The Sweeney story

Mike Sweeney: player for a small-market team, and victim of a conspiracy that’s kept him

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Salt of the Game

Today I offer a toast to a player whom you’re unlikely ever to have given a second thought to: longtime bench player Mark Sweeney.

Sweeney, a lefty, was born in 1969 in Framingham, Massachusetts, and he attended the University of Maine before being drafted by the California Angels in the 9th round of the 1991 draft. He was traded to the Cardinals in 1995 and made his debut on August 4th of that year against the Cubs, going 1-4 with an RBI groundout in a loss. He remained a Cardinal until midway through 1997, playing outfield and first base, at which point he was traded to the Padres (for, among others, Fernando Valenzuela). Since then, he’s been with the Padres, Mets, and Rockies, with 2005 finding him back in San Diego.

His career batting line is .256/.349/.392, and he’s never even 200 at-bats in a season. For his 11-year career, he’s hit 27 home runs, or five more than Sosa hit in June of 1998. But all in all, a solid major league career, something to be proud of.

And he’s always been a favorite for some reason, a player I keep an eye on every season. Why? I’m not really sure. Part of it’s his batting eye, definitely. Ever since the first time I read Bill James back in 1990 (when he confirmed my suspicion that all those walks Jack Clark used to take were extremely helpful), I’ve liked players with a good eye. I’ve also always had a soft spot for bench players who do one or two things well and seem, by all appearances, to accept their role. And I enjoy rooting for the Lesser Sweeney, forever playing in the shadow of Mike Sweeney, who, though drafted a round after Mark and making his debut a month later, has been a much better hitter (.305/.377/.498) and a four-time All-Star and has made nearly 20 times what Mark Sweeney has made.

But that’s about all the reasons I have. Not a lot, really, but even so, every spring when the Cardinals are stocking their bench, I keep hoping they’ll pick up Mark Sweeney. And each year I hope his team will make the postseason, and he’ll get a chance at a Tito LandrumTimo Perez-type postseason moment, forever lodging himself in the memories of some team’s fans.

So the next time I raise a glass, it’ll be to Mark Sweeney.