Around the MajorsFebruary 13, 2009
Seasons of Change, Part 2 (of 2)
By Marc Hulet

As we saw last week in part one of Seasons of Change, MLB rosters can really evolve in 10 seasons. As fans, it's also fun to look back and remember some of the key moments - and players - that made 1999 so entertaining.

NL East

The Atlanta Braves | 103-59 (First)

The Braves club was a powerhouse 10 years ago, led by some excellent pitching, which included The Big Three of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. Those three pitchers, combined, earned more than $25 million. The club also relied on two young, promising starters named Kevin Millwood, 24, and Odalis Perez, 22. Millwood went on to have a pretty decent career (until he hit Texas), while Perez never did realize his full potential. Millwood was actually second on the team in wins in 1999 with 18 (Maddux had 19) and led with 205 strikeouts. Chipper Jones led the club with 45 home runs and his 110 RBI total was second to Brian Jordan's 115. Chipper received all but three first-place votes to win the NL MVP. Has any (active) player in the last 10 years fallen further than Andruw Jones talent-wise? He hit .275/.365/.483 with 26 home runs at the age of 22 - and his offense was not even the best part of his game.

The New York Mets | 97-66 (Second)

Catcher Mike Piazza was the top salary earner for the Mets in 1999 at $7.1 million but he earned his paycheck by slugging 40 home runs and driving in 124 runs. Robin Ventura had his best season as a Met and hit 32 home runs with 120 RBI. He hit .301 in 1999 and never reached .250 again in his final five seasons. The third highest paid player on the club at $5.9 million was Bobby Bonilla, but he hit just .160/.277/.303 in 119 at-bats (60 games). The Mets' starting rotation was fairly old, with the top four pitchers aged 33 or higher, with No. 1 starter Orel Hershiser at 40. It's hard to believe the Mets won 97 games considering the top win total was 13 by both Hershiser and Al Leiter. The closer's role was shared by the Young n' Old combo of Armando Benitez, 26, (22 saves) and John Franco, 38, (19 saves).

The Florida Marlins | 64-98 (Fifth)

This club is famous for taking one step forward and two steps back. After winning the World Series in 1997, the club jettisoned most of its talent. In 1999, only four players made more than $1 million, including Alex Fernandez who raked in $7 million and earned seven wins in 24 starts. Fernandez earn more money than the next 13 highest paid players on the roster. The team lead in wins was secured by Brian Meadows with 11 (He also lost 15 and had an ERA of 5.60). Antonio Alfonseca led the club with 21 saves. Rookies A.J. Burnett and Vladimir Nunez appeared to have bright futures, while sophomore Ryan Dempster was also being counted on for big things. Offensively, not one hitter was above the age of 30 when the season began. Luis Castillo played his first full season as a regular and stole 50 bases. Preston Wilson, 24, hit 26 home runs and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He also struck out 156 times, though. Mike Lowell also showed promise in his rookie season.

The Philadelphia Phillies | 77-85 (Third)

Paul Byrd and Curt Schilling led the Phillies in wins in 1999 with 15 a piece. Schilling was also tops with 152 strikeouts. Left-handed prospect Randy Wolf made his debut and posted a 5.55 era in 21 starts. Wayne Gomes led the club with 19 saves after veteran Jeff Brantley went down due to injury and appeared in just 10 games. The offense was led by catcher Mike Lieberthal, who hit 31 home runs and batted .300. Rico Brogna was first on the club in RBI with 102. Bobby Abreu, 25, had a breakout season that saw him hit 20 home runs, 11 triples, score 118 runs, steal 28 bases and walk 109 times. Oh, and he batted .335. Doug Glanville had 204 hits and also stole 34 bases.

The Montreal Expos | 68-94 (Fourth)

The now Washington Nationals organization had just five players making $1 million or more, and Rondell White was the top earner at $3 million. He had a nice season with a line of .312/.359/.505. The offensive leader, though, was Vladimir Guerrero, 23, who was in his third season. He hit 42 home runs and drove in 131 runs. Catcher Chris Widger was third on the club with 14 home runs. The middle infield consisted of Jose Vidro, 24, and Orlando Cabrera, 24, both of whom were promising young players. Michael Barrett was a rookie in 1999 and split his time between catcher and third base. Dustin Hermanson, a converted reliever, and Javier Vazquez, 22, both led the team with nine wins. Ugueth Urbina was the saves leader with 41. Left-hander Steve Kline appeared in 82 games, while Anthony Telford pitched in 79, which should tell you a little bit about the starting pitchers. A 23-year-old southpaw named Ted Lilly made nine appearances. The club had a ridiculous amount of young talent in 1999... it's too bad the club could not afford to keep all the players together for any significant period of time.

