If I'm known for any one thing on McCovey Chronicles (other than the rage meme), it's probably my fascination with/fixation on one Kim Batiste, member of the 1996 Giants, and before that a member of the Phillies. Of course, there are other things I'm obsessed with that come up here: Will Clark, for example, or music, or literature. But Batiste draws the most attention and LOLs because it's so damned random. Most any Giants fan of my generation is obsessed with Will Clark, but Batiste? He was a backup player for the Giants for just one season nearly fifteen years ago. He didn't even reach 150 plate appearances with the Giants. I've said a thing or two from time to time about why his Giants tenure still sticks in my craw, but now, finally, I want to tell the whole tale in convenient fanpost form.
First, some quick background on our friend Kimothy. Prior to his season with the Giants, he had played for parts of four seasons with the Phillies. In 1993, he had a career year of sorts - a whopping .282 batting average being the highlight (his full line - .282 / .298 / .436 - was quite poor, as was his 29 strikeouts and 3 walks in 161 plate appearances - but this was still the relative dark ages of stats, so it was easy just to notice the decent BA and think he'd had a good year). In 1994, however, he was incredibly terrible - one of the worst seasons you're ever likely to see. He posted a 34 OPS+ in 214 plate appearances. His line was an anemic .234 / .239 / .278. He struck out 32 times and walked just once. He managed just seven extra base hits - six of them doubles - all year. After that, the Phillies seemed to pretty much give up on him - he spent 1995 in AAA, and he lost his 40-man roster spot. Midway through 1995, he was released and resurfaced in the Orioles organization.
After the 1995 season, the Giants' front office dropped some hints that they had their eyes on someone in the Rule 5 Draft. A real diamond in the rough, reports said. Not some low-minors guy who wouldn't make it past spring training, but someone who could contribute right away. The news was welcome, because the team was in a sorry state. They had Matt Williams and Barry Bonds, but that was about it. Robby Thompson was breaking down from injuries. Will Clark's void had been filled with such immortal legends as Todd Benzinger, J.R. Phillips, and Steve Scarsone. The pitching was dreadful - the previous year, the team signed Terry Mulholland, coming off 6.49 ERA year with the Yankees, as their "ace." It was bleak, and the team felt a million years away from the 103 win season of 1993. The Giants needed all the help they could get, and if they could grab a useful player for next-to-nothing via Rule 5, it would certainly be welcome.
And then - Kimothy. This was their diamond in the rough. A man with, to that point, 87 major league strike outs and 9 walks. A man whose Major League OBP hadn't exceeded .300 in four partial Major League season. A man who was coming off a year, split between AA and two AAA teams, had posted a line of .283 / .309 / .407 - as a 27 year old. And, what's more, he was mainly a third baseman - one of the few positions where the Giants didn't have a pressing need. THIS was the diamond in the rough!?
Now, 1996, Batiste's season with the Giants, was a big year for me. My family moved from the East Bay to New Jersey in August of 1989, and we'd been there ever since. We missed the Loma Prieta earthquake - saw it happen on tv from 3,000 miles away - and the Bay Bridge World Series. Saw that on tv too, of course, but back in those days there was no Gameday Audio, no mlb.tv, no millions of games on cable. If you were an out-of-town fan, you got to see your team a few times a year, either when they were playing the team local to where you lived, or when network tv decided to carry them. Otherwise, you just got the box score the next day. And if you were a Giants fan on the east coast, you often didn't even get that - a west coast night game on Monday wouldn't make it into the paper until Wednesday. But in January of 1996, at long last, I moved back to the Bay Area. Suddenly, I could suddenly listen to every Giants game on KNBR and watch many of them on Channel 2 (at the time, others were only televised on SportsChannel, which was premium). And, while my family had visited the Bay Area each summer during the New Jersey exile, and I'd made it to at least one game per season, I now got to go to a lot more. It meant a long BART trip and then a long bus ride to Candlestick, but compared to being 3000 miles away, it was paradise.
