By Andrew Simon
Among the big splashes the Blue Jays made before last Friday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, a smaller ripple passed by without much fanfare.
On July 28, two days before acquiring David Price from the Tigers, the Jays pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki. As part of the swap, reliever LaTroy Hawkins also was sent to Toronto. Compared with the All-Star shortstop, Hawkins was a minor pickup, but he is a remarkable one in his own right.
Perhaps it's appropriate that the Jays, trying to break the longest playoff drought in North America's four major professional sports, have added a player whose big league career covers almost that entire, frustrating stretch,
Hawkins, 42, is the oldest player in the Majors, and he has been a big leaguer for half of his life. When the Twins drafted the right-hander in 1991, the Jays were a year away from the first of back-to-back World Series titles. When he debuted in the Majors in '95, Toronto still reigned as the defending champion, thanks to the '94 strike that wiped out that year's postseason.
Few players have been as well traveled as Hawkins, now on his 11th team. Yet he remains effective, with four scoreless appearances for Toronto dropping his ERA to 3.08 over 28 games this season. Since returning from the disabled list in early June, Hawkins has allowed two runs and struck out 16 in 20 1/3 innings. On Wednesday, he became the 13th player in MLB history to record a save against all 30 teams in the league.
And that's just one amazing fact of many! Let's face it, of all the good stories this October could bring, Hawkins helping push the Jays back to the postseason would have to rank highly. The veteran has been to the playoffs four times, including once to the World Series with the 2007 Rockies, but he never has won it all. This Toronto club is his last chance at a ring, as Hawkins has said he still plans to retire at season's end.
In honor of the number of teams he has suited up for, here are 11 things that have made Hawkins' career impressive and unusual as his final pitch draws near.
1. Hawkins' 21 seasons in the Majors are tied for the most among active players with Alex Rodriguez, and are three more than the closest active pitcher, Bartolo Colon. Rodriguez (July 8, 1994) is the only remaining player to debut earlier than Hawkins (April 29, 1995), with nobody else appearing in his first game prior to 1997.
2. Hawkins spent his first nine seasons with the Twins, through 2003. Since then, he has joined the ranks of the game's most prolific journeymen, playing for 10 teams over 12 years: the Cubs, Giants, Orioles, Rockies, Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Angels, Mets, Rockies again and Blue Jays. After leaving Minnesota, Hawkins put together consecutive full seasons with the same club only once, for the 2010-11 Brewers.
Last week's trade, the fourth of Hawkins' career and second to occur shortly before the Deadline, made him one of 16 players in history to appear for at least 11 different franchises. Only four have suited up for more: Octavio Dotel (13), Matt Stairs (12), Ron Villone (12) and Mike Morgan (12). Hawkins also is one of only five players to appear for 11 teams from his age-30 season onward, one behind Dotel.
3. With 1,027 games pitched, Hawkins ranks 11th on the all-time list and should be able to pass Trevor Hoffman (1,035) for 10th in the near future. Among pitchers who have appeared in the Majors this season, Hawkins has notched almost 300 more games than his closest competitor, Francisco Rodriguez. If you add Hawkins' Minor League experience, he has pitched in 1,185 professional games.
4. Hawkins links generations of Major Leaguers. He's more than twice the age of his new 20-year-old bullpen-mate, Roberto Osuna, who is the youngest player to appear in the Majors this season. When Osuna was born on Feb. 7, 1995, Hawkins was less than three months from making his Major League debut.
With Minnesota from 1996-98, Hawkins shared a clubhouse with Hall of Famer and current Twins manager Paul Molitor, who was born Aug. 22, 1956. So Osuna and Molitor, born almost 40 years apart, are connected through a common teammate.
5. Including the postseason, Hawkins has faced 1,167 different Major League batters, 264 them just a single time. Hawkins has pitched against seven players who already are in the Hall of Fame and eight who have managed in the big leagues this season.
Of Hawkins' opponents, 125 have homered off him. The first, Baltimore's Harold Baines, was born 30 years before the most recent, Houston's George Springer. When Baines went deep in Hawkins' Major League debut, Springer was five years old.
6. As of Monday, Hawkins had played with 692 teammates in the Majors, or enough to fill the active rosters of more than 27 teams. Along the way, he has partnered up with 48 different catchers, from Brad Ausmus to Greg Zaun. Meanwhile, Hawkins has faced all 30 franchises at least 13 times, while appearing in 44 different ballparks, including all 30 currently in use.
7. Part of what makes Hawkins' career so impressive is that it began in such an inauspicious manner. Hawkins debuted on April 29, 1995, starting for the Twins against the Orioles at the Metrodome, and became one of eight starters since 1914 to allow at least seven earned runs over no more than 1 2/3 innings in his first career outing.
Hawkins' tenure as a starting pitcher didn't get much better from there. In 98 starts from 1995-99, he posted a 6.11 ERA. In MLB history, only Todd Van Poppel has recorded a higher ERA in at least that many career starts.
But that adversity didn't stop Hawkins when he finally found his home in the bullpen, where his ERA sits at 3.32 over 929 games. Of all pitchers who have started as much as Hawkins, none can beat his total of relief appearances, with Julian Tavarez the closest, at 720. Last season for the Rockies, Hawkins became only the fifth pitcher to notch at last 23 saves at age 41 or older.
8. Because Hawkins has spent most of his career as a reliever and played in the American League during his time as a starter, he has received few chances to hit. He has recorded only nine plate appearances over the years, including one on July 10, going 0-for-8 with a sacrifice bunt and seven strikeouts. Hawkins has appeared in the second-most games of any player in history who has never reached base safely, trailing only Mike Timlin, who pitched 1,059 games and went 0-for-7 at the plate.
9. He is the last remaining active pitcher to have faced Michael Jordan during the basketball legend's brief foray into professional baseball in 1994.
10. Hawkins is part of an exclusive baseball club as one of only 80 pitchers to author an "immaculate inning" by striking out on the side on nine pitches. He did so on Sept. 11, 2004, for the Cubs against the Marlins at Wrigley Field, getting Jeff Conine, Juan Encarnacion and Alex Gonzalez while recording a save in the ninth inning.
Yet Hawkins also has found himself on the other side of an even more special event. On May 17, 1998, he started on the mound for the Twins at Yankee Stadium when New York's David Wells twirled one of 23 perfect games in history.
11. This list has been all about Hawkins the pitcher, but Hawkins the person is perhaps even more impressive. His generosity helped earn him what must be one of the most unlikely, but also most devoted, personal fan clubs in pro sports. It's a connection that dates all the way back to 2000, transcending team affiliation. Hawkins also is the kind of guy who buys his rookie teammates suits and is the life of the party at Bar Mitzvahs, as this recent profile in The Denver Post shows.
In that piece, Hawkins says that when his career is over, he will care only about what teammates, coaches and others think of him, and not about his stats or whether he won a World Series. "I want them to say, 'LaTroy was one hell of a guy,'" he said.
A ring would be a nice way to finish, however, and thanks to the latest twist in Hawkins' long and winding career, he just might have a chance at one.
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Andrew Simon is a Sports on Earth contributor and a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.