NL Central

The Cincinnati Reds | 96-67 (Second)

Only one player hit more than 25 home runs and topped 100 RBI (Greg Vaughn at 45 homers and 118 RBI), but 10 players hit more than 10 taters. Sean Casey was second on the club in dingers, during a rare power display, with 25. Pokey Reese hit .285/.330/.417 with 38 steals and looked like he would man second base for quite some time, but he never reached those numbers again. Pete Harnisch was the staff ace with a record of 16-10 and 198.1 innings pitched. His 120 strikeouts were second only to Brett Tomko's 132. The Reds appeared to have a dynamic, young one-two punch in the pen with Danny Graves, 25, who saved 27 games, and Scott Williamson, 23, who had 19. Injuries ruined both careers - although both had limited success. Williamson pitched well enough to take the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1999. Ironically, the club traded rookie B.J. Ryan to the Reds after just one MLB game. He arguably has had a better career than both Graves and Williamson.

The Milwaukee Brewers | 74-87 (Fifth)

Hideo Nomo led the club with 12 wins and 161 strikeouts. The only other pitcher to approach triple-digit strikeouts was Steve Woodard with 119. Veterans Jim Abbott and Cal Eldred both made 15 starts and had horrible seasons with ERAs over 6.90. Former first round pick Kyle Peterson, 23, looked promising in 17 games but appeared in just three more MLB games in his career. Bob Wickman saved 37 games. Jeromy Burnitz was the leader in home runs with 33. Australian catcher Dave Nilsson had a nice season with a line of .309/.400/.554 and 21 home runs. Geoff Jenkins played his first full season and had 43 doubles and 21 home runs.

The Pittsburgh Pirates | 78-83 (Third)

The biggest earner in 1999 for the Pirates was Al Martin at $2.7 million, with Kevin Young second at $2.1 million. Martin hit .277/.337/.506 with 24 home runs and 24 steals. Young hit .298/.387/.522 with 26 homers and 106 RBI. Brian Giles was the offensive star, though, with a line of .315/.418/.614 to go with 39 home runs and 115 RBI. He earned just $1.1 million. Warren Morris, 25, had a solid rookie season at second base but was a one-year (maybe a two-year) wonder. The Pirates had a promising young pitching staff with the top four starters at or below the age of 27, including Todd Ritchie, Kris Benson, Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova. Mike Williams saved 23 games.

The Chicago Cubs | 67-95 (Sixth)

The year 1999 was not kind to the Cubs organization, which finished in last place in the Central Division. The only positive part of the season (at the time) was Sammy Sosa's race with Mark McGwire and his 63 home runs (as well as 141 RBI). Henry Rodriguez had a nice season with 26 home runs and a .301 batting average. Only one regular player was under the age of 30 - Jose Hernandez at shortstop. In the starting rotation, Jon Lieber led the way with just 10 wins. Steve Trachsel pitched 205 innings but managed a record of just 8-18. Terry Adams stepped into the closer's role and saved 13 games, after Rod Beck was ineffective despite saving 51 games in 1998. Rookie Kyle Farnsworth, 23, made 21 starts and looked loaded with potential thanks to a big fastball. Fifteen players made $1.1 million or more for the last-place Cubs.

The Houston Astros | 97-65 (First)

Remember when the Astros had good pitching (beyond Roy Oswalt?). I certainly had forgotten. In 1999 Jose Lima and Mike Hampton, both 26, won 21 and 22 games, respectively. Shane Reynolds won 16 games and led the club with 197 strikeouts. Sophomore Scott Elarton looked like he would move into the rotation in 2000 and thrive. Billy Wagner saved 37 games with a 1.57 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. In the batter's box, Jeff Bagwell finished second in the MVP race after slugging 42 home runs, driving in 126 and adding 149 walks. Craig Biggio hit 56 doubles. Between the two players, they stole 58 bases. A rookie by the name of Lance Berkman appeared in 34 games.

The St. Louis Cardinals | 75-86 (Fourth)

Another Central League club had a disappointing season, but brought fans to the seats thanks to Mark McGwire's 65 home runs. Fernando Tatis, 24, hit 34 home runs in his second full season and drove in 107 runs. Rookie J.D. Drew began his career of disappointing people with a line of .242/.340/.424. League-average hurler Kent Bottenfield parlayed an uncharacteristic 18-9 season into a $4 million paycheck from the Angels in 2000 (and subsequently won just seven games). Once promising Jose Jimenez went 5-14 in his rookie season and never did reach his potential. Pitching phenom Rick Ankiel, who was 19 when the year began, debuted and had a 3.27 ERA in nine games (five starts). Ricky Bottalico saved 20 games.

