One of the top run producers in baseball during the bashing 1990s, Andres “Big Cat” Galarraga, surprisingly, only received a handful of Hall of Fame votes–not enough to be retained on the list for next year’s ballot. When he was struggling in the middle of his career, expansion gave him new life and he rocketed to stardom with the Colorado Rockies, where he won a batting title and two RBI titles.
Originally property of the Montreal Expos, the Venezuelan born Galarraga joined their farm system in 1979. He wasn’t summoned to the Canadian city until 1985. Skipper Buck Rodgers gave the Big Cat regular duty in 1986 but his bat didn’t come alive at the highest level until 1987. That year, Andres led Major League first basemen with 40 doubles and was the lone right-handed hitting initial sacker to hit .300. Although ’87 was his first good year at the Major League level, 1988 was his breakout year.
Galarraga made his first All-Star team in ’88 when he paced the National League with 184 hits, 42 doubles and 329 total bases. He also led NL first basemen in batting average and slugging average, as his power numbers began to show that year. Andres climbed from 13 homers in ’87 to 29 in 1988. Not just a big basher, Andres won two consecutive Gold Glove Awards in 1989 and 1990, but his batting stats all dipped during those years. After a poor 1991 season in which his batting average fell to .219 and his homerun total to just nine, the Expos gave up on their once promising first baseman.
Dealt to the Cardinals for Ken Hill prior to the 1992 season, the Big Cat spent one injury-plagued season in the Gateway to the West. At 31, it appeared that his career had stalled out, but expansion revived his declining numbers. The Cardinals granted Galarraga free agency after the ’92 season and didn’t shed a tear by letting him walk. The Rockies grabbed him up, hoping that he could deliver some of the goods he once brought to the Expos lineup. But he did more for the Rockies than any prognosticator could have fathomed.
In his first year with the Rockies, Andres won the National League batting title by hitting a robust .370. The year before, with the Redbirds, he only managed a .243 mark ,but in the friendly confines of Colorado, Andres’ blood flowed again and his bat responded with a terrific season. Once the Rockies got their feet wet in the NL, they began surrounding Andres with some protection in the lineup. In the strike shortened 1994 campaign, Andres blasted 31 homeruns but came in second on the team in the RBI department behind Dante Bichette.
The Rockies became a high-powered offensive team in 1995 with Andres, Bichette, third baseman Vinny Castilla and outfielder Larry Walker leading the charge. In just their third year in existence, Colorado went to the playoffs and Andres hit .278 in the NL Division Series. But his best years were ahead of him
Galarraga led the National League in homeruns (47) and RBI (150) in 1996. That year he began a string of three straight seasons in which he would post at least 100 runs scored, 40 homeruns, 120 RBI and a .585 slugging average. In ’96, Galarraga was the lone National League first baseman to slug over .600. He also topped his position peers in runs scored (119) and base hits (190). Still on top in 1997, the Big Cat led the NL in RBI for the second straight season by driving in 140 of his mates. The Big Cat and Larry Walker gave the Rockies one of the greatest run-producing seasons among teammates in baseball history when the two stars combined for 263 runs scored and 270 RBI.
Andres left the Rockies via free agency after the 1997 season and joined the Atlanta Braves. Under skipper Bobby Cox, the Big Cat didn’t miss a beat. He socked 44 homeruns and drove home 121 runs for the NL East champs. In that year’s NLCS, he clubbed his only postseason dinger. Still very productive in his upper 30s, Andres had to leave the diamond to combat cancer in 1999. He made an inspirational return to the diamond in 2000 and was made to his last All-Star squad that season. Not voted in simply on sentimentality, Andres was still productive, indicated by his fifth 100 RBI season.
Andres left the Braves and signed a free agent deal with the Texas Rangers where he could play designated hitter as a 40-year-old cancer survivor. But before the trade deadline, the Rangers shipped Andres to the Giants for outfielder Chris Magruder and lefty Erasmo Ramirez to serve as a power bat for the stretch drive. San Francisco reached the Division Series but were defeated by the Florida Marlins. Andres spent his last three years in the Majors with three different teams. Had he not missed a full season to battling cancer, he would have easily topped 400 career homeruns.
G 2,257/R 1,195/H 2,333/2B 444/3B 32/HR 399/RBI 1,425/BB 583/SO 2,003/SB 128/BA .288/SA .499/OBP .347