2001 was a wild year. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs. The Mariners won 116 games. Cal Ripken Jr. retired at season’s end and famously hit a home run in that game. When he rounded the bases, he passed the NL’s starting shortstop that year: Rich Aurilia.
Aurilia remains the top offensive character in San Francisco Giants history, with 1,226 hits as a shortstop and 1,292 games played. His competition is just Brandon Crawford, of course, but in an offensive era and in a lineup that was pretty well stacked, Aurilia stuck. He was never known for his glove, but in that same 2001 season, he led the National League in hits with 206. His 144 wRC+ means he was 44% better than the league average. He ranked 23rd by this metric, just a point about Jeff Bagwell, Mike, Piazza, and Carlos Delgado.
It was an impressive outburst of talent for the 29-year old, and it all came because Dusty Baker had decided in spring training that he wanted to bat Aurilia second. He had 2,125 plate appearances in six seasons prior to 2001, and had a just a bit below league average line of .270/.327/.419. It wasn’t unprecedented, but it was a bit surprising, especially for Aurilia himself, who wondered if Dusty Baker wanted him to change his approach.
That was not the case.
“Don’t change anything. Just do it in Spring Training and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll take it from there... just do what you do, Richie.”
He tells Renel his All-Star Game story and shows nothing buy joy and pride from his Giants days. He also recounts his final game, which certainly brings back some memories (his last game in SF was also Randy Johnson’s).
Aurilia played 921 games after this All-Star season and never got back there. That 37 home run season will always be one of the most bizarre outlier seasons in Giants history. That’s never what a player sets out to accomplish, but at the same time, it happened, so why not cherish that?