NATE ADERHOLD on TIM SALMON
The first real memory I can recall of my California Angels fandom is from Christmas morning 1993. Up to that point, as a six-year-old, my interests did not really span beyond Super Nintendo and Ninja Turtles. I enjoyed playing baseball and had attended a few games at the “Big A”, but any rooting interests I had were a result of proximity and familiarity rather than any real passion.
That morning, however, I received an autographed poster of Angels’ right fielder Tim Salmon and everything changed. I had no idea what Rookie of the Year meant at the time—and I didn’t understand why the “L” in his last name was silent—but it didn’t matter much. As far as I understood it, Tim Salmon was the best player in baseball and he played for my hometown team.
The framed poster, which commemorated Tim’s 1993 AL Rookie of the Year award, immediately found a prominent place on the wall above my bed and stayed there for years to come, surviving the ups and downs of both the Northridge earthquake and my tumultuous adolescence.
Looking back now, I was lucky to latch on to a player of Salmon’s caliber. I had no way of knowing Tim’s stellar plate discipline was an indicator of prolonged success, let alone that he would become the face of the franchise for the next decade. In other words, I feel great sympathy for any child in Minneapolis who received a Pat Listach poster the year before.
A third round draft pick out of Grand CanyonCollege in 1989, Tim Salmon quickly worked his way through the Angels’ farm system, winning the Minor League Player of the Year award in 1992 by mashing to the tune of .347/.469/.672.
After a small cup of coffee with the Angels in September 1992, the 24-year-old Salmon broke into the big leagues for good in 1993, becoming just the fourth American Leaguer in MLB history—and tenth player overall—to win the Rookie of the Year award in a unanimous decision.
As the California/Anaheim Angels struggled their way through the 90s, shut out of the playoffs for the second decade in team history, Salmon was a rare bright spot on the team. In his first eight full big league seasons—from 1993-2000—Tim averaged 29 doubles, 28 home runs and a stellar .294/.396/.532 slash line.
Despite his great numbers, the Rookie of the Year award would be the last real national attention Salmon would receive for the better part of a decade. Though Tim began his 1994 season right where his rookie campaign had left off—racking up 23 home runs and 70 RBI through 100 games—the media’s attention had turned towards the impending labor strike. By the time the strike ended in late April 1995, Bud Selig had introduced the Wild Card, chicks started digging the long ball and Salmon found himself out of the national spotlight.
While others were breaking unbreakable records and amassing numbers well beyond their means—here’s looking at you, Dante Bichette—Salmon continued his quiet but steady production, far from the flash and spectacle.
National writers who did cover Salmon at the time seemed to want to make up for his lack of “flashiness” in some way. Most did this by relying on terrible fish puns. Nearly every article I read in preparation for writing this piece included a piscine reference of some kind or another. While some unabashedly used phrases like “upstream”, “splash” and “big fish”, others used their puns in a more wink-wink, nudge-nudge fashion like “comes out smoking”.
What these writers failed to realize was that Tim’s numbers speak for themselves. Expanding his peak numbers to stretch a decade, Salmon’s 34.7 WAR from 1993-2002 was fifth best among right fielders and his .392 OBP was 15th in all of baseball. If you were to place that OBP clip in any other ten-year period between 1950 and 1993, it would be firmly in the top ten. Despite this dogged consistency at the plate, Salmon was overlooked to the point that he was never once named to an All-Star team.
Though Salmon was often out of the spotlight, he did not shy