Outfielder Shane Victorino will go down as one of the greatest players you’ll likely have forgotten about. Despite debuting in 2003 and retiring after the 2015 season, he only played eight full seasons. Nevertheless, he won two championships, made the All-Star team twice, and took home four Gold Glove Awards. Victorino, a native of Wailuku, Hawaii, also became lovingly known as “The Flyin’ Hawaiian,” one of the better nicknames in recent baseball history.
Victorino’s career might have turned out completely differently if, on this day 17 years ago, the Padres didn’t return him to the Dodgers after selecting him in the Rule 5 draft the previous December. The Dodgers originally selected Victorino in the sixth round of the 1999 draft. In December 2004, the Phillies selected him from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft. The rest, as they say, is history.
The switch-hitting Victorino broke out in 2007, the year the Phillies broke their 14-year playoff drought. He showed himself to be close to a five-tool player, hitting for average (.281), showing occasional power (23 doubles and 12 homers), stealing bases (37 in 41 attempts), a great arm (10 outfield assists), and terrific defense (14 field runs above average).
Victorino also had a flair for the dramatic. On June 3, 2007, the Phillies gave away Victorino figurines to fans at Citizens Bank Park. The game was tied 8-8 going into the bottom of the ninth. Victorino, 0-for-4 to that point, fittingly launched a walk-off solo home run off of Kevin Correia. He would go on to deliver five walk-off hits in his career. He also hit two huge postseason grand slams: one off of CC Sabathia when he was with the Brewers, in the 2008 NLDS. The other was a go-ahead salami off of Tigers reliever José Veras in the 2013 ALCS, when Victorino was a member of the Red Sox.
Closer Brad Lidge had a “perfect season” for the Phillies in 2008, going 41-for-41 in save situations during the regular season and an additional 7-for-7 in the playoffs. He came very close to a blemish, however, on June 6. The Phillies were in Atlanta. They came back to tie the game 2-2 in the top of the ninth, then took a 4-2 lead in the 10th. In the bottom half, Lidge gave up back-to-back one-out singles. Runners were on second and third with two outs when Yunel Escobar lined a single to center field. One run scored easily, but Victorino fired a cannon to catcher Carlos Ruiz at home plate, who applied the tag in time on Gregor Blanco, attempting to score the tying run. The game ended on the spot, 4-3, and Lidge remained perfect.
The Phillies won the 2008 World Series for a variety of reasons, but they might not have gotten there if Victorino didn’t come up huge against Sabathia in the NLDS. He would knock in four runs against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS, then delivered a game-tying two-run home run in the eighth inning of Game 4, setting up the unforgettable Matt Stairs “into the night” go-ahead two-run homer in the same frame. In the deciding Game 5 of the World Series, Victorino opened the scoring with a two-run single off of Rays starter Scott Kazmir in the first inning.
The following season, the Phillies attempted to defend their championship, but came up just short, dropping the World Series in six games to the Yankees. Victorino had an incredible regular season and followed it up with an even better postseason. During the regular season, he earned his first All-Star nomination, hitting .292/.358/.445 with 39 doubles, a league-high 13 triples, 10 home runs, and 25 stolen bases in 694 plate appearances. During 15 postseason games, Victorino hit .293, registering a trio of doubles and homers as well as a triple and nine RBI.
Victorino would eventually find himself back with the Dodgers for a third time. With the Phillies’ run of greatness finally over – they won five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11 – and Victorino’s contract expiring, the club traded him to the Dodgers at the non-waiver trade deadline in 2012. He had a forgettable rest of the season and went into free agency. He signed with the Red Sox on a fortuitous three-year, $39 million contract.
Depending on which stats you use and how much you value team success, Victorino’s 2013 season was either his best or his second-best season. Over 122 games, he hit .294/.351/.451 with 26 doubles, 15 homers, 61 RBI, 82 runs scored, and 21 stolen bases. While Victorino’s overall postseason numbers in 2013 were pedestrian, he came up in some big moments. Along with the aforementioned grand slam, Victorino provided four RBI in the clinching Game 6 of the World Series against the Cardinals. He opened the scoring with a bases-clearing double in the third inning and added an RBI single in the fourth, making it an anticlimactic affair.
Victorino would retire after the 2015 season. Across parts of 12 seasons, he racked up 1,274 hits of which 231 were doubles, 70 were triples, and 108 were homers. He knocked in 489 runs, scored 731 runs, and stole 231 bases in 277 attempts (83.4%). According to Baseball Reference, he was worth 31.5 Wins Above Replacement, 28.9 of which came in a seven-year span from 2007-13, an average of 4.1 WAR per season. According to FanGraphs, which puts Victorino at 26.6 WAR for that span of time, the only outfielders more valuable than Victorino were Matt Holliday (37.3), Ryan Braun (31.2), Curtis Granderson (31.1), Ben Zobrist (29.2), and Andrew McCutchen (27.6).
Next year, Victorino will become eligible on the Hall of Fame ballot. He had neither the peak nor the longevity emblematic of Hall of Famers. He will probably fall shy of the requisite 5 percent of the vote to remain on the ballot, so it’s likely he drops off after his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility. Still, Victorino is a player worth remembering as he came up with some huge moments throughout his brief career. At the very least, he ranks among the best Rule 5 picks of all time, along with Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton, and José Bautista. And it all might not have happened – or it might have happened differently – if the Padres didn’t return him to the Dodgers on this day in 2003.