Florida Man Turns Out to be Good at Baseball

Last month I added a pretty sweet Mike Greenwell to my 1993 Finest Refractors set. The card’s back mentions that he is a Florida resident. This may be an understatement.

Mike Greenwell is about the most Floridian baseball player you will ever come across. Born in Kentucky, he moved to Fort Myers at very young age. He enjoyed the outdoors, developing a taste for hunting and wrestling alligators. The latter activity earned him notoriety and resulted in his nickname “The Gator.” Greenwell played up his reputation, going as far as to catch an alligator in Spring Training and hide it in the locker of unsuspecting teammate Ellis Burks.

Greenwell was a key part of the late ’80s Red Sox. He was an above average hitter and showed a keen eye for the strike zone. In his first five full seasons he looked like the rightful heir of Boston’s left field from Ted Williams, Carl Yazstremski, and Jim Rice. His play stepped back a bit to steady production in the ensuing years. A series of nagging injuries culminated with a broken foot in 1996 and prompted Greenwell to move on from baseball.

Mike is Still Running for 1988 American League MVP

Mike Greenwell was among the top vote getters for 1987 American League Rookie of the Year, losing to Mark McGwire and his 49 home runs. The next year he spent much of the season in contention for the league’s MVP award before losing it to Jose Canseco. Canseco put together one of his best seasons that year and became the first 40/40 player in MLB history*. Greenwell and Canseco would go on to face each other in that year’s AL Championship Series with the latter going on to the World Series and MVP glory.

1988 was also the season in which Thomas Boswell broke the story that Canseco was using steroids. The A’s slugger denied the accusation and baseball quickly forgave him. Years later he would admit to having used PEDs throughout his career, writing the book Juiced about his experience. As someone very aware of the meaning of an MVP award and personal accomplishments, Greenwell was not happy that the award went to a steroid user who edged out his performance.

A few quotes from Greenwell on the subject sum up his feelings:

“Where’s my MVP? He’s an admitted steroid user. I was clean. If they’re going to start putting asterisks by things, let’s put one by the MVP.”

Fort Myers News-Press

“I do have a problem with losing the MVP to an admitted steroids user.”

Fort Myers News-Press

At this point it is undeniable that Canseco was using an unfair advantage. The next question that arises is who should have won the 1988 MVP if Canseco did not? Greenwell certainly makes a strong case with a .325 batting average, 22 home runs, and 7.5 wins above replacement. His 119 RBIs, 23 of which were game-winning, make a potent argument among those swayed by that stat.

Unfortunately for Greenwell, there were several other players that put together performances that may have eclipsed his. Pitchers Frank Viola and Mark Gubicza both generated WAR totals greater than his with Viola starting the All-Star Game and winning the Cy Young Award. Kirby Puckett posted a higher WAR while batting .356 with more RBIs. Greenwell’s teammate Wade Boggs generated the highest WAR in the league (8.2) while batting .366, hitting 45 doubles, and scoring 128 runs.

Mike was right. Canseco shouldn’t have received the MVP. Instead it should have gone to Wade Boggs.

*Note: Bobby Bonds accomplished the feat in 1973 but it did not count due to one of his games being called on account of inclement weather before enough playing time had elapsed.

After Baseball

After putting baseball (and Ellis Burks’ new pet alligator) behind him, Mike Greenwell decided to hit every remaining Florida stereotype. He competed in NASCAR as a driver through the Craftsman Truck Series in 2006. He purchased a nearly 900-acre farm and began growing fruit. He opened an amusement park and ran it with his family until its sale in 2019. He now develops commercial real estate, perhaps the most Florida activity ever invented.

Miscellaneous Mike Greenwell items:

  • Mike’s old theme park can be visited at GatorMikes.com
  • NASCAR driving record at Racing Reference
  • Greenwell credits his wife, a nurse, with talking him out of trying steroids to further his career.