This post was inspired by a series of posts by the Athletic MLB. If you have a subscription and haven’t read it yet, I recommend it.
Growing up, I didn’t possess what one would call an “athletic frame”. I was undersized (not gaunt or anything, but ya know… wiry without being tall?), sported a less-than-graceful bowl style haircut, complimented nicely by thick glasses and equally impressive dental braces, required thanks to a childhood accident that involves one of my younger siblings and a metal chair (it’s funnier than it sounds). Let’s just say if you were looking for the “poster child” baseball player, it’d be safe to say that a young Adam MacKinnon (or really, a present day one for that matter) wouldn’t have made the cut.
I loved baseball though, and while I couldn’t hit for much of anything, I loved to play infield. While all of my teammates were in the dugout, commiserating over their last at bat, how they were going to hit a home run the next chance they got, I was visualizing the ground ball, watching it into the glove, smooth transfer, and the flip to first. The memories from the baseball field are some of the most vivid of my childhood. They are often random snapshots, like my first triple play. A line drive over the second base bag. The leap to snatch it from the air. I landed on second completely by accident, but the throw to first was a seed. I still remember the runner, Dane Tjaden’s face, as he realized he was dead in the water. It was fantastic.
Keep in mind this is the mid to late 1990’s, and the “undersized glove first middle infielder” wasn’t exactly something you could just throw a rock and hit in Major League Baseball. My head was too small for helmets, so I usually had to wear a hat underneath it, which would press against the stems of my thick glasses I had to wear on the field, because my vision was so terrible.
I was lucky, though. I was born a Braves fan, and from New Castle, Delaware, I was able to turn on TBS and watch my favorite player:
Mark Lemke was 5 feet, 7 inches, 167 pounds. He was a light hitting, and solid, albeit unspectacular glove at second base for the Braves during their best years in the 1990’s. He never hit more than 7 home runs in a season, and his career .641 OPS isn’t exactly what anyone would call “quality”. He possesses exactly zero gold gloves, nor any other awards for that matter, but he was a dependable part of one of the greatest collection of teams ever assembled.
Most importantly though? He played second base, wore thick glasses when he played, and a hat under his helmet…. For the BRAVES
I mean, that was ME!
Drafted in the 27th round of the 1983 MLB draft, Lemke quickly moved his way up the Braves minor league system, getting his first regular playing time in the show in 1989. As per the above description, the Lemmer didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but had proven himself competent enough in the field to earn himself regular playing time at the keystone for the (then) “rebuilding” Braves.
It was the 1991 World Series, against the Minnesota Twins, where Lemke would find his stride. He batted .417 and hit 3 triples, driving in 4 runs during what may have been the greatest World Series of the modern era. The Twins would ultimately defeat the Braves after seven hard fought games, and Jack Morris would take the MVP honors. Had the Braves been able to edge out that epic seventh game, many believe it would’ve been Lemke who took the MVP honors.
Fast Forward to about 2017. I’m driving in to work on a Saturday morning, listening to the aforementioned Lemke and Chris Dimino (friend of the Podcast), during a “stump the host” trivia section. I decided to use a question from my friend Chris to see if I could stump the hosts:
“Between 1991 and 1999, Only Three Non-Braves players won Cy Young Awards. Who were they?”
Dimino Quickly named Pedro Martinez in 1997, and Randy Johnson in 1999. The third seemed to vex them, until they gave up. The answer was Greg Maddux in 1992… When he was with the Chicago Cubs. The prize would become my most precious piece of baseball memorabilia:
And that, my friends, is why Mark Lemke is my Favorite Player.