EDITOR'S NOTE: Frequent BCB readers may recall that a few months ago I reviewed one of my favorite new baseball books, Chris Jensen's Baseball State by State. After reading the book I've asked Chris to join us for a 12-part series in 2013 on the best players born in Wisconsin. What follows is part six of that series. - KL
Has there ever been a major league player who has collected as many hits as Mark Grudzielanek with so little fanfare? Grudzielanek compiled 2,040 hits over a 15-year career that was more steady than spectacular. His hit total is more than Hall of Fame second basemen Bill Mazeroski, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon and Johnny Evers accumulated during their careers and is just two shy of Bobby Doerr's career total. The Milwaukee native, who is ranked as Wisconsin's all-time best second baseman in Baseball State by State, gets the nod as Wisconsin's best June-born major league player.
Born on June 30, 1970, Grudzielanek was an all-star shortstop in his first full season in the majors, 1996, when he batted .306 with 201 hits and 99 runs scored for the Expos. He had been voted Montreal's minor league player of the year after being named MVP of the Eastern League in 1994.
He wasn't known for his power, yet he led the National League with 54 doubles in 1997. He wasn't known for his speed, yet he stole 33 bases in 1996. He gained a reputation for subpar defense after leading NL shortstops in errors two straight seasons, yet he later led NL second basemen in fielding percentage and double plays turned and won his only Gold Glove as a 36-year-old second baseman in 2006. For his career he played 1,135 games at second and 626 at shortstop.
A lifetime .289 hitter, Grudzielanek played for six teams between 1995 and 2010. He still holds a major league record for the longest streak of consecutive home games played with a hit, 35, accomplished in 1999 while playing for the Dodgers. Grudzielanek made a cameo appearance on Saturday Night Live with a group of other major leaguers in 1997, yet otherwise attracted very little attention during his long career.
In an interview shortly after collecting his 2,000th hit in 2008, Grudzielanek was quoted as saying, "I remember thinking, ‘No way would a kid from Milwaukee, Wisc., play this long and have a career like this.'"
Other June birthdays include Davy Jones (born June 30, 1880 in Cambria), not the lead singer from The Monkeys but the outfielder from the Deadball Era. Although Jones stole 207 bases over a 15-year career, his nickname, "Kangaroo," came from his habit of jumping contracts. He joined Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford in a potent outfield that helped the Detroit Tigers win the first of three straight pennants in 1907. Jones is ranked as the seventh-best Wisconsin-born outfielder in Baseball State by State.
Another June birthday boy, Duane Kuiper (born June 19, 1950 in Racine), holds several records of distinction. He is the last major league player to smack two bases-loaded triples in the same game, a rare feat that has only been accomplished six times in baseball history. Lest you think Kuiper was a slugger, it should be noted that he also holds the major league record for most at-bats with only one career home run-3,379. Kuiper is listed in Baseball State by State as the third-best second baseman in Wisconsin history.
Finally, 19th century player Charlie Ganzel (born June 18, 1862 in Waterford), played 14 seasons for four teams. Ganzel's brother, John, played in the majors as did his son, Babe, although it was 13 years after his father died.
Chris Jensen is the author of Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, which was published in July 2012 by McFarland. It features a chapter on each state covering state baseball history, an all-time team, stats leaders, historic baseball places to see, future stars, player nicknames and the state's all-time best player.