Throwback Thursday: Flashback to Froot Loops
You read that name, and immediately, if you’re my age, you remember at least once trying to do the inimitable. Admit it. We all did. If, like me, you were 15 in 1995, you wanted to just once whip that bat from flat to ready, then feel that ball just give as it begins an epic flight to right.
We tugged the wrist wraps into place. We fluted our fingers against the handle. We tucked Big League Chew into our gums like Red Man, and then came the most critical part. We hung the bat back, grade-schooler lugging a sledgehammer, the barrel almost parallel to the dirt. We squinted towards the mound, with old tire rubbings or, if we had it, eye black making us all the more menacing. Then we whipped the barrel up like a buggy man, snapping the wrists and imagining the ball slashing on a line towards the left field bullpen or launched like a satellite towards the roof of the right field stands at a glistening new Ballpark in Arlington.
Like a million kids in the 50s, I wanted to be Mickey at the plate. I was just a few decades late and had a different Mickey in mind. Pudge Rodriguez had my heart, but Mickey held that aesthetic side of the soul that longs for the unusual in baseball. We loved Julio Franco not because he could muscle any ball to right, but because of HOW he muscled the ball. We loved Ruben Sierra because he was the first Ranger ever to challenge for the title of “Best Player in the Game,” but also because we didn’t have a milquetoast swing like Will Clark, whom we could never imitate, but rather because he kicked, lunged, and swung at almost everything … and still killed quite a few sliders away.
We loved Mickey because of the wrist wraps, the country-strong frame, and forearms that never quite tapered down to wrists. We loved the eyeblack and (yes, in those less aware times) the jaw full of chaw. But mostly, we loved that stance, that swing, and most of all, the promise of what it would bring.
He was our masher, second only to Juan Gonzalez, right up there with Dean Palmer. He was the all or nothing king of the epic home run. From both sides of the plate, sure, but in my mind’s eye, he’s somehow always a lefty, always aiming for that free suit offered for slamming the sign atop the Home Run Porch. He’s the only man to ever really threaten it.
Mickey Tettleton was Froot Loops, a tremendously docile nickname for a hitter whose coiled power brought more to mind a cobra than a cereal (though he claimed they were the source of his power; I’d have bet on Skoal or beef jerky). And we never appreciated him as we should have. It’s taken 20 years and numerous suitors to his DH role, but the slugfest for the greatest DH in franchise history comes down to Larry Parish and a three-season former catcher playing out the string. Oh, and what a playout player he was.
He never did anything average. The stance, somehow uniquely mirrored from either side of the plate. The swing. The batting average. The all-or-nothing, homer/whiff/walk trifecta. He was perfect for the Will Clark-era Rangers, too, an Oklahoma State Cowboy who could speak softly, swing a very big stick, and stop an argument with a wordless eye black-framed glare.
New metrics put the man in a different light. Mickey was an on-base machine for a power hitting, low average guy. When he retired, he was thought for that stance, and for lots of power, lots of strikeouts, limited value. But looking back, here are Mickey’s advanced ratios, first for his career (which also included stops in Oakland, Baltimore, and, for his primo work, Detroit), then his per-season average in Texas.:
Across the span of his career, we can see why Texas fans got a glimpse of high-caliber play from the former All Star. These are his seasonal averages in the above numbers:
*Offensive war, which is all that matters in a DH.
2+ SEASONS IN TEXAS
Across the same number of at-bats for Texas, he was roughly a moderately less valuable player than in his overall career:
For what was basically two seasons, plus a curtain call in 1997, those are solid numbers from a DH, let alone one who could spell Will Clark at first and kept an extra catcher and outfielder off the roster.
By the end of his career, we missed out on most of one factor: Mickey could field a bit (he was only about -4 total dWAR over his career, meaning just below average). He retired with a .991 fielding percentage in 872 games as a catcher, a .979 fielding percentage in 142 games as an outfielder, and a .986 fielding percentage in 125 games as a first baseman. That’s solid for a slow-footed 6’2”, 200lb masher.
But nobody ever said, “Man, I remember how Mickey could catch a ballgame. The man could really frame a circle changeup.” Fans and contemporaries alike just have stories of a great teammate and, at least as much, tales of who saw him hit the ball the furthest or hardest.
Fun case in point: Mickey was the first player in the history of the first (and still greatest) new retro ballpark, Camden Yards, to clear the right field stands and reach Eutaw Street.
What I remember about Mickey the most, though, is that straight-up stance, that bat hanging back, the fingers flexing, the eye black glinting against a low-slung helmet. The stream of spit just before the pitch, the slow coil of the barrel to a “normal” launch position. And the promise of a moon shot with the likes of which we wouldn’t see again until the days of Nelson Cruz and, now, the once and future king of lefty swing, Josh Hamilton.
But before them all, we dreamed of Froot Loops and moonshots to every part of a beautiful brand-new park. And like the milkman, the man with the cereal moniker delivered, more often than not.