This year’s Vedder Cup has come and gone, but the histories (real or imagined) of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners remain inextricably intertwined. Long before Bud Selig cried “rivalry,” there was a link.
Narrowing that further, six guys have logged at least 162 games or 162 innings pitched for each team. Today we celebrate three of them: Mike Cameron, Ben Davis, and Sterling Hitchcock.
The White Sox took Cameron with the 488th pick of the 1991 draft and reminded us how silly it is to rely solely on minor-league statistics in evaluating prospects. After spending a few seasons in Chicago, he was shipped to the Reds for Paul Konerko. A year later, he headed to Seattle as part of the package for Ken Griffey Jr.
Cameron became a fan favorite in the Jet City, averaging 22 homers and 26 steals in four seasons, and dazzling with his center field defense. On May 2, 2002, he became the 13th player in MLB history to hit four home runs in one contest. Our pals at Lookout Landing have documented this game and its historical context in great detail.
Or, if you prefer to hear a downcast Ken Harrelson call the shots, watch this video:
Although Cameron spent only two seasons with the Padres, he made an impact. He averaged 22 homers and 22 steals a year with the Padres. He also allowed the Padres to move Dave Roberts to left field, improving the team’s defense at two positions.
On September 23, 2007, Cameron tore a ligament in his right thumb when left fielder Milton Bradley stepped on it while both tried to track down a Garrett Atkins inside-the-park home run. This was the first in a sequence of events that ruined what had been a brilliant season.
After leaving San Diego, Cameron played for the Brewers, Red Sox, and Marlins. He retired after the 2011 season with exactly 1,700 hits. Cameron made just one All-Star team (2001, with the Mariners) and won three Gold Gloves, including in 2006 with the Padres.
Taken second overall in 1995, ahead of Todd Helton and Roy Halladay among others, Davis was a switch-hitting catcher out of a Pennsylvania high school. Well, “switch-hitting” is an exaggeration; he batted from both sides of the plate.
Evaluators liked Davis’ future. In his 1999 Minor League Scouting Notebook, John Sickels opined that “he could win several Gold Gloves and might be the Jim Sundberg of the early 21st century.”
Ranked among Baseball America‘s top 60 prospects every year from 1996 to 1999, peaking at #10, Davis never established himself as an everyday player, let alone the star many expected. He logged more than 300 plate appearances in a season just once, in 2001, with the Padres. Poor performance and work habits to match doomed Davis, who was traded with others to Seattle after the season for Tom Lampkin, Brett Tomko, and Ramón Vázquez.
After sputtering in Seattle, Davis got one last chance with the White Sox and did nothing. He played his final big-league game on October 3, 2004, at age 27.
Davis spent the next few seasons kicking around several different organizations and the Indy leagues. He even tried to reinvent himself as a pitcher.
Perhaps best remembered (at least by Bob Brenly) for breaking up a Curt Schilling no-hitter with a heads-up bunt single that brought the tying run to the plate, Davis now works as a Phillies analyst for CSN Philly. Is it awkward when he analyzes a start by Halladay, taken 15 picks after him in ’95?
Selected by the Yankees one pick ahead of the Padres’ Ray McDavid in the ninth round of the 1989 draft, Hitchcock arrived in New York three years later and became a part of their rotation in 1995. After that season, he was traded to Seattle with Russ Davis for Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir, and Jeff Nelson.
Hitchcock spent one season in the Mariners rotation before heading to San Diego in a straight-up swap for right-hander Scott Sanders. This is another trade I hated, the first of many made by Kevin Towers that worked better than I’d expected.
Sanders stunk for the Mariners, allowing three homers in his debut, being bumped from the rotation after four starts, and then being jettisoned to Detroit in July. Hitchcock, meanwhile, was the worst of a bad bunch of starters in San Diego. Had he pitched one more inning and qualified for the ERA title, he would have tied Philadelphia’s Mark Leiter for the worst ERA+ (75) in baseball.
Hitchcock’s performance pushed him to the bullpen in 1998, at least for a while. He made 10 relief appearances before starting against the Pirates on April 25. After two more relief outings, he made his second start on May 4 and got hit hard by the Brewers. His ERA stood at 6.00 after the game.
Then he became a different pitcher, posting a 3.69 ERA over his final 25 starts. That and good run support led to a career-high 13 wins.
A new pitch didn’t hurt either. After Hitchcock beat the Angels in late June, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune‘s Joe Haakenson mused on the southpaw’s improved repertoire:
Possibly a big part of the Angels’ inability to hit Hitchcock was their scouting report. Angels manager Terry Collins said Hitchcock had a good changeup working, but Hitchcock said he only threw one changeup all day.
That was his splitter the Angels struggled with, and Collins said there was no mention of a splitter in their report on Hitchcock.
The postseason saw him do ridiculous things: 4 G, 22 IP, 15 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 HR, 9 BB, 32 K, 3-0 W-L. He fanned 11 Astros en route to beating Randy Johnson at Houston in the NLDS opener. Next he beat Greg Maddux in Game 3 of the NLCS and Tom Glavine in Game 6.
The latter sent the Padres to their first World Series in 14 years. With staff ace Kevin Brown unavailable after losing in relief in Game 5, Hitchcock reportedly told pitching coach Dave Stewart: “Stew, if you need me, I want the ball in Game 6.”
Three future Hall-of-Famers? No problem.
Braves manager Bobby Cox credited Stewart with Hitchcock’s breakout performance: “He threw in, in, in, in when he came (from) Seattle. He throws away now, and you can’t catch up with him.”
Hitchcock, named NLCS MVP, continued his mastery into the World Series. He left Game 3 with a 3-1 lead, neutralizing a powerful Yankees lineup. Then Scott Brosius happened.
After a strong 1999 in which he set career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts, Hitchcock struggled to remain healthy or effective through parts of five more seasons. His final game came in a second stint with the Padres, in 2004, at age 33.
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Join us next time when we remember another trio, including an underrated outfielder, a guy traded for one of the guys we just examined, and Hall of Famer. While we’re waiting for that, leave a comment, send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or hit me up on Twitter (@ducksnorts).