When I was growing up in the 1980's watching the Cardinals, Pedro Guerrero was my favorite player. He didn't look like Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire, but he was my guy. He looked like one of the fans who wandered off a softball field onto a baseball field or down from the bleachers. He wasn't muscle-bound or cut up, but Guerrero could do one thing very well: hit a baseball anywhere he wanted.
In a career split between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cardinals that spread across 1,536 games, Guerrero had a slash line of .300/.370/.480 and added 215 home runs and 267 doubles in 15 seasons. Sports Illustrated is reporting that Guerrero is recovering from a massive stroke suffered over the weekend, and he has left the intensive care unit today.
Guerrero admittedly didn't take care of his body well-especially towards the end of a career. A hard drinker, Guerrero added after his playing days were over that the substance abuse off the field contributed to the shortening of his career on the field. A gifted hitter who was undone by an addiction off the field had to leave the game at the age of 36 years-an excuse that football players like Tony Romo can use to get out of the game due to the wear and tear they face on the field. Guerrero's demons came off the field, but it didn't stop him from putting together six stellar seasons for the Dodgers and Cardinals.
1985 ended for the Dodgers with Guerrero slamming his glove down on the field as Jack Clark made Dodgers fans "go crazy", but it was his best season at the plate. Start out with the slash line as an appetizer: .320/.422/.577. Then you add in 33 home runs, 87 runs batted in, and 182 OPS+ (a stat that calcutes a player's ability relative to the ballparks in the league). From 1980-87, Guerrero's OPS was .800 or greater. He could hit the ball out of the park or into the gap, and you couldn't do a thing about it from a pitching mound. A guy could pitch him inside or outside, and Guerrero would punish the baseball. He was the co-MVP in the 1981 World Series.
On August 16 in 1988, Guerrero was traded to the Cardinals for John Tudor, and in 44 games, achieved an on base percentage of .358 and slugged decently, but didn't make his true mark until the next season. In 1989, Guerrero hit 17 home runs, drove in 117, and slugged .477. More impressively, Guerrero's on base percentage was .391, which represented his best mark since 1985. After a fairly productive but underwhelming 1990 season, injuries got a hold of Guerrero, and he aged quickly. After re-signing with the Cardinals for the 1992 season, he only played in 44 games, and left baseball.
I'll never forget Guerrero standing at home plate and tipping his helmet to the ground. He was in only in St. Louis for a few seasons, but he easily connected with the fans through his productivity, huge smile that could fill the Arch, and a quiet demeanor that cooled as he got older. He was easy to like, but wasn't kind to himself, so his career was cut short.
The massive stroke left Guerrero on death's doorstep over the weekend, and there were several reports that he was brain dead, which were untrue. Guerrero isn't out of the woods--strokes give the body an aftershock and stand over a body for a few weeks-but he's doing better.
Guerrero may be known to some Cardinals fans as the guy who shredded their pitching for the Dodgers for many years, but he is the guy who came to St. Louis and played his last game at Busch Stadium. Through a life of affliction and mistakes, Guerrero carved a fine career as a big league ballplayer.
It doesn't matter what your past says about you; the future is the ultimate dealbreaker. Pedro Guerrero is slowly finding his way out of the woods of despair after a real brush with death. Even the Grim Reaper couldn't find a way to strike Guerrero out.
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