Except for the team being terrible. As I mentioned, 1994 and 1995 were bad years, but 1996 took the cake. The Giants were outscored by 110 points and came within six losses of reaching the 100 loss plateau for just the second time in over a century of organizational history. They were overshadowed somewhat by the historically bad Detroit Tigers, who lost 109 and gave up 1103 runs - that's nearly seven runs per game. But still, it was bleak.
As the season progressed, Kim Batiste's numbers were bleak, too. He made the team out of spring training - and went on to post a .139 / .184 / .222 line in the first half. What's more, he was an absolute butcher defensively. It doesn't matter how you measure defense - fielding percentage, new-fangled stats, or just eyeball observation - all agreed that he was brutally bad at third base. Now, these days we often like to say Eugenio Velez is a player who isn't good at anything. Can't hit, can't field, is fast but can't run the bases. With Batiste, take that and multiply it by about thirty. Velez is actually a decent measuring stick for Batiste, because they have about the same number of Major League plate appearances at this point - 684 for Batiste, 662 for Velez. Batiste in 1996 was also pretty much the exact same age as Velez is now.
Think Velez lacks patience? He's walked 37 times so far - Batiste had 14. Think he strikes out too much? Velez has 105 strike outs - Batiste had 120. Batting average? Velez .259, Batiste .234. Power? Velez has an ISO of 135 - Batiste's was 115. Fielding Percentage and Total Zone as have Batiste as a much worse defender than Velez. So if you haven't been around long enough to remember Batiste, think of Velez - and imagine someone worse in every measurable way.
By May, his performance was so terrible that the Giants cut their losses on him and took him off the 25-man roster. Now, as a Rule 5 pick, Batiste had to clear waivers, and then be offered back to his previous team for half the money the Giants originally paid for him. He did, indeed, clear waivers - LOL Bocock - and the Orioles took one look and him and said, "You know, just keep him." He went to the Phoenix Firebirds - the Giants' AAA affiliate at the time.
And, for some reason, he came back up. He was a bit better in the second half - he got that line up to a heart .234 / .255 / .362. But yeah.
Now, one random thing to know about baseball in 1996 is that teams had actual webpages - they weren't just subdivisions of mlb.com yet. At one point during the season, they had a special offer - fill out a survey and you'd get a free Giants mousepad and vouchers for two free tickets. So I did, and I decided to use one of my vouchers for a doubleheader at the 'Stick against the Pirates, because hey, two games for the price of (n)one!
I lived to regret it. Put it this way: I've left three games early in my life. The first was a night game at Yankee Stadium when I was five or so. The game went on forever, and we had a long drive back to Princeton afterwards. After about four hours of baseball, we headed out - and when we got back to Princeton, the game was still going on. The second was a Giants-Dodgers doubleheader at the 'Stick in, I believe, 1988. The Giants lost both games, and the crowd got drunk and rowdy to the point of near-riot - by the second game, dozens of brawlers were being thrown out, and some bleacher fans were trying to climb onto the field to go after Dodgers players. We left partway through game two because we felt unsafe. Anyway, both of those games, leaving early wasn't my decision: it was my dad's call. But this doubleheader in 1996 was the only game I have ever chosen to leave early.
The first game was terribly dull. The Pirates went up 4-0 after three innings, and the Giants were never really in the game. Despite 10 hits, they only score one run. The second game, though, that was what killed me. It featured an almost Opening Day 2008-esque lineup of horrors, save for Bonds:
1) Dax Jones CF
2) Bill Mueller 2B
3) Glenallen Hill RF
4) Barry Bonds LF
5) Dave McCarty 1B
6) Steve Scarsone 3B
7) Marcus Jensen C
8) Jay Canizaro SS
9) Steve Bourgeios RHP
Bourgeios was something of an interesting story - in 1994, he was a replacement player. Generally, replacement guys were blackballed the next year - the Giants had called one up earlier in the season, but he never played because several Giants threatened to walk out on the team if he was allowed to take the field. Bourgeios was an exception, though - he had some sort of family situation (an ill mother or something like this), and had to take the work as a replacement player to support his family) - so his teammates accepted him. At the time, he was something of a favorite on alt.sports.baseball.sf-giants, though he didn't work out in the end.
