The Facts –
1993 - Impressive in his 91 PA debut with 4 homeruns, and a deep bomb in everybody’s favorite 1993 game on October 3.
1994 – Ran away with unanimous ROY honors while batting .304 with 16 homeruns. (123 OPS+) Raul was on pace for 22 homeruns in that strike shortened season. Klesko and the great John Hudek had no chance in that vote. With 16 putouts in only 112 games, he was opening eyes around the league with his defense.
1995 – NL All-Star and Gold Glove. Another great season batting .285/.328/.496. We will not discuss his Homerun Derby appearance.
1996 – Near duplicate season from 1995. Third year in a row with OPS+ of 123. Smashed 24 homeruns and 40 doubles. .297/.334/.495
1997 – What a breakout season. Another Gold Glove. Batted .310/.360/.541 with 42 doubles, 30 homeruns and 32 stolen bases. 140 OPS+, and became the first and only Dodger to join the 30-30 club.
1998 – Overall production was slightly down but his power was the only constant during this forgettable season. 30 home runs and another 90 RBI’s.
1999 – More power, more steals, but even less overall production? Another 30-30 season. 33 home runs, 99 RBI’s and 36 steals. He finally learned to take a walk with 71 total. OBP of .332 made up for his falling average.
6+ Seasons – Very solid numbers and a very solid player. Career dodger totals of .288/.334/.504 with 163 Homeruns, 140 SB and an OPS+ of 122. He brought home hardware, and played an exciting brand of baseball.
El Cañon was by far the most exciting player I ever saw in a Dodger uniform. Time does fly, and it is hard to imagine that he was here for over 6 seasons. Or is it only 6 seasons? I just wish we had the chance to see more of Raul playing at his best in a Dodger uniform. Mondesi was hailed by Lasorda as the ultimate 5 tool player. Speed, Power, Hit for average, plus arm and great fielding skills. He was Matt Kemp before there was Matt Kemp.
Mondesi became my favorite player on April 23, 1994. The Dodgers had a struggling 2B named Delino. He was only batting .210 and was just terrible. Raul saved the day for all Dodger fans by knocking Delino unconscious with his rock solid chest during a collision of which Mondesi caught the ball. Mondesi’s heroics propelled the Dodgers to a three game winning streak where Jeff Treadway and Cory Snyder played a great 2B in Delino’s absence.
Opening Day 1999 was the huge matchup between free agent pitchers Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson at Dodger Stadium. The pitching matchup did not live up to expectations as the game became the Raul Mondesi Show. Trailing 6-3 in the 9th, Mondesi crushed a 3 run homer into left to tie the game and followed in the 11th with a dramatic walk off 2 run bomb to win it. He finished 4 for 5 with 6 RBI on the day.
Unfortunately, that was not a sign of things to come. The Dodgers stunk in 1999 and finished 23 games behind Arizona. That seemed to be the story of the 90’s for this franchise. Some great players, and great performances but it never came together. I personally blame Karros or whoever decided he was good enough to ever play on this team, but we can leave that for another discussion.
I think that with more victories and any post season success, we would see Mondesi’s Dodger career in a different light. Bhsportsguy makes a case for Guerrero with a lot of flashy numbers that is compelling, but Mondesi is right there with him. If you compare Pete’s best 6 years 82-87 with Raul’s 6 years one could argue Mondesi was better. Pete could take a walk, and had a better average, but Mondesi had him beat across the board elsewhere. More homeruns, doubles, triples, SB, RBI and runs. We don’t even have to bring up the glove. Mondesi was also a much more durable player when comparing games played.
The shame is that Raul flamed out at such a reasonably early age. He had many documented personal struggles throughout his career that obviously affected his playing shape and led to his diminishing skills. The Dodgers traded him at the right time for the right player after the 1999 season.
I will always remember spending my teenage years at Dodger Stadium screaming Raaauuuuul every time he made another great play. He is not the automatic Lords of the Ravine pick like Koufax or Piazza, but the discussion is yours.
ED - Image from the excellent baseball card blog "Garvey Cey Russell Lopes"