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.