Nicknamed “Buffalo” by teammates who were convinced his aggressive play and physically big head were reminiscent of the American Midwest beast, Mondesi immediately sparkled as a five-tool threat with the Dodgers in his rookie year of 1994. A hustling dervish in the field and on the basepaths, Mondesi put his all into the games, though was frequently blasted by management for his strikeout tendencies and disdainful attitude towards authority.
Drafted as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 1988 by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mondesi was promoted to the majors in 1993, and became a full-time player in 1994. That year, the outfielder was the unanimous choice for the Rookie of the Year Award, becoming the third consecutive Dodger to win the trophy after Eric Karros and Mike Piazza. Along with batting .306 with 16 dingers, Mondesi was a defensive star, leading right fielders in assists.
Over the next couple of years, Mondesi steadily improved his game, getting more aggressive (though not risky) on the basepaths, while increasing his power as well. However, his overeager style of play sometimes led to flubs; his powerful arm often resulted in a reckless throw, and his penchant for big swings saw him accumulate high strikeout and low walk totals.
Despite his overanxious play, Mondesi’s grit and determination made him a successful ballplayer. Armed with one of the most threatening guns in the outfield, he notched two Gold Gloves (1995 and 1997) and became a deterrence to runners looking for the extra base. His no-fear style at the plate and on the basepaths helped him become the first Dodger ever to record a 30-30 season, stealing 32 and bashing 30 dingers in 1997.
But Mondesi’s relations with the club soured over the next two seasons. After continually missing meetings and showing up late for practices, he was benched for two straight games by manager Davey Johnson in July 1999. The disgruntled Mondesi issued a profanity-filled diatribe against Johnson and GM Kevin Malone, demanding a trade or his release, words echoed by teammate Gary Sheffield a year and a half later.
Though Mondesi once again joined the 30-30 club, finishing the year with his highest home run and RBI totals of his career, he also set season highs with his highest strikeout total and lowest average. Acquiescing to his demands and refusing to deal with the headache that he had become, the Dodgers forged a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in November 1999 that sent the tempestuous outfielder north with Pedro Borbon, Jr. for rising star Shawn Green and a minor leaguer.
Mondesi started fresh with Toronto in 2000, and was on his way to establishing career highs in almost every batting category until an elbow injury sidelined him for two months.