Anyway. This game, unlike the first, was absolutely crushing. It was close most of the way - the Giants trailed 1-0, 2-1, and then 4-1 and 5-1. In the bottom of the ninth, however, the Giants rallied and scored four runs to tie it up. The crowd, while typically mid-90s-Candlestick-small, and had been quiet all day, but after that ninth, the place was rocking...
...and then the top of the tenth inning happened. One run. Two runs. Four runs. SIX RUNS. All of a sudden, this game the Giants had rallied to tie at 5-5 was 11-5, with 4 runs charged to Jim Poole and 2 to Rich DeLucia. Finally, DeLucia induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the misery. At that point, the crowd was just shellshocked. After sitting through nearly seven hours of horrible baseball between two abysmal teams, after getting our hopes raised by the ninth inning rally, it was beyond crushing. I stood up and, for the first and only time in my life, chose to leave a game early.
But I couldn't escape. I had to take a Ballpark Express bus back to Balboa Park BART, and since it was specifically a ballpark bus, it couldn't leave until the game was over. So I sat down and commiserated with a number of other horrified diehard fans. One of them - an older woman wearing a Giants cap covered in dozens of pins - turned on a portable radio to listen to the miserable end. But then something happened: another magical rally started taking shape. Marvin Benard hit a single. Rick Wilkins walked. Bill Mueller walked. Bases loaded, nobody out, and Barry Bonds on deck!
They scored a couple of runs, but were still down by three with two outs. Rich Aurilia, then a struggling but promising player - think John Bowker - came up. "This'll be it," the woman with the radio said. "He's gonna ground out." But no: he hit a line drive single, and all of a sudden, the Giants were within two runs with runners on first and third. Jay Canizaro was due up, but he was a sub-.200 rookie, so Dusty Baker went to the bench - for Mr. Kimothy Batiste. Of course, Batiste was also hitting about .200, and he had gone 0-4 in the first game of the doubleheader, but after eighteen innings of baseball, the bench was awfully thin. We all sat at the edge of our seats in the bus, waiting, hoping.
Strike one. Strike two. Ball one. And then, the pitch - strike three, swinging, at a pitch far out of the zone. After all that, the game was over with the potential tying runs on base and the potential winning run at the plate. he flailed at a crap pitch - a pitch nobody could have hit, a pitch that never would have been called a strike, with the game on the line.
Something inside of me broke, sitting on that bus. I stewed the whole way back to Balboa Park BART, and then the whole way back to Orinda, where I lived at the time, on the train. I hadn't been fond of Batiste before that - what with him being terrible and all - but that one at bat did it. That was when Kim Batiste entered my psyche and never really left.
Eleven days later, Batiste played his last game as a Giant. He went 1-5 with a home run - but then, it was Coors Field. It was just his third home run of the year and the tenth of his career. He finished the year with a line of .208 / .235 / .323 in 136 plate appearances.
He never played in the Major Leagues again. The Giants released him unconditionally over the offseason, and he didn't even manage to land a Minor League gig in 1997. He returned for a tour of the independent leagues from 1998-2001, but no Major League team ever signed him again.
I still remember him, though. I don't have any real enmity against the man - he could be the greatest guy you'll ever meet for all I know - but he was the single worst ballplayer I've ever seen in the Major Leagues. He was measurably and obviously bad at everything, but he managed to play in the Major Leagues for 251 games and 684 plate appearances over the course of four seasons - as well as playing in the Minors from 1987-1992 and 1995-1996, and the independent leagues from 1998-2001. In a way, I suppose, I admire him for that - despite all his struggles as a ballplayer, he persevered and kept chasing the dream for fifteen years. There's something very impressive about that.
But I'm glad I don't have to watch him play baseball anymore.