A Future Hall of Fame Candidate
Aside from not gambling on baseball, about the only hard and fast rule for Hall of Fame eligibility is for a player to have racked up a minimum of 10 full or partial seasons in the majors.
More than anything, the 10-year mandate reduces clutter and names on the ballot, as it generally takes a lengthy career to become even a marginal candidate for enshrinement at Cooperstown. Only one HOFer - Dizzy Dean - barely squeaked by on the "partial year" technicality.
Dean had three "seasons" (1930, 1941 and 1947) where he pitched a single big league game. The 1947 appearance was a publicity stunt for the woeful St. Louis Browns. As an announcer for the team, Ol' Diz loudly declared to radio listeners that he could pitch better than most of the rag arms on the staff.
That led to a four-inning shutout stint against the White Sox during last game of the season (September 28). The starting appearance may have earned the 37-year old Dean a nice chunk of cash, as he supposedly received a percentage of the gate. Nearly 16,000 paid to see Dean's junkball display in a game that would have normally drawn 3000 to 4000 diehards. Despite Dean's gutsy effort, the Browns lost 5-2 to finish the season in last place with a 55-99 (.357) record.
With injury-shortened seasons of 10, 13 and 19 games, Dean's career boils down to six full seasons and 45 additional appearances. A 30-7 effort with the Cardinals in 1934 plus a 1952 movie (The Dizzy Dean Story) on his life combined with Dizzy's colorful personality and popularity as a pioneering TV baseball announcer provided enough momentum for Cooperstown enshrinement in 1953.
Raul Chavez will never be ranked among baseball's greats, but he has qualified for an appearance on a future Hall of Fame ballot. The Blue Jays backup catcher is now in his 11th big league campaign. As of June 22, Chavez has played just 230 games in the Show.
The Venezuelan-born Chavez is now in his 19th professional season, and the bulk of his 1383 minor league games have come at the AAA level. Chavez saw his first AAA action with Tuscon of the Pacific Coast League in 1995, and he has played 915 games with eight AAA teams in 12 seasons (1995-2003, 2005, 2007-09).
It was on to Ottawa of the International League in 1996, and Chavez made his major league debut with the Expos as a late season call-up. That four-game cup of coffee led to 13 more appearances with Montreal in 1997.
1998 was split between Ottawa, Tacoma and a single game with the Mariners. Chavez spent all of 1999 in Tacoma before signing with the Astros in the offseason. 2000 was the first of Chavez's four consecutive seasons with the New Orleans Zephyrs. He played 14 games with Houston in 2000 and made a pair of big league appearances in 2002 before playing 19 games with the Astros in 2003.
2004 was the high point of the stocky catcher's career. Chavez spent the entire year in Houston - his only full major league season. A .210 average (34 for 162) with 0 HR and 23 RBI in 64 games was the stat line.
It was back to AAA in 2005, as Chavez split the season between Round Rock and the Astros. A sub-Mendoza Line batting average (.172, 17 for 99) combined with Chavez's trademark lack of plate discipline (just four walks) led to a horrendous .210 OBP.
Even AAA would have looked good to Chavez in 2006, as he spent most of the year riding buses with Bowie of the Class AA Eastern League. That's quite a show of perseverance for a 33-year old player, and it was rewarded with a promotion to the Orioles.
The Yankees noticed Chavez and signed him to a AAA contract for 2007. A .221 average at Scranton was one reason why he never appeared in pinstripes that season. Chavez began 2008 at Indianapolis, but he spent most of the year with the Pirates. A .259 (30 for 116) performance in 42 games provided a nice boost to his career batting average.
A pair of games in Las Vegas kicked off 2009, and it marked Chavez's 18th year of minor league service. He was promoted to Toronto on April 18 and has done well in a reserve role. As of June 22, Chavez was hitting .263 (15 for 57) with 2 HR and 6 RBI. With just four strikeouts, making contact hasn't been a problem, but the free swinger is still looking for his first walk of the season.
A .227 lifetime average and .261 OBP means Chavez won't have to book a trip to Cooperstown in the future, but he will be able to ask his grandchildren "Do you know what Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez and I have in common? We were all on the Hall of Fame ballot!"
So what does Raul Chavez's many trips between AAA and the majors mean? It's a testimony to the determination of a 36-year old journeyman player.