In this ongoing series — inspired by Stereogum’s “The No. 1s” — we’ll look back on some of the more interesting, notable, and unexpected players of the week in MLB history, an award that has been given out since 1974. While many players of the week have been written about extensively and are entrenched in baseball lore, that is not always the case.
NL: Chan Ho Park, SP, LAD
AL: Bartolo Colon, SP, CLE
Chan Ho Park faced 8,714 hitters in his career, which is why it’s such a shame he’ll only be remembered for two. Or, really, one.
The first thing you think of when you hear the name “Chan Ho Park” is, obviously, “Fernando Tatis’ two grand slams in an inning.” (The second might be one very strange brawl that saw Park jump-kick Tim Belcher following a bunt.)
On April 23, 1999, Tatis — now just as well known for being Fernando Tatis’ dad — smashed two grand slams in the third inning for the Cardinals, both off Park; our Andrew Simon had a great breakdown of how many weird things had to happen to even make such a thing possible. Such a thing had never happened in baseball before and will surely never happen again. It’s difficult to imagine any manager even allowing a pitcher who had given up a grand slam in an inning to a batter to even face him again, let alone the batter actually hitting one. It’s perfectly understandable why we’ll always attach Park’s name to such a black swan event.
But it also does a disservice to Park to reduce his entire career down to that inning. Park retired in 2010, a full 11 years after that game, and he’d been pitching since 1994 when it happened. That means Park was in the Majors for a whopping 17 seasons, a stunning number when you think about it. He made his debut for the Dodgers in 1994 as a 20-year-old and gave up an RBI double to Terry Pendleton (with Deion Sanders in the lineup) and pitched in his last game in 2010 for the Pirates, in which he got the win (the 128th of his career; he’s actually the winningest Asian-born pitcher in MLB history) and struck out Giancarlo Stanton. That’s quite the spread of a career. That’s a lot more than just one nightmare inning in 1999.
In fact, the best two seasons of Park’s 17-year career came directly after that 1999 season. He had 13 wins that year, but a 5.23 ERA, albeit a 5.23 ERA in a season when he had one inning where he gave up eight runs. But he had 18 wins with a 3.27 ERA in 2000 and 15 wins with a 3.50 ERA in 2001, the year he made his lone All-Star game. And at the end of 2000, he had perhaps the best run of his career.
On Sept. 19, 2000, he threw eight shutout innings in a tight 1-0 victory over the Diamondbacks, striking out eight and scattering six hits. But in his next start, he was even better, going eight more, striking out 13 and giving up only two hits in another 1-0 win, this time over the Padres. That was enough to win him Player of the Week in the next-to-last week of the season, though it’s worth noting he was not in fact done. In his final start, he had his best performance of the season, throwing a shutout against the Padres, striking out 13 and giving up just two hits and one walk. He completed the season with 27 consecutive scoreless innings.
That was the perfect primer for his 2001 All-Star season and the ideal way to head into free agency. The Rangers were forever desperate to spend money at the time (particularly with a team that had Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Ivan Rodriguez but still had a 73-89 record because they had no pitching), and they gave him, after that 2001 season, a five-year, $65 million deal, one of the biggest contracts ever given to a pitcher. (“Finally we have our starting pitcher,” owner Tom Hicks said when Park was announced, and general manager John Hart said this was “a very magical time.”)
It ended up being a disaster. Park put up a 5.79 ERA in 380 2/3 innings over the next three-plus seasons before ultimately being traded to the Padres with a year-and-a-half left on that deal. He finished out that contract, pitched one game for the Mets in 2007 (he gave up six runs in four innings) before returning to the Dodgers, this time as a reliever in 2008. That allowed him to extend his career, mostly in the bullpen, pitching for the Phillies, Yankees and Pirates over his final two seasons. It is to the credit of the Associated Press story about his retirement that it mentions that he was the winningest Asian-born pitcher in MLB history but not the two grand slams he gave up to Fernando Tatis. It’s fair to say today’s baseball fan remembers the latter much more than the former. He’s now a baseball analyst in Korea, with a charming Instagram account. He looks great, and happy. Good.
The other Player of the Week for Sept. 24, 2000, was Bartolo Colon, who was 27 and in his theoretical prime in 2000. (I know, it’s weird to think of Bartolo Colon ever being 27 years old.) He’d finished fourth in Cy Young voting the year before, and had been just as solid in 2000. His best stretch was at the same time as Park’s, highlighted by a one-hit shutout, with 13 strikeouts, at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 18. Colon would win Player of the Week five times in his career. The first was in June 1998; the last was in May 2016.
The country was just more than a month away from the highly debated and incredibly close 2000 presidential election– the first debate that year was the week after Park and Colon won the award — and the day after the award came out, Vince Carter jumped over Frederic Weis in the 2000 Summer Olympics in the famous “Dunk of Death.”
Madonna had just hit her 42nd birthday when “Music” became her first No. 1 hit in five years. She has not reached No. 1 since, for what it’s worth.
A sign that it’s not a big box office weekend: The No. 1 movie came out 27 years earlier. A “director’s cut” version of “The Exorcist” ruled the box office on Sept. 24, 2000, barely beating out something called “Urban Legends: Final Cut.” There was a reason for this: The Summer Olympics were going on, and traditionally movie releases abate during the Olympics, because people are generally watching those at home rather than going out. Or maybe they were just watching baseball.