SDI Side Notes – February 9
1958 – Pete O’Brien is born in Santa Monica, California.
Prior to the rise of Rafael Palmeiro, he was our standard for power-hitting first basemen. With that, and a 6-year tenure at first base, had a solid claim to the top spot among all-time Rangers first-sackers. He combined an average glove with an average bat to raise the standard of play for some of the most abysmal Rangers teams in history. And thanks to a follow-through shot on a mid-80’s baseball card, he lit my fire of fandom .
Drafted in the 15th round (381st overall) out of the University of Nebraska, Pete debuted as a 24-year-old in September 1982, on a team that put up a .395 winning percentage. For still-unexplained reasons, some 1,154,432 fans ventured to the broiler that was Arlington Stadium that season. Those that did saw O’Brien slug .507 with 4 homers, 4 doubles, and a triple in just 20 games that September, despite a .239 batting average. It was a bit of a tease, as Pete would never slug that high again, but he rose to a .290/.385/.468 slash in his best season, 1986.
That year, flipping cards from a 1985 Topps set, I first discovered #9. He was my first Rangers hero – the most consistently average performer on consistently rotten team. Sporting less power than slugging Larry Parrish, he was nonetheless a more complete player. Pete was a smooth first baseman, and brought more to the field than the cast iron Larry sported whenever he wasn’t DHing.
In 1987, while Parrish was becoming the first Ranger to notch 30 homers in a season and making the All-Star team, O’Brien pulled the ball around like his steady self: 26 doubles, 23 homers, nearly as many walks as strikeouts, and a .286/.348/.457 slash line.
In a league with Don Mattingly, Cecil Cooper, Eddie Murray, and the emerging duo of Mark McGwire and Wally Joyner on the West coast, Pete never got close to an All-Star team. Still, he did manage one Top 20 MVP finish (17th in 1986) for a youth-laden Rangers squat that made a rare run from the cellar to a 2nd-place finish in the West.
For his 6+ seasons in Rangers red and blue, he put up numbers that, on his leaving, would have placed him at first base on the all-time Rangers team:
His stat line puts him ahead of the Pride of Perrytown, Mike Hargrove. Beyond that, he’d face off against the forgettable duo of Jim Spencer and Pat Putnam. Since then, Rangers fans have been blessed with truly great first basemen. First came the smooth strokes of Palmeiro and Will Clark, followed by the consistent mediocrity of Mitch Moreland. But for my money, there was no sweeter stat line growing up than the steady 25 doubles, 19 homers, and 80 RBI of Petey O’Brien.
If all that fails to win you over, then there’s this post-script: On December 6, 1988, he was traded by the Texas Rangers with Jerry Browne and Oddibe McDowell to the Cleveland Indians. The player coming back would be the Rangers’ first batting champ and All-Star MVP: Julio Franco.
But it was that 1985 Topps baseball card, with the regrettable blood-red Rangers jerseys and his left-handed follow-through, that made me a Rangers fan – then and forever more.