SweetSpot: Benny Agbayani

I wrote the other day on baseball's versions of Jeremy Lin -- guys who came out of nowhere to stir up attention on a national scale. Some withstood the test of time (Fernando Valenzuela), some didn't (Hurricane Hazle).

My friend B.K. wrote in about Hazle:
    I spent the summer of '57, between high school and college, working for my uncle's small telephone company in Waunakee, Wis., just outside Madison. My cousin, later to be baseball MVP at the University of Wisconsin one year after the legendary Pat Richter (and who bumped Bobby Murcer off shortstop one summer for a Yankee farm club), and I would spread the paper out on the dining room table every morning and pore over every single major league box score. And, every night we played one-on-one hoops on the concrete driveway off the back alley with a radio in the window tuned to the Braves and Earl Gillespie. As the summer evolved, Hurricane Hazle became big, bigger, biggest. We went to Milwaukee every chance we had, especially doubleheaders, getting to the park when the gates opened for batting practice and infield. I'll never forget those times. A dream --- Hammering Henry, Eddie Mathews, Spahn and Burdette, Bob Buhl. Schoendienst and Logan. Wes Covington. Remember him?

B.K. was also one of the people to mention Kevin Maas. How could I forget him? A 22nd-round pick, Maas was 25 when called up to the Yankees in late June of 1990. He hit 10 home runs in his first 79 at-bats but slowed down after that, finishing his rookie season with 21 home runs in 254 at-bats. In 1991, he was the team's regular DH, played a little first base, and hit .220 with 23 home runs. He did draw 83 walks and got another chance to start in 1992. He was hitting .291/.376/.518 through early June but then slumped and he never got another regular shot.

Maybe this is a New York thing. Shane Spencer, another Yankee, had that memorable run in 1998 when he hit .373/.411/.910 with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs in just 67 at-bats. He hit two more home runs in the ALDS. He did last seven seasons in the majors although was never a full-time starter. And there's Benny Agbayani of the Mets, a 30th-round pick who got called up in May of 1999 and hit .468/.519/.979 with six home runs in his first 16 games that year. Benny lasted three seasons as an effective platoon player for the Mets.

I'm not sure Spencer or Agbayani quite become national sensations (Spencer did it in September, when all eyes were focused on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa). A reader mentioned Dontrelle Willis with the Marlins in 2003, which is a pretty good example. Somebody else mentioned Francisco Rodriguez and his playoff run with the Angels in 2002 (good one). Finally, my favorite comment, from jdrobins2112:
    Fernando Valenzuela is not baseball's Linsanity.

    Jeremy Lin is basketball's Fernandomania.

Well said.

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