Andres Galarraga

At the recommendation of Felipe Alou, Andres Galarraga was signed by the Expos as a 17-year old power prodigy. Given the first-base job for 1986, he had a terrible spring training (.107, no extra base hits) and was assigned to platoon with Jason Thompson. The platoon ended quickly as Galarraga caught fire early in the regular season. The Venezuelan native missed much of the 1986 season with a right knee injury and right rib cage pull, but gave better evidence of his skills in 1987 (.305, 13 HR, 90 RBI), finishing second in the NL in doubles. Capable of awesome power, Galarraga sacrificed some distance for batting average, but continued to post high strikeout numbers. He combined average and power in 1988, hitting .302 with 29 HR, leading in doubles (42) but also in strikeouts (153). He was nicknamed “Big Cat” for his defensive quickness at first base, which won him Gold Gloves in 1989 and 1990.

After 13 years in the Expos’ organization, Galarraga was traded to St. Louis in November 1991 for right-hander Ken Hill. In the second game of the year he suffered a broken right wrist when he was hit by a pitch, an injury that would put him on the disabled list for 44 days. In 95 games, he batted just .243 with 10 home runs.

Following his lone season with the Cardinals, Galarraga signed a free-agent contract with the expansion Colorado Rockies, a move that would turn his fading career around. Taking advantage of the thin, mile-high air in Denver, Galarraga began posting some monstrous offensive numbers. In 1993, he hit a career-best .370 (the highest average by a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio batted .381 in 1939) with 22 HR and 98 RBIs while becoming the first player on an expansion team as well as the first Venezuelan to win a batting title. Over the next several years he developed into one of the best RBI men baseball, driving in a combined 290 runs over 1996 and 1997. On May 31st, 1997 he launched a mammoth home run off Marlins’ ace Kevin Brown, a grand slam that landed 20 rows deep in the upper deck at Florida’s Pro Player Stadium and was alternately measured at 573 and 529 feet. It was the longest home run in the short history of both the Rockies and the stadium.

Looking to add a World Series ring to his career accomplishments, Galarraga signed with the perennial National League power Braves in November 1997. In his first season in Atlanta, Galarraga proved he could still produce big-time power numbers in lower altitudes, hitting .305 with 44 HR and 121 RBI’s.

Galarraga sat out entire 1999 season after he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer. Many believed that his career was finished, but the “Big Cat” made a full recovery and even played in the 2000 All-Star Game before the home fans at Turner Field in Atlanta. He finished off his comeback campaign with a .302 average, 28 HR and 100 RBI’s.

With the Braves lukewarm on re-signing the 39-year-old slugger, Galarraga signed a free-agent contract to play for the Texas Rangers in December 2000.