By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Sports Illustrated writer Phil Taylor once wrote that John Olerud had “a swing so sweet it should be poured on pancakes.”
That sweet swing, which Olerud perfected with help his from his dad, John Sr. and by reading Charley Lau’s book, The Art of Hitting .300, helped Olerud capture an American League batting title in 1993, a season in which he flirted with .400 and helped the Toronto Blue Jays to their second consecutive World Series title.
And today, on the 2020 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee’s 53rd birthday, it seems fitting to look back at Olerud’s magical 1993 campaign.
The sweet-swinging Seattle native was selected in the third round of the 1989 MLB draft out of Washington State University by the Blue Jays and after he signed with the club, he went directly to the big leagues and singled in his first at bat on September 3, 1989.
In 1990, Olerud earned regular playing time, primarily as the team’s DH, and proceeded to belt 14 home runs and post a .364 on-base percentage (OBP) in 111 games. Smooth in the field and at the plate, Olerud became the Blue Jays’ regular first baseman the following year and enjoyed two solid, but unspectacular seasons in 1991 and 1992. In the latter season, he batted .284 with 16 home runs in 138 games and earned his first World Series ring.
But his breakout campaign came in 1993, when he flirted with .400 for much of the season and ended up with a .363 batting average to become the first – and still only – Blue Jays’ player to win an American League batting title. In that historic season, Olerud also topped the circuit in doubles (54), OBP (.473) and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) (1.072).
Those were remarkable numbers, indeed, but here are eight more facts about Olerud’s 1993 season you might not know:
-Despite putting together one of the greatest individual seasons in the past three decades, Olerud finished third in American League MVP voting. Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas was the winner and Olerud didn’t even receive the most MVP votes on his own team. Blue Jays DH Paul Molitor, who hit .332 with 111 RBIs, finished second in the voting.
-Olerud hit better than .400 in two separate months in 1993. In April, he batted .450 in 22 games, and in July, he hit .427 in 28 games. He also had 17 doubles in July alone.
-After the Blue Jays’ game against the Yankees on August 2, Olerud was still hitting .400 (right on the button). This made him the first player to carry a .400 batting average that deep into the season since Ted Williams in 1941. The Splendid Splinter hit .406 that season and is the last player to hit .400 in a major league campaign.
-In the 93 regular season Blue Jays’ wins he played in in 1993, Olerud batted .400 and had a .528 on-base percentage (OBP) with 19 home runs and 76 RBIs.
-One of Olerud’s biggest strengths as a hitter was his patience. He drew 114 walks in 1993, which ranked third in the league. But on the 87 occasions that season when he did swing at the first pitch of an at bat, he hit .517 with 15 doubles and three home runs.
-For obvious reasons, players almost always have a much higher batting average on balls hit to the outfield, but Olerud batted a whopping .635 on balls hit to the outfield in 1993. In the 301 at bats in which hit balls to the outfield, he had 191 hits, including 53 doubles and 24 home runs.
-Olerud drew a franchise record 33 intentional walks in 1993. Jose Bautista has the second most intentional walks in a season by a Blue Jay. He had 24 in 2011.
-Almost every team dreaded facing Olerud that season, but the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians must have been particularly fearful. In 12 games against the White Sox, Olerud went 19-for-42, good for a .452 batting average. Of those 19 hits, four were doubles and two were home runs. Against Cleveland, he was 23-for-52 (.442 batting average) in 13 games and had four home runs and 11 RBIs.
Olerud continued to be a steady performer for the Blue Jays through 1996, but he could never match his otherworldly 1993 campaign. In all, he suited up for 920 regular season contests in parts of eight seasons with the Blue Jays and he ranks first all-time in franchise history in OBP (.395), second in intentional walks (87), fourth in walks (514) and sixth in batting average (.293).
Olerud was dealt to the New York Mets for pitcher Robert Person on December 20, 1996. He starred for the Mets for three seasons prior to playing for his hometown Seattle Mariners for parts of five campaigns. He finished his career with stints with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. In all, in his 17-year big league career, the two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner finished with a .295 batting average, a .398 OBP (which ranks 65th in major league history) and 2,239 hits.
In 2007, he was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame and nine years later, he was chosen as the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Century for his standout play as a hitter and on the mound.
For many, the soft-spoken first baseman was an inspiration. Prior to his junior college season, he suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm. He worked diligently to get back on the field and recovered to enjoy a successful collegiate and pro career. His performance and perseverance earned him Major League Baseball’s Hutch Award in 1993. This honour is handed out annually to a player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.
After hanging up his playing spikes, Olerud and his wife, Kelly, settled in his home state of Washington with their three children: Garrett, Jordan and Jessica. In 2003, they created the Jordan Fund to assist other parents with special needs children financially. Their daughter, Jordan, was born with a rare chromosome abnormality known as tri-some 2p, 5p-. Sadly, Jordan passed away in 2020 at the age of 19, but Olerud’s fundraising efforts continue.
Was a great baseball player and a better human being. Enjoyed following his career all the way back to the time he was playing for Washington state.
I totally agree, Phil. Thank you for reading and for your support.
I can picture John’s swing. So amazing! Thanks for taking us down memory lane Kevin.
He’s a hof type player and person.
Thanks for reading and for your support, Scott.
Great article on a great guy.
Thanks for reading and for your support.
Ironically i just returned back to Toronto just 20 minutes ago from my first visit to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Finally made it at age 78 years. As soon as I entered one of the rooms i immediately recognized at the other end of the room the two seater Bench Seat from the Grandstand & Bleacher Seats of the long ago torn down Maple Leaf Stadium. Sat on these bench seats “hundreds” of times growing up in the 1950’s and early 60’s. Surprised to find at least three mistakes in the Hall of Fame descriptions of the Inductees. e.g. It states that Sherry Robinson working with the Original Washington Senators moved with them when they transferred to Minnesota after the 1961 season. It had to be after the 1960 season. The Twins (previous Senators) played their first season in Minnesota in 1961.(replaced in Washington in 1961 by the expansion Washington Senators) — Ted Bowsfield played for the Los Angeles Angels in 1961 NOT as stated the California Angels. Also it says he later played in the early 1960’s for the Expansion Kansas A’s. First the name of the team is Kansas City. They were not an expansion team. The team had previously played in Philadelphia as the A’s and moved to Kansas City in 1955.They left Kansas City after the 1967 season for Oakland to be replaced in Kansas City in 1969 by the Expansion team Royals . I realize I am “nitpicking” but really if one is ever to expect Canadian Baseball Facts to be correct it would be in the Hall of Fame. Otherwise a terrific enjoyable experience-a lot of pleasant memories and new knowledge.-In a very beautiful setting in St Marys
Hi David. Thanks for your note, your support and your feedback of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. I’m glad that overall you had a positive experience. About the mistakes in the inductee descriptions you mention, I will make note of them and share them. But the Hall has one full-time year around employee in Scott Crawford who works countless hours and wears many hats. (A part-time curator has since been added after these inductee descriptions were written). The Hall is reliant on many volunteers who give their time and contribute to projects like these descriptions. They do their absolute best and sometimes mistakes and typos are made. I make plenty of them too. Again, thanks for your feedback and your corrections will be noted.
I love baseball history and appreciate it when people take the time to point out errors in a story I write or, in this case, something written by someone in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. So thank you for noting some corrections in the Hall. (I live in North Vancouver and have never been to the CBHoF.) However, since you didn’t use quote marks around what was written, I don’t know if “Sherry Robinson” was the Hall’s error or your own. Either way, it should be Sherry Robertson.