The Year Of The Card–Jose Lind, 1993

Middle infielders who don’t hit well–it’s a Royals tradition. To be fair, pretty much all of Major League Baseball agreed with that view in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Royals, as an institution, learned they could win even with guys who hit .240 without power, as long as those guys scooped up every grounder they saw on the Royals Stadium artificial turf.

Frank White started out as one of those guys, although he did improve his offense as his career went on, eventually becoming capable of hitting a few home runs while still being a defensive wizard. But the search for a replacement was tough in the early going. Terry Shumpert couldn’t hit, and also had the bad luck to be “not Frank White!” So the Royals turned to Keith Miller. He hit well enough but wasn’t good enough defensively for Kansas City’s taste.

Following the 1992 season, the Royals were coming off three straight disappointing seasons. So general manager Herk Robinson began a retooling of the team. And first up was a trade with Pittsburgh–pitchers Joel Johnston and Dennis Moeller for second baseman Jose Lind. With a brand-new Gold Glove award in tow, Lind headed for Kansas City. Perhaps he would be the answer to the Royals’ problems at the keystone.

Jose “Chico” Lind Salgado was born on May 1, 1964, in Toa Baja, a small town on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. One of his older cousins was also a ballplayer–Onix Concepcion, who would play shortstop for the Royals from 1980-1985, but was also one of those middle infielders who wasn’t much of a hitter. Concepcion posted a .239/.278/.294 line as a major leaguer.

Pittsburgh signed Lind as an amateur free agent in 1982. For his first professional season, the young infielder put up an impressive .301/.360/.368 line for the Pirates’ rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League in 1983. But a poor 1983 season at Class A Macon (.207/.259/.230) meant he repeated that level in 1984. This time, at Prince William, he hit a more respectable .276/.333/.321. After posting similar .263/.320/.323 and .268/.316/.326 lines at Class AA Nashua and Class AAA Vancouver, Lind made his major-league debut on August 28, 1987. Given a chance to play every day as the Pirates looked to the future, Lind made a good first impression with a .322/.358/.434 mark in 35 games.

Pittsburgh didn’t exactly contend in 1988, finishing 15 games out of first, but it was their first winning season since 1983. Lind contributed a .262/.308/.324 line with 15 stolen bases. The Pirates finished a disappointing 74-88 in 1989, while Lind suffered through a .232/.280/.289 season. But the Pirates captured the NL East title in 1990, their first division flag since the “We Are Family” team won it all in 1979. Lind batted .261/.305/.340 and even hit a home run in the NLCS, but the Pirates lost to Cincinnati in six games. 

The 1991 season was almost a carbon copy. Lind hit essentially the same line he had the year before, with a .265/.306/.339 line. The Pirates again won the division, and again lost in the NLCS, this time to Atlanta (yes, kids, the NL West division used to have both Cincinnati and Atlanta, while Chicago and St. Louis were in the East).

The 1990 and 1991 seasons were probably Lind’s offensive peak. Already, some teams were beginning to expect a bit more offense from the middle infielders. Lind’s OPS+ in those seasons were 81 and 82, respectively, meaning he was about 20% worse than a league-average hitter. His defense was good enough to give him 0.8 and 1.2 bWAR in those years, though.

Things changed in 1992. Lind’s hitting slumped to a .235/.275/.269 mark. His defensive reputation finally earned him a Gold Glove, although Baseball Reference only credits him with 0.2 defensive WAR. The Pirates still won the division, only to lose again to Atlanta in the NLCS. (Pittsburgh fans have my permission to skip to the next paragraph.) Ironically, Lind committed a key error in the decisive Game Seven. With Pittsburgh holding a 2-0 lead and a man on second in the bottom of the ninth, Lind muffed a David Justice ground ball. The Pirates got two outs in the inning but could not get the third. Justice scored the tying run on Francisco Cabrera’s pinch-hit single, moments before Sid Bream’s memorable slide into home sent the Braves back to the World Series. The play essentially ended Pittsburgh’s mini-dynasty, as Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek were free agents following the season. The Pirates would not return to postseason play until 2013.

The Pirates were also ready to move on from Lind, apparently. They left him unprotected before the expansion draft, then, as mentioned, dealt him to the Royals. Kansas City understood Lind’s offensive limitations but they were happy to pick up a solid defender.

“It was obvious to everybody that we need to improve our defense. It just so happened that there was a second baseman available to us on our terms.”–Royals general manager Herk Robinson, quoted by Dick Kaegel, Kansas City Star, Nov. 20, 1992

“Right away, it helps us defensively. Last year’s club was hurt by our deficiencies on defense, and that’s something we had to focus on in the off-season. We will be a strong defensive club up the middle. It gives us some stability. I thought our pitchers did a good job of holding their own last year under some difficult situations. And I think with a guy of Lind’s ability, this will make the pitcher’s job that much easier.”–Royals manager Hal McRae, quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, Kansas City Star, Nov. 20, 1992

The Royals further fortified their defense by signing shortstop Greg Gagne. The same day, they brought pitcher David Cone home to Kansas City. Later that winter, they would trade for Felix Jose. The retooled Royals were ready to contend in the AL West.

