In June of 1996, I was preparing to graduate from high school. Having not played baseball since my Freshman year, my hopes of being drafted by a Major League team were slim to non-existent. I was not going to a college that was known for their baseball program either. So in that moment, my dreams and aspirations of playing professional baseball became a thing of childhood memory.
In June of 1996, about 1,000 miles away from me, another high school student was preparing for graduation. The difference, is that Mike Hessman played all through high school and was drafted in the 15th round by the Atlanta Braves – who won the World Series the year before, much to the pleasure of yours truly – and was sent to the GCL Braves of the Gulf Coast League in Rookie Ball.
Hessman would play in 53 games for the GCL Braves and bat a modest .218, but he did hit one home run. Little did he, or I, or any of you realize at the time, that it would be the first of a record-number of Minor League home runs.
On August 3, 2015, Mike Hessman hit career Minor League home run number 433 – a grand slam no less – passing Buzz Arlett of the Oakland Oaks who set the mark with 432 home runs in 1937. For almost 80 years, that record stood. No longer.
Congrats to my old minor and major league teammate, Mike Hessman, for blasting his 433rd HR tonite for the Toledo MudHens! #lotsoftaters
Over the years, Hessman has watched multiple teammates move on through the ranks of the minors and get their shot in the bigs. He himself, has been called up five times. Twice, he was called up by the Braves (2003/2004), twice by the Detroit Tigers (2007/2008) and once by the New York Mets (2010).
Hessman’s first career Major League hit, was fittingly, a homer, off New York Mets’ reliever Mike Stanton.
In 109 career Major League games, Hessman has a slash line of .188/.272/.422. But teams have kept him around, probably in part to the raw power numbers and potential they have seen in his bat over the years.
In 2008, while playing for the Toledo Mud Hens of the International League (where he plays today), Hessman had his best statistical season overall. A slash of .271/.374/.602 with 34 homers, 72 RBI and a call-up to the Tigers.
In 12 games with the Tigers (31 plate appearances) Hessman had a slash of .296/.387/.889 with 5 HR, an OPS of 1.276 and an OPS+ of an astonishing 224.
However, it simply wasn’t meant to be for Hessman. One thing that kept him firmly planted in the minors was that he was primarily a third baseman and first baseman in the Braves organization from 1996-2004. In that span, the Braves had Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga, Ryan Klesko, Ken Caminiti, Julio Franco, Robert Fick and Adam LaRoche over at first base as well as Chipper Jones and Vinny Castilla manning third.
Once he was a free agent and signed with the Tigers, he found himself behind guys like Brandon Inge, Sean Casey, Carlos Guillen and somebody named Miguel Cabrera. He just couldn’t catch a break. Besides, he wasn’t exactly tearing up Minor League pitching and giving teams no choice but to call him up and keep him up. He obviously hit plenty out of the park, but he was never a guy that hit for average for long stretches.
In 19 Minor League seasons, Hessman has a slash line of .232/.315/.466. But who am I to judge? He’s played 19 seasons of professional baseball, had five cups of coffee in the show, played in Japan for a year, played for the Bronze medal-winning Team USA in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and has played side by side with the likes of:
Fredi Gonzalez (Manager in AAA Richmond)
Chan Ho Park
Just to name a few.
I’m not sure if Hessman likes being called the real life Crash Davis (from the movie Bull Durham) or not. But he should wear it as a badge of honor of sorts.
Hessman made history, no matter how you slice it. But at the age of 37, I’m sure he’s anxious to get one more call up.
Once the calendar turns to September, many eyes will be turned to Detroit, to see if the Tigers give Hessman that last shot at the Bigs.
I for one, will be glued to my seat for every at bat if they do.