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Straight to the Majors: John Olerud

Over the extended weekend of the Field of Dream series the Yankees played against Garrett Crotchet, a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox who throws hard, pitches well, and has yet to ever play a game in the minor leagues. After getting drafted 15th Overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, he signed, and went straight to the majors.

This got me wondering about what other players were who went straight to the MLB, of which there have been 22 since the MLB Draft was implemented in 1965. Over the next few weeks there are 11 players who have played for the Yankees while making their professional debut at the MLB level.

Today’s player is: John Olerud!

Road to the Show:

Born in Washington state, John G. Olerud was born to John E. Olerud- a doctor and a man who spent 4 years playing baseball at Washington State University and 7 years in the minor leagues while studying medicine. His son would have a very similar, yet different fate.

After being a 3-sport varsity athlete in baseball, basketball, and golf, John Olerud would follow his father and attend Washington State University to play under the same coach: Chuck Brayton. While at college, Olerud was a stand-out player and a two-way star as he earned All-American status as a pitcher in his freshman year while hitting above .400 and pitching to a 3.00 ERA. He continued this dominance his sophomore year, going undefeated as a pitcher with a sub-2.50 ERA while hitting above .450 (with a .876 SLG), earning All-American honors at pitcher and first base.

Before his senior year baseball season in 1989, Olerud had a brain aneurysm which greatly limited his playing time, though he would earn honors as a designated hitter (his pitching faltered with a 6.68 ERA). It was this aneurysm that led Olerud to wear a batting helmet when playing the field for the rest of his baseball career. After his senior season, Olerud was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 3rd round of the MLB Draft and after negotiations was told he was going to skip the minor leagues, doing so that same year with 6 games late in the 1989 season.

Ranked the #3 prospect going into the 1990 season, Olerud was used as a platoon player before a break-out 1993 campaign which saw Olerud lead the AL in AVG (while maintaining a .400 AVG into late August), OBP, OPS (and OPS+), Doubles, and IBB’s, though he would come 3rd in the AL MVP voting (an MVP he probably should have won), likely due to his 24 Home Runs as opposed to Frank Thomas’s 41.

Olerud would be a solid contributor for the Blue Jays over the following years, but he was unable to produce another season at that higher level going forward which, combined with the coming-up of Carlos Delgado and Joe Carter’s status in Toronto made Olerud good trade fodder. Soon he became a New York Met.

A Met for 3 seasons from 1997-1999, Olerud has his best 3-year stretch in his career while putting up reputable numbers and nearly passing a 1.000 OPS again in 1998 and nearly leading the NL in AVG (losing out to Larry Walker on the final day of the season). As a fun novelty, Olerud would hit for the cycle with the Mets in 1997 and would make a Sports Illustrated cover in 1999 while on a defense that was suggested to be one of the best (defensively) ever.

After his Mets career ended, Olerud would sign two different contracts with the Seattle Mariners (the team he is most connected to) which brought him back to his home state for 5 years (2000-2004). While there, Olerud would win 3 gold glove awards at first base, become one of only 26 players to hit for the cycle multiple times in their careers, and was a key part in the 2001 Mariners team that would set the MLB record for games won in a season. Though, in 2004, Olerud was hitting much worse as the first baseman for the Mariners and soon he was DFA’ed.

Road to the Yankees and Afterwards:

After being designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners, Olerud would find his way to the New York Yankees towards the end of 2004 after they were needing a replacement at first base for an injured Jason Giambi. He would play in a total of 49 regular season games for the Yankees while hitting to a .280 AVG (and a 101 OPS+) while playing great defense to help the Yankees stay atop the division. Olerud got hurt during Game 3 of the ALCS, and his final at-bat with the Yankees came in Game 7 while pinch hitting against Pedro Martinez.

Olerud would then join the Red Sox going into 2005 while on a minor-league deal, and he would play 3 games in the MiLB (the first time in his career) before playing as a platoon bat through the season.

Following 2005, Olerud retired from baseball with a very respectable (and often underappreciated) career with a bWAR of +58.2 over 17 seasons. In 2007 he was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, in 2010 an award in college baseball for two-way players was named after him, and in 2020 he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.


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