Every team in baseball passed over Nelson Cruz, including the Rangers

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Long before he became one of the league’s top sluggers and a postseason hero Nelson Cruz was passed over by every team in baseball, including the Rangers. His journey to playoff stardom is pretty remarkable, actually.

Cruz was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old by the Mets in 1998. Two years later they traded him to the A’s for journeyman backup infielder Jorge Velandia.

He spent four years in Oakland’s minor-league system, emerging as a good prospect, at which point the A’s traded Cruz to the Brewers for Keith Ginter. He spent two years in Milwaukee’s system, making his big-league debut in September of 2005, but then the Brewers traded him to the Rangers in a six-player swap that included Carlos Lee and Francisco Cordero as the big names.

Cruz played 41 games with the Rangers in 2006 and another 96 games in 2007, but hit just .231 with a .664 OPS. In the spring of 2008 he was out of minor-league options and the Rangers didn’t want to keep Cruz on the Opening Day roster, so they designated him for assignment, dropped him from the 40-man roster, and placed him on waivers.

Any of the other 29 teams could have claimed him for $20,000 … but they didn’t. Cruz passed through waivers unclaimed, at which point the Rangers assigned him to Triple-A for the first five months of the 2008 season. He finally earned a call-up in late August and went on to hit .330 with seven homers and a 1.030 OPS in 31 games down the stretch, forcing his way into the Rangers’ plans.

And the rest is history, as Cruz has hit .283 with 91 homers and an .885 OPS in 391 regular season games and .281 with 10 homers and a 1.027 OPS in 24 playoff games for the Rangers since going unclaimed and making his way back from Triple-A in late 2008.

Cruz didn’t make his big-league debut until age 25 and didn’t become a regular in the majors until age 28, but his minor-league performance was screaming out for opportunities before then. He didn’t thrive immediately in the majors, but Cruz hit .313 with 87 homers and a .996 OPS in 326 total games at Triple-A. He just needed an extended chance to prove those Triple-A numbers were no fluke and it took three trades and all 30 teams deciding he wasn’t worth a roster spot before that happened.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.