THE FLAME THAT WAS FERNANDO
“I can’t believe it happened. I did not expect to hit another one. I’ve never been a home run hitter. I just try to meet the ball. I’m not like Mark McGwire” – Fernando Tatis, 4/23/99
He wasn’t Mark McGwire. Most fans probably knew little about Fernando Tatis, except that he was a decent prospect. They likely mispronounced his last name. The Cards had traded Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre for Darren Oliver and him on July 31, 1998. He blasted his way onto the national scene that April day in 1999, hitting 2 grand slams in one inning. Later that year in August, he would take part in another record-setting day, being one of 5 players to hit a grand slam on August 9th. A new Fernando Mania, starring young Fernando Tatis, was born.
He absolutely dominated that season, giving hope to Cards fans that were enduring a 75-86, 4th place finish that year. Their pitching staff was horrendous with the exception being veteran Kent Bottenfield, who went 18-7 that year. McGwire would hit 65 homers that season, including his 500th. But Tatis dazzled the fans with a mixture of speed, power and glove work. Only 24, he finished the year with 34 HRs, 107 RBI, .298/.404/.553. He stole 21 bags and also showed patience drawing 82 walks in 537 ABs. He was Albert Pujols before Albert Pujols.
But he would fade quickly, harshly into a baseball black hole. In 2000, injuries reduced him to just 96 games. He hit 18 HRs, but his OPS dipped by almost 100 points. The Cardinals took advantage of his remaining market value and dealt him to the Expos in December. They acquired Dustin Hermanson and Steve Kline for Tatis and young pitcher Britt Reames.
Tatis continued to crash hard. He missed 54 games after injuring his groin in late April of 2001. He played in only 45 games that year, hitting 2 HRs in 145 ABs. 2002 wasn’t much better. He played in more games–114–but continued to struggle batting a then career low .228. He also hit into a career-high 15 double plays. At just 27 years old, Tatis was struggling to maintain a career in the big leagues.
Going into 2003, ESPN the Magazine had Tatis slated to bat 5th and pegged him as one of the “Can Expect To Play Better” players for the Expos. “Fernando Tatis. The Expos hope to dump his salary, his injuries and his attitude, so if he wants out he’s got to prove 1999 (.298/34/107) was no fluke”. That didn’t happen. Tatis bottomed out. He played in just 53 games and managed only 2 HRs in 175 ABs. To top that off he hit .194/.281/.263 for a total of just .544 OPS. His slugging percentage alone was higher in 1999.
According to The Baseball Cube, “The trade never panned out for the Expos as Tatis battled injuries and high expectations and wound up leaving the team with apparent psychological issues in 2003 having to do with the fact that he was no longer producing as expected.” The Montreal Gazette reported that Tatis was unable to play because he was having panic attacks. But Tatis said that was not true and he was just discouraged and frustrated by his performance and repeated injuries.
In 2004, he signed with the Devil Rays. He was quickly released before the end of spring training. I found no record of him playing in 2005. That’s because he took the whole year off and stayed in the Dominican Republic. But my interest was piqued when I saw that he had signed with the Orioles. He was even playing 2nd Base this spring in an attempt to get back into the bigs–a place he hasn’t played since 2003.
From the Baltimore Sun: “My son always bothers me and [asks] me, ‘When are you going to play again, when you are you going to be back in the big leagues?’” said Tatis. “That pushed me when he said that. He just loves this game. That’s why I took the year off. Now I am doing the best I can to make this ballclub.”
But today this came across the wire:
Baltimore Orioles – Purchased the contract of pitcher Jim
Brower; assigned outfielders Napoleon Calzado and Esix Snead,
pitchers Vic Darensbourg and Andy Mitchell, third baseman
Fernando Tatis, infielder Eddy Garabito and infielder-outfielder
Howie Clark to minor league camp; placed pitcher Aaron Rakers
on the 60-day disabled list.
So it looks as if Tatis will suit up for the Ottawa Lynx and keep plugging away at getting back to the Majors.
The elephant in the room dares you to assume that he took part in too much “weight training”. I have no idea whether or not he did. All I know is that now he’s just a guy trying to get back to making his boyhood dreams come true again. But it doesn’t look as if that will happen.