The Forgotten Brewers Series: Part X

There are a lot of memorable things about Sixto Lezcano:  his defense, the trades he was involved in, how sabermetrics might have made him a star, his personality, his hair—even his name. Over the course of his 12-year major league career, Lezcano did many things to earn the title of 

"Damn Fine All the Time & Gold Glove in ’79."

Lezcano signed with Milwaukee as a 16-year-old amateur free agent from Arecibo, Puerto Rico in 1970. He spent four years in the minor leagues before getting a late-season call-up in 1974, Robin Yount’s rookie year.  A right fielder with a superior throwing arm, Lezcano started 1975 in the major leagues and quickly established himself as one of the rising young stars in the early years of the Brewers franchise. In 1978, he led the American League in assists as a right fielder with 18 and posted a .292/.377/.459 line, while the Brewers posted their first winning record in team history (93-69).

Lezcano performed even better in 1979, winning a Gold Glove and finishing fifteenth in MVP voting. (Don Baylor won the AL MVP that year.) He had a. 321/.414/.573 line with 28 home runs and 101 RBI. He was third in the league in slugging, second in OPS and third in assists and putouts. Lezcano’s numbers fell off quite a bit in 1980 but he attributed that to injuries. He was hit by a pitch, and when he finally came back from that injury, he was hit again. He appeared in 112 games that year and batted just .229, although he did record eight assists.

For more Sixto, follow the jump.

 

And then, after 10 years with the franchise, Lezcano was gone. Milwaukee sent Lezcano, David Green, Dave LaPoint and Larry Sorensen to St. Louis for Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich in a blockbuster deal that propelled the Brewers to the 1981 and 1982 post-seasons. Fingers and Vuckovich would go on to win the 1981 and 1982 AL Cy Young Awards.

"All I know is that when I was traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the St. Louis Cardinals it broke my heart. I just couldn’t believe it," Lezcano said in a 1986 Baseball Digest article.

Lezcano spent only the 1981 season with the Cardinals, again missing his chance at the post-season, when he was part of another blockbuster trade, this time involving two young shortstops. The Cardinals swapped Lezcano and Garry Templeton to the Padres for Ozzie Smith and pitcher Steve Mura.

If Lezcano felt let down by this trade, he didn’t show it. His first season with the Padres would later be described as one of the most underrated seasons of the 1980s. His .289 BA, 16 home runs and 84 RBI tell only part of the story—a story that really didn’t take shape until the advent of sabermetrics. In 1982, Lezcano posted a 7.2 (Baseball Reference)/ 5.3 (Fangraphs) WAR, .860 OPS and 145 OPS+. His 7.2 WAR was fourth best in the NL that year. His fantastic season was cut short, however, when he was hit on the hand by a Bob Welch pitch on September 13.

Lezcano finally got his shot at the post-season when he was traded to Philadelphia at the 1983 trade deadline. The Padres moved him to make room for a young Tony Gwen. Led by aging stars Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Joe Morgan, Gary Matthews and Mike Schmidt, the Phillies were in the midst of a pennant race when Lezcano joined the team. He was platooned in the outfield but was thrilled to finally get his chance to make the playoffs. The Phillies would eventually win the NL pennant but fall to the Orioles in the 1983 World Series. Lezcano hit a memorable home run in game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.

Lezcano played the 1984 season with Phillies and the 1985 season with the Pirates. After the Pirates released him in 1986, Lezcano took a year off from baseball. He later signed with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales but quit 20 games into the season, seemingly dismayed about his inability to hit home runs. Since his retirement, he has worked as a minor league hitting coach. He spent the 2003-2010 seasons with GCL Braves.

The oddest little tidbit I could find about Sixto is that he hit grand slams on the opening days of both the 1978 and 1980 seasons. In 1978, he hit his homer against the Orioles. In 1980, his grand slam was one of two home runs hit by Lezcano against the Red Sox. He hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning and a walk-off grand slam in the ninth. Lezcano is the only player in major league history to hit two opening day grand slams.

Sixto Lezcano, you are no longer forgotten.

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