NL West

The Colorado Rockies | 72-90 (Fifth)

Offense was the name of the game in 1999, obviously. Four players had 30 or more homers: Todd Helton, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, and Larry Walker. Walker's line was insane at .379/.458/.710, but he finished 10th overall in MVP voting. Terry Shumpert hit .347/.413/.584 as a part-time utility player. Promising rookies Ben Petrick and Edgar Clemente failed to develop. Four pitchers made 30 starts or more, but only Pedro Astacio had an ERA below 6.00 (at 5.04). He also led the club with 210 strikeouts. Brian Bohanon was second on the club with 12 wins despite a 6.20 ERA. Dave Veres saved 31 games. Young starters John Thomson, Jamey Wright, and Mark Brownson failed to realize their potentials.

The San Francisco Giants | 86-76 (Second)

Barry Bonds was not involved in the great home run chase of 1999, in part because injuries limited him to just 102 games. Regardless, he still hit 34 home runs. Ellis Burks carried the offense in Bonds' absence and hit 31 home runs. Rich Aurilia (making less than $1 million), Jeff Kent, and J.T. Snow also all had 20 or more home runs. Catcher Brent Mayne was the only regular to hit more than .300 (at .301). Pitcher Russ Ortiz went 18-9 with 164 strikeouts and 125 walks. Not bad for a guy making $220,000, eh? Robb Nen saved 37 games. A former catcher Joe Nathan, 24, made a successful conversion to pitcher and started 14 games.

The San Diego Padres | 74-88 (Fourth)

Trevor Hoffman saved 40 games for the Padres in 1999, but there wasn't much else to celebrate. Andy Ashby was tops in wins with 14. Sterling Hitchcock punched out 194 batters, which was his career high by an easy margin (36 Ks). Matt Clement, 24, had a promising rookie season and won 10 games with a 4.48 ERA in 31 starts. Outfielder Ruben Rivera inexplicably played 146 games despite hitting .195/.295/.406. Four regulars hit .248 or below. Reggie Sanders led the offense with 26 home runs. Phil Nevin drove in the most runs with just 85. Tony Gwynn hit .338/.381/.477 and was first in hits with 139. It was the last season he would play regularly and his third last overall. The club did have some speed, as four players stole 30+ bases. Shortstop Damian Jackson had 34 despite hitting just .224.

The Los Angeles Dodgers | 77-85 (Third)

Kevin Brown started off his Dodgers career pretty well in 1999 with an 18-9 record and 221 strikeouts. Ismael Valdes was second amongst the starters with a 3.98 ERA but he won just nine games. Jeff Shaw saved 34 games. Rookie relievers Jamie Arnold and Onan Masaoka were worked pretty hard and failed to have much success ever again. A young Canadian starter named Eric Gagne, 23, made his debut and posted a 2.10 ERA in five starts. On offense, Raul Mondesi, Gary Sheffield, and Eric Karros each passed the 30 home runs mark. Twenty-year-old third baseman Adrian Beltre played his first full season and hit .275/.352/.428. He looked like a superstar in the making. Eric Young stole 51 bases.

The Arizona Diamondbacks | 100-62 (First)

In just its second season, the Arizona organization finished first in the NL West (but lost to the Mets in the NL Division Series). The club was offensive-minded to say the least. Two outfielders (who - eyebrows raised - improved significantly as they entered their 30s) Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley had great seasons. Gonzalez hit .336/.403/.549 with 206 hits and 111 RBI. Finley slammed 34 homers and drove in 103 runs. Jay Bell (another eyebrow raise) and Matt Williams (clearing of throat) both joined the 30 homer club. Williams led with 142 RBI and finished third in the MVP race. On the rubber, Randy Johnson was king with a 17-9 record and 364 whiffs. He edged Mike Hampton for the NL Cy Young award. Omar Daal came out of nowhere to go 16-9. Matt Mantei saved 22 games and Gregg Olson had 14. Byung-Hyun Kim made his debut at the age of 20 and struck out 31 in 27.1 innings.

The game has changed a lot, but many still remain - most in different uniforms. It's also amazing to look back and see just how many players were hitting 30+ home runs with ease - well into their 30s. It will certainly be interesting to see what the 2009 season, as well as future years, have in store for baseball fans.


Thanks for the great historical review.

Was Hershiser really the #1 of the 1999 Mets? I'd take Leiter or even Yoshii over Orel in '99.