a six-game hitting streak. Overall, he had a hit in 22 of his 29 games that month, ending August with a .333/.439/.463 line.

Offerman would enjoy one more seven-game hitting streak in mid-September. As was the case in August, hitless games were few and far between. He hit .349/.391/.470 for the month. From July 1 onward, he hit .352/.436/.454.

Sadly for the Royals, that great second half was just driving up Offerman’s price in free agency. After his two-year, $2.9 million deal with Kansas City was up at the end of the season, Offerman signed with Boston for four years and $26 million. For a team that had a total payroll of just over $35.6 million in 1998, that was way too much to match.

Offerman had a solid 1999 season, hitting .294/.391/.435, then hitting .389/.560/.611 in the ALDS against Cleveland and .458/.480/.542 in the ALCS against New York. But his last three seasons in Boston were not as successful, with averages of .255, .267, and finally .232 before he was traded to Seattle late in 2002. Offerman spent 2003 in the independent Atlantic League, then played roughly half a season for Minnesota in 2004 and in 86 games for Philadelphia and the Mets in 2005.

Post-major league life wasn’t always good to Offerman. In 2007, he was back in the Atlantic League when he was hit by a pitch in an August game. Offerman charged the mound, bat in hand. The opposing pitcher ended up with a broken finger, and the opposing catcher suffered a career-ending concussion. The brawl was so wild that Offerman was arrested and charged with two counts of second-degree assault. He wound up getting probation, and was also sued by the catcher. Ultimately, Offerman had to pay him $940,000 in damages.

Offerman was also involved in a notable fight in the Dominican Winter League, where he had been managing with some success. In 2010, Offerman was managing the Licey Tigers and got in an argument with current major-league umpire D.J. Reyburn. The argument escalated and Offerman punched Reyburn, knocking him to the ground. Offerman received a lifetime ban from the Dominican Winter League, although that was later rescinded. Somewhat amazingly, Offerman is still serving as a coach for Licey. He publicly expressed interest in a major-league coaching job a few years ago, but no team showed interest.

But Offerman still has a spot in Royals history, and as a way to win a bet at your neighborhood bar.

Jose Offerman’s best games of 1998
9/17 @ CHI: Went 4-4 with a walk and scored four runs in 13-4 win.
7/23 vs. TEX: Had four hits and a walk in 8-4 loss.
4/3 @ MIN: Collected two doubles and a single, scored twice, and drove in one in 9-5 win.
4/25 vs. TEX: Had three hits and scored three runs in 11-8 loss.
8/1 vs. BAL: Stole four bases, singled, walked twice, and scored two runs in 9-5 win.

About the card
The scan didn’t do a good job picking up the gold foil stamp on the front, which is unfortunate. I really like the clean look of this card and a good action shot. I can’t really argue with the write-up on the back, either.

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1 comment on “U.L.’s Toothpick: The Year Of The Card–Jose Offerman, 1998”

KHAZAD

When I think of 1998 Offerman, I always think of walks. He had 89 of them that year, and it was the last time a Royal had at least 80. There have now been 412 individual player seasons of 80 or more walks since then, or a little over an average of 14 times per team. (Other than the Royals, of course)

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