I had forgotten how good Reggie Sanders could be on a ball field. I remember his high strikeout rate, but this alone shouldn’t account for it. A look at the highest career strikeout leaders shows some of the best batters in the game.
How good was he? He is a member of the 300/300 club with 305 home runs and 304 stolen bases. More than 100 players have at least 300 home runs and another 100+ have the requisite number of stolen bases. The combination of both constitutes a very small club with only Sanders as one of only 8 in MLB history to accomplish the feat. To amass these totals, a player needs to essentially put together a decade of 30/30 seasons or maintain high totals in both speed and power categories for an extended period. Only 40 players have ever logged at least one 30/30 season and even fewer did it two or more times. Reggie never put together an individual 30/30 performance, but put up high averages in both categories over a 17-year career (some are only partial seasons).
What fans do remember Sanders for is something really bizarre. Generally considered a slow-to-anger guy who sings gospel and advocates for autism awareness, he reached a breaking point in a 1994 game against the Montreal Expos.
Pedro Martinez was on the mound, making just the fifth start of his career. It was an incredible one at that, as he had a perfect game underway when Sanders came to the plate with one away in the 8th inning. Sanders had already been set down twice on strikes in his earlier appearances. The previous at-bats were contentious as both involved Pedro’s signature brushback pitches. Having already exchanged words, Sanders took it personally when Pedro threw deep inside for the third time. The ball hit Sanders, instantly ruining the perfect game attempt.
No pitcher wants to give up a perfect game that was within five outs of becoming official. The brushback was absolutely thrown on purpose, but the pitch clearly wasn’t meant to strike the batter. This didn’t matter to Sanders, who charged Pedro without hesitation and tackled him on the mound. At least the “fight” was mostly a shove and knock-down affair, as Sanders is a lifelong martial arts enthusiast and Pedro was probably at the lightest weight of his career.
Sanders was suspended five games for the brawl and plunked another 66 times over the remainder of his career. I haven’t come across any more reports of him charging the mound, so perhaps he got everything figured out after that point. He certainly got the HR/SB part right after that.
Beating the Odds
Pictured above is Reggie Sanders’ 1991 Upper Deck rookie card. The text on the back reports Cincinnati scouts viewed him as a less powerful version of Eric Davis, the Reds’ star outfielder. Injuries were projected to be a major concern for Sanders, who was starting the season with a steel plate in his ankle that reduced his mobility in the field. Davis ended up having his career cut short by injury and Sanders rarely missed significant time in the next two decades. He would go on to beat Davis’ career home run total by 23.
Reggie Sanders’ 1993 Finest card appears early in his career with only 2 of 17 total seasons behind him. The stat line on the back of the card shows a career total of 13 HRs and 17 SBs. Sanders isn’t to only 300/300 member represented in the ’93 Finest set. Half of the eight players with these stats are in the set checklist, arriving in the form of Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson, and Steve Finley.