Pedro Guerrero’s slide that wasn’t into third base still haunts me. And it was 30 years ago.
Guerrero was at his peak — in fact, he was at everyone’s peak. Having hit 15 home runs in June 1985 alone, finishing the year with a National League-leading .999 OPS and 182 OPS+, Guerrero was the rightful NL Most Valuable Player, even if voters didn’t see it that way.
When Guerrero arrived at Spring Training in 1986, he seemed more than a little aware of his stature. But the media played into that. Some of the coverage bears a striking resemblance to that of Yasiel Puig over the past 2 1/2 years, in that things that should have been unremarkable were treated as the opposite.
According to Gordon Edes of the Times, there was a pool among the beat writers, players and even “a certain manager,” betting on when Guerrero would actually show up in Vero Beach. (Bob Hunter of the Daily News won.) But Guerrero wasn’t late to Spring Training. He was more than on time. He just wasn’t as early as others.
Guerrero did admit to Edes that if it were up to him, he would skip Spring Training entirely. “But if I do that and hit .210, you guys (reporters) would be all over my butt,” he said.
So Guerrero arrived. He had one hit in his first 16 at-bats, then suddenly smacked six doubles and a triple as Grapefruit League play heated up. No one worried about Pedro Guerrero, the player who was, as I’ll never tire of quoting Bill James as saying, “the best hitter God had made in a long time.”