Incaviglia was a traditional slugger — if he swung at a ball, it either left the park or ended up behind him in the catcher’s mitt. Though his accomplishments as a college player far outshone his feats in the major leagues, Inky played hard as a journeyman outfielder with an assortment of teams. He may not have lived up to his potential as the College Baseball Player of the Century but, as he put it, “was willing to bust my ass every day.”
Incaviglia’s career really started at Oklahoma State University. In 1985 (his junior year) he was selected Baseball America’s NCAA Player of the Year, establishing NCAA single-season records in homers, slugging percentage, RBIs, and total bases. Chosen by the Montreal Expos in the first round of the free-agent draft that June, Inky refused to sign with the Canadian team until they had negotiated a deal to trade him to the Texas Rangers. Montreal complied, receiving two players who would end up out of the organization two years later.
Inky didn’t start a day in the minor leagues. Instead, he jumped directly to the major league team as an outfielder/designated hitter and put up astonishing numbers his first year, tying a club record with 30 dingers while whiffing 185 times, three shy of Bobby Bonds‘ record mark. Over the next four years with the Rangers, Incaviglia averaged 23 home runs and 151 strikeouts a season.
Despite his slugging prowess, Pete could not disguise his defensive failings and enormous strikeout totals. He was released by the Rangers in 1991, but quickly signed on with the Detroit Tigers. By the end of the next season it was clear that Detroit had no intention of re-signing a no-field outfielder who batted just .214 with 11 dingers and 92 K’s over 97 games, and Inky signed on with the Houston Astros. He resurrected his career fairly well, boosting his average up 52 points, but the emergence of Eric Anthony limited his appearances.
In December 1992, Incaviglia signed on with the burly, tobacco-chewing Philadelphia Phillies just in time for their 1993 worst-to-first year. In his best season after his Ranger days, Inky helped the Phils reach the World Series by slugging 24 homers and driving in 89 runs as a platoon outfielder.
Though Incaviglia was no gazelle in the field, he hustled as well as anyone. He showed that desire with the Phils in 1994 when he injured his shoulder crashing into the outfield wall on a ball he had almost no chance on. Playing through the pain he slumped again that year, and used the strike as an excuse to flee to Japan, reuniting with his Ranger manager Bobby Valentine on the Chiba Lotte Mariners in 1995. But the presence of his former skipper could not turn around Incaviglia’s struggles. He batted just .181 with five dingers, and came back to America to sign with the Phillies once more.
The well-traveled outfielder performed as expected in Philly, with a high strikeout total and a low average, but not enough power to make up for his liabilities. Included in a deal that sent him and third baseman Todd Zeile to the Baltimore Orioles mid-season, Inky once again got his shot at postseason play. He went 2-for-7 over the Division and League Championship Series, with strikeouts accounting for three of his five outs.
Though he was re-signed, Inky was dropped by the O’s in July 1997. From there he signed on with the one team that could always make room for big, washed-up sluggers — the New York Yankees — but was released just three weeks later. Incaviglia hoped to reach good standing with the Detroit Tigers in 1998 (after all, manager Buddy Bell and he were teammates for the Rangers), but after going 1-for-14 and yelling at an official scorer during one of the games, Pete was released in April 1998. He briefly signed on with the Astros, but had similar struggles.
As a non-roster invitee to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Incaviglia was placed on the Triple-A squad to start out the season, but asked for his release in April 1999. He officially retired on December 9, 1999, taking a job as a marketing representative for a Las Vegas hotel.
In January 1999 however, Incaviglia got one more taste of athletic glory when he was named the College Baseball Player of the Century by an assortment of fans and a panel of baseball experts that included George Will, Bob Costas, and Steve Wulf. With many of his career statistics still NCAA records, Inky finished ahead of Bob Horner (2nd) and fellow OSU alum Robin Ventura (3rd) for the award.