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.