Rob Deer was an Unlikely Player of the Week

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The week: September 21-27, 1992

My high school baseball coach hated Rob Deer. I bet a lot of high school baseball coaches hated Rob Deer in 1992. Rob Deer embodied exactly what the high school baseball coaches in 1992—at least the ones I knew in central Illinois—were trying to fight.

Because Rob Deer wasn’t known for his home runs, though he hit many of them very far, and Rob Deer wasn’t known for his on-base percentage, though he had an above-average tally throughout his career, and Rob Deer wasn’t for his Appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1987, although he had been there and no one had a high school baseball coach.

No: Rob Deer was known for punching. And back then, that was all the average high school baseball coach cared about.

By September 1992, Deer had led the majors in strikeouts three times: in 1987, 1988, and 1991. (He would do it again in 1993.) His 186 strikeouts in 1987 were the third most in Major League Baseball history, behind only The Marks of Bobby Bonds of 189 in 1970 and 187 in 1969. More than any other player of that era, Deer became synonymous with strikeouts. Not just strikeouts as a result of an at-bat, but strikeouts as a symptom of baseball somehow losing touch with what was meant to be played… and more importantly, taught. Even Deer himself, who went on to become a batting coach with the Padres when he retired, said he wasn’t someone to emulate. “I don’t teach like I hit,” he said. “I’ll be the first to admit I don’t want them hitting like me.”

When Deer won his only Player of the Week award in September 1992, he won it by hitting like someone who wasn’t Rob Deer. In the week ended September 27, Deer hit just two home runs, but he hit .351 and raised his average by a full nine points in the process. (It must have been weird to see Rob Deer morph into Tony Gwynn.) This was his second season at Detroit, where he was teammates with fellow sluggers Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton and Travis Fryman. Deer had a higher slugging percentage than everyone else that season, at .547…the highest of his career, as it turns out.

Deer wouldn’t stay long for Detroit after that year. After a slower start to the 1993 season, Deer found himself trading bait for the struggling Tigers, and they sent him to Boston for Trade Deadline in a bid to become a minor league — or a “fringe contender,” as the Tigers put it — later named . (The trade in Deer allowed the Red Sox, who wouldn’t make the playoffs anyway, to make Andre Dawson a full-time DH.)

Deer hit .196 with seven home runs and a solid defense for the Sox, and he went freelance in the offseason in hopes of a raise. Instead, he signed with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. He struggled there, hitting eight homers in 70 games with a .151 average and spending the next two years rattling around Triple-A’s in the Angels and Padres organizations. (He somehow hit .291 for Las Vegas in 1995.) He was called up for the Padres in 1996 and hit four more homers in 25 games. His .839 OPS would have been useful had anyone looked at OPS at the time. He was out of baseball the next year and destined to be known forever as The Strikeout Guy.

When Deer retired, he held that third spot on the strike list for a season. But how much has the game changed since then? Now he ties at No. 45. Just last year, there were four players who had more strikeouts than Deer’s highest strikeout season…including American League MVP Shohei Ohtani. Her high school coach thought avoiding strikes was the future. He was very wrong.

This week’s other Player of the Week was Bip Roberts, who made his only All-Star team in 1992 and finished eighth in the MVP pick for the Cincinnati Reds, which Randy Myers traded for him to San Diego the previous offseason had. (Bip would go on and re-sign with the Padres two years later.) That week, Roberts batted over .500 … but without a homer.

This week Magic Johnson, who retired from the NBA less than a year earlier after announcing that he was HIV positive, announced his intention to return to the NBA. He played a few pre-season games but decided not to reverse his retirement, citing the concerns of the players who played him. Three years later he would really return. Additionally, Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“End of the Road”, Boyz II Men

This song was No. 1 for three full months, a record they would break themselves two years later.

Michael Mann, then best known for his television show Miami Vice, topped the box office with The Last of the Mohicans, which starred a surprisingly muscular Daniel Day-Lewis.

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