There have been 20 players in baseball history who have struck out three times in their debut -- like Kris Bryant did on Friday afternoon -- then went on to make an All-Star Game. One of those players was Masahiro Tanaka. So we have our work cut out for us.
Sure, the 118-player list of three-strikeout debuts is filled more with names like Orlando Hernandez and Zack Wheeler than Babe Ruth, but it's not all Calvin Pickering, Dick Tomanek, Brick Smith, and Shovel Hodge on there. That's the default kind of player on the list, yes, and maybe it's true that Joe DiMaggio struck out three times just once in his career, but there have been some fantastic hat-trickers who had solid-to-great careers. Here are the 10 best:
10. Ron LeFlore
LeFlore was a solid outfielder for a few years, leading the league with 97 steals in 1980 (when he was 32!) He was one of the more notable players to lie about his age, being four years older than he reported at the time, and he was discovered while serving a prison sentence for armed robbery by then-Tigers manager Billy Martin. Leflore's life story was made into a TV movie, and he was played by the guy who would eventually host Reading Rainbow and play Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
"That sounds exactly like Kris Bryant's story!", you're probably thinking. If you say so!
The Cubs are hoping Bryant will be better than LeFlore, though.
ALEEEXXEIIIIIIIII YES YES YES YES, as he's commonly known in the clubhouse, or at least my house, has had a very nice career, and the White Sox are hoping for at least one or two more solid years out of him. He's never been a super-high strikeout guy, which makes his debut something of a fluke, even by our modern apathy toward strikeouts.
The Cubs are hoping Bryant will be better than Ramirez, though.
8. Matt Kemp
He was watching Bryant from right field, the only person in the ballpark who could empathize. Kemp couldn't figure out Ramon Ortiz in his debut, although he did single in his final at-bat of the game.
The Cubs are probably hoping Bryant will be better than Kemp, though. Which kind of highlights how ridiculous expectations are for Bryant right now.
Velarde is one of those players who seems like he's still playing right now. He's probably on the Reds. If one of you gets a chance this year to see a Reds game, let me know. He left the Yankees as a free agent after the 1995 season (solid timing, kid), and returned to the Yankees for their first unsuccessful World Series run in four seasons (solid timing, kid).
The Cubs are hoping Bryant will be better than Velarde, though.
6. Darin Erstad
One of the more under-appreciated players of his era by statheads, Erstad debuted for the California Angels and would eventually hit .355 in his best season.
The Cubs are hoping Bryant will be better than Erstad, though.
You were hoping for this list to be peppered with Hall of Famers, weren't you, Cubs fans? Patience. Torgeson was a dependable player -- think the Nick Markakis of his time -- for several years between 1947 and 1961, playing for five different teams. His nickname was The Earl Of Snohomish because he was from Snohomish, Washington. This is also the hometown of John Popper from Blues Traveler and Adam Eaton (the pitcher). As you can tell, I'm out of Earl Torgeson facts.
The Cubs are hoping Bryant will be better than Torgeson, though.
Cuccinello went by "Cooch," though his other nickname was "Chick," and he had his best years with the Boston Bees. There are, like, at least three things wrong with that sentence. The second baseman finished with an MVP vote in four different seasons from 1930 to 1945, including his final season at the age of 37. He was a coach for the Indians and White Sox after he retired.
The Cubs are hoping Bryant will be better than Cuccinello, though.
He's a minor baseball deity when healthy, so you're familiar with Tulowitzki. The Cubs probably aren't hoping Bryant will be better than Tulo -- even with the injuries, they would take that production and giggle the entire time. Tulowitzki's history is probably the closest to Bryant's -- first-rounder, can't-miss, et cetera -- but he couldn't touch David Williams or Guillermo Mota in his debut.
Personal problems and injuries derailed what was almost certainly a Hall of Fame career at one point ...
... but Strawberry was really, really good for a long time, making eight straight All-Star teams. He had just one outstanding full-time season for the Dodgers after leaving the Mets, but he was a big part of the 1998 Yankees, one of the best teams in history.
The Cubs would be thrilled if Bryant were as good as Strawberry. Don't sell the guy short.
1. Dixie Walker
First, note that in a pre-meme era, Walker's nickname was "The People's Cherce"
Indeed. Walker hit .306 for his career, helping the Dodgers win two pennants and finishing with MVP votes in eight different seasons. Of course, he's also known as the racist ghoul who asked to be traded rather than play with Jackie Robinson.
"(Walker) invited me out for a glass of wine — somewhat shocking in that Budweiser world," Kahn said. "We talked for a while, and then he got to the point: the petition and his letter to Rickey. He called it the stupidest thing he’d ever done and if I ever had a chance to please write that he was very sorry."
Still, that's the legacy we remember more than the actual playing. The Cubs would be pretty bummed if Bryant were only as good as Walker, too, mostly because Walker didn't start hitting until he was 26.
What does it mean that Bryant struck out three times in his debut? If you had to pin me down, it probably means that Bryant struck out three times in his debut. Still, if he makes even one All-Star team, he'll be better than most of the players who had a hat trick in their first major league game. If you were looking for a bunch of "Well, Ted Williams struck out four times in his debut!" anecdotes, this is about as good as you're going to get.