Friday, March 28, 2008

The Alternative Level of Excellence: Nelson Liriano

With the news that Roberto Alomar will ascend into the lofty ranks of the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence on April 4th, it got us to thinking that it's about frickin' time that we induce someone into our own Alternative Level of Excellence.

It also got us thinking about the dog's breakfast of second basemen that the team has gone through over the years. You have to feel for Tony Fernandez, who never knew what he was going to see when he turned to his left.

You've got your Damaso Garcias burnin' shit up in the locker room. You've got your Mike Sharpersons who barely made the vaguest of impressions. You've got your Manny Lees, who never wanted to play second or be called "Manny" in the first place. You've got your Garth Iorgs, who was already induced into our shrine.

But if we consider Iorg a part time second bagger at best, then one man stands above all others in the ranks of middle infield mediocrity. And that man is Nelson Liriano.

Fed up with that lot of marginal-at-best goofballs, the Jays thought they had landed on something special with Liriano. After first getting the call in 1987 to supplant Sharperson as the reigning Second Baseman of the Future, Liriano played 37 games and put up mediocre numbers (.652 OPS, 2 HRs and 10 RsBI). However, his 13 stolen bases were just enough to garner him a single vote in the Rookie of the Year voting, so obviously someone in the Toronto contingent had a mancrush on speedsters. (Liriano came in sixth behind some juiced-up ginger name McGwire.)

Liriano spent much of the next season watching from the bench, and did little to push the reluctant secong baseman Manuel Lee out of the starting spot. (It's really saying something about your lack of offensive prowess when Manny Lee's got close to 70 points in OPS over you.) Moreover, Liriano made 12 errors in 80 games at second for a less-than-dazzling .961 fielding percentage. But, again, he stole 12 bags, and in that era, that meant something. Supposedly.

In 1989, Liriano finally stepped up and grasped the brass ring (or is that the Brass Rail...we always confuse the two.) In 122 games at second, Liriano managed to keep his errors steady at 12, and shone (well, in relative terms) with .707 OPS, 5 HRs and 53 RsBI. And since you asked, 16 steals. Plus, he swiped three more bags in three playoffs.

But as Trooper once sang so poignantly, Liriano was here for a good time, not a long time. In 1990, his numbers dipped into the microscopic realm. We don't think we've ever seen anything quite as small as a .294 slugging percentage, but we've never stood next to Torgen at the urinal. (Hey-o!) Liriano was supplanted one last time by Lee, before getting shipped to Minnesota in a trade for (seriously, get a load of this) John Candelaria. Yikes.

The rest of Liriano's post-Jays career is all a bit of a non-descript blur (Minny, minors, expansion Rockies, sucky Bucs, Royals and back to the Rockies.) It is notable that when all was said and done, Nellie finished off his career with more triples than homers : 27 to 25, helped along by the seven that he put up in a third of a season on the pool table felt in the Metrodome.

Nowadays, Liriano can be found in the batting cages of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, where he serves as hitting coach to the Advanced A Carolina League prospects of the Kansas City Royals.

For never fulfilling his modest promise, for offering little more than the occasional burst of speed, and for helping to dispel the notion that Dominican middle infielders are great with the glove, the Tao of Stieb hereby induces Nelson Arturo (Bonilla) Liriano into the Alternative Level of Excellence.

Long may you run.


the ack said...

now that's what I'm talkin bout Tao.

No-hit Nellie....I recall him busting up a pair of no-no's, maybe one for Nolan Ryan, can't remember the other. The immortal Manuel don't call me Manny Lee's lid just cast too large of a shadow for Nelson to get out from.

Torgen said...

I got name-dropped? Little old me?

Tao of Stieb said...

We name-drop the coolest commenters.

Even the ones with small peepees.

sager said...

Nice... he couldn't beat out Manny/Manuel and to add insult to injury, Manny got a ring wearing his No. 2.

Robbie Alomar said...

Can I formally submit Jacob Brumfield's name into the nomination ballot box, if only for the reason that my grandma absolutely loved Jacob Brumfield... which I found unusual at the time... and still do.

Lloyd "the barber" Moseby said...

I definitely referred to Nelson Liriano during my Twins season preview. I'm a hack in every way possible.

Anonymous said...

the ack

He did bust up a Ryan no hitter in the eighth or ninth inning back at the Ex. Not only that, it was a triple and he came around to score. I remember that well. Ryan was facing Liriano all the way to third screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs. He was pissed!

Nelly goes into my personal HOF for that moment.

satan's carbuncle said...

Nice. In another few years you'll have the infield of the damned.

Wading in the waters on quasi-ineptitude, maybe in the future you guys could have a piece on the most useless stretch-run acquisition. For some reason The Candiman, Tom Candiotti comes to mind. There's something about the equation 'knuckleballer' + 'final piece of the puzzle' that makes so little sense.

Brendan said...

I was at that game at the EX when he broke up Ryan's no-no. I don't think I've ever been more angry at a Jays player in my life. I'm about to witness a no-hitter, and the suckiest player who ever sucked fuckin' decides to sack up and not suck for one at-bat. It might have been the first time I swore in front of my dad.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does he look a lot like Karl Malone in that pic?

johnny said...

This post reminded me of how Donruss made the crappiest cards of my childhood. They were even able to top the ugliness of the rainbow '89 set with the all red '90 ones.

O-Pee-Chee rules!

Tao of Stieb said...

Great ideas from both Satan's Carbuncle and robbie alomar.

Speaking of late season knuckle-baller pick ups, Phil Niekro was somewhat less than amazing in his three-game stay with the Jays.

Brumfield...we remember him getting pissy about the fact that he wasn't getting playing time. Apparently, no one told him he was Jacob Freakin' Brumfield.