Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Gene Tenace. Tenace was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in the 20th round of the 1965 draft – the same draft where they took Rick Monday first overall. He worked his way up through the minors and by the time the Athletics were hitting their stride after moving to Oakland he was strong contributor.
Never one to hit for average, his value was overlooked because people didn’t value walks like we do today. Despite his lifetime .241 batting average he posted a .388 lifetime OBP (ironically, the same as Tony Gwynn’s). Of his 1,060 career hits, exactly 400 of them were for extra bases. He was doing this in an era more favorable to pitchers (league OPS during his time was .694). Six times Tenace drew over 100 walks, leading the AL in 1974 and the NL in 1977. For his career he walked about as often as he struck out (984 BB, 998 SO).
In 1972 he was mainly the A’s backup catcher to Dave Duncan, but over the last couple of months manager Dick Williams started using Tenace more and more and by the time the postseason came around he was the starting backstop. While he struggled in the ALCS, managing just one single in 17 at-bats, he managed to find his stride in the World Series. In Game 1 against the Reds Tenace was 2 for 3 with a pair of homeruns in a 3-2 A’s win. In Game 4 Tenace added another homer in another 3-2 win. Then in Game 7 with the game tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth, Tenace ripped a double into the left field corner and to give the A’s a 2-1 lead. The A’s went on to win 3-2 and Tenace was named series MVP, hitting .348/.400/.913 with four homers in the seven games.
By 1973 he was the team’s regular first baseman and part time catcher as the A’s were in the midst of their dynasty. They would win three more division titles and two more World Series with Tenace and the crew, but as free agency dawned Charlie Finley sent everyone packing. By 1977 the A’s were a 90-loss team and the stars were everywhere else. The 30-year old Tenace signed with the San Diego Padres, and though they were terrible in their own right (they lost 93 games that season and only had one winning season during his time there) he continued to rack up walks. Despite his .237 average in San Diego he had a .403 OBP and an .825 OPS.
In December of 1980 he was a part of a 10-player deal in which he was sent to the Cardinals. Serving as a platoon catcher with Darrell Porter, he contributed with a .426 OBP in 124 games. Though he was 0 for 6 in the World Series, he did collect his fourth ring as the Cardinals won for the first time in 15 years.
He retired after a season in Pittsburgh, then bounced around as a coach with various teams, and even filled in for 33 games as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1991. He won two more rings with the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, giving him six total.
In 2016 Bill James made up a “Gene Tenace Trophy”. The idea is that it favors hitters with low averages but draw a lot of walks and hit for power. The formula is simply (.270 – avg) times (OPS – .670) times plate appearances. Going back to 1950 you see a list of fine players who finish first. Harmon Killebrew was first six times. Duke Snider was first in 1960, Eddie Mathews in 1958. Ralph Kiner was first in 1952. Reggie, Jimmy Wynn, Mike Schmidt, Lance Parrish, Jack Clark, Gorman Thomas, all finished first at least once. Gene Tenace finished first four times himself.
The idea behind that is that many people are still stuck on batting average as the measurement of hitters while forgetting how while this is pointing out just how valuable walks and homeruns really are. It’s not an end-all statistic, just a quick and dirty number to give us an idea about the value of power and patience.