And proceeded to fall flat on their faces. The early-90s Royals were notorious for slow starts, and this team lost its first five games. However, they split the rest of their April games, ending the month with a 9-14 record. However, Lind made another good first impression, hitting .297/.328/.391 for the month and driving in 10 runs, despite batting eighth most of the time. He furthered the good impression with a terrific diving stop on Opening Day on a Tony Pena grounder.

Kansas City climbed back into the race with a 16-9 record in May, ending the month two games out of first place. Lind struggled through his worst month of the season, posting an ugly .160/.160/.173 line, although it didn’t seem to affect his fielding–he committed just one error, his first of the season, on May 26.

The Royals reached first place in the division in early June, and held the lead for roughly three weeks. But they dropped five of six to end the month, falling back into second place with a .500 record. Lind enjoyed his best month of the season, though, hitting .344/.375/.393 for the month and again going error-free. The only bad news was a bout of bronchitis that caused Lind to miss seven games. 

Lind hit .264/.274/.319 in July, while the Royals went 16-12 for the month. Lind did miss the first five games with a sore hand, which he actually suffered diving for a ball in a late June game. But he enjoyed an eight-game hitting streak after he returned; that matched an eight-game streak in late June as a season high.

Kansas City could only manage a 15-14 mark in August, ending the month six games out of first. They weren’t out of the race, but it was going to be a difficult climb. Lind slumped to a .205/.242/.216 mark for the month, and committed three errors. It was far from a banner month for player or team. However, Lind had one thing to celebrate: on August 29, the impending free agent signed a two-year extension with the Royals, for $3 million each season.

The Royals got within five games of first in mid-September, but that was as close as they would come to the postseason. A 15-14 mark over the month and three games in October left them with an 84-78 record, 10 games out of first. It was a solid season and the Royals were at least in the hunt for most of it, but it was still somewhat of a disappointment. For his part, Lind hit .254/.273/.282 for the last month, finishing the season with a .248/.271/.288 line in 464 plate appearances. It was pretty much what the Royals expected, but from a modern view, that just isn’t impressive. Lind did end the season as the American League’s best defensive player at second base, at least as judged by fielding percentage, but Roberto Alomar walked away with the Gold Glove. The weak offense more than offset the sterling defense, and Lind has a bWAR score of -1 for the 1993 season. 

Lind would have a better 1994 season, hitting .269/.306/.348 in the strike-shortened season. And in 1995, he was hitting .268/.290/.299 through 29 games when his personal life spiraled out of control. Lind didn’t show up for the Royals’ June 2 game. Even worse, he didn’t call manager Bob Boone or general manager Robinson to explain his absence. He did call his agent, Chuck Berry (not that one), and left a message that he was returning to Puerto Rico because of a family medical problem. Three days later, the Royals placed Lind on the disqualified list, removing him from the 40-man roster. When the team finally talked to Lind, he said he was having personal problems (that later turned out to be his wife filing for divorce) and wasn’t sure he wanted to play baseball anymore. That seemed to be OK with some members of the organization.

“He left me. He doesn’t exist. He’s not on this thing (pointing to a roster). He’s not part of my family.”–Boone, quoted by Dick Kaegel, Kansas City Star, June 6, 1995

As you might expect, things got ugly. Lind filed a grievance with the players’ union, asking for his spot on the team back, along with the salary that had been withheld since he was put on the disqualified list. The Royals made it clear they had moved on. Eventually, Kansas City was able to release Lind. He would play 15 games for the Angels later that season, but that was the end of his major-league career.

But not the end of his problems. In July 1996, Leawood police were called when Lind showed up at his ex-wife’s house, in violation of a restraining order, and he was arrested for possession of cocaine. In November of that year, the Florida Highway Patrol pulled Lind over for leaving the scene of an accident. The officers discovered a gram of cocaine in the car, along with seven beer cans. And a “visibly drunk” driver. Who was not wearing any pants. 

“The reason we didn’t do a field sobriety test on the side of the road was because he had no pants.”–Florida Highway Patrolman Harley Franks, quoted by the Associated Press, November 20, 1996

Lind would ultimately spend a year in jail. But the good news is that after his release, he sought help for his addictions. Ultimately, he would join the Bridgeport Bluefish, in the independent Atlantic League, as a player-coach for four seasons. And then, he wound up managing the Bluefish for three seasons. Today, Lind apparently has returned to Puerto Rico and enjoys his retirement. So this occasionally rocky story does have a happy ending.

Jose Lind’s best games of 1993:
4/20 vs. TOR: Went 3-4 with a double, run scored, and two RBI in 8-2 win.
4/18 @ MIN: Picked up three hits, drove in two runs, and scored in 5-4 win.
6/12 vs. CHI: Collected three hits and a walk and drove in KC’s only run in 2-1 loss.
7/9 vs. DET: Went 3-4 with an RBI and run scored in 10-5 loss.
8/9 vs. SEA: Delivered pinch-hit single in eighth inning, driving in tying and winning runs in 7-6 win.

About the card:
A good action shot, obviously from spring training of that season, and co-starring one-time Royal (and Lind’s Pittsburgh teammate for a brief stretch in 1992) Kirk Gibson. On the back, Lind gets to show off his range. It’s not quite as good as Lind’s 1991 Upper Deck card, which shows him jumping over a standing teammate Mike LaValliere, but it’s a quality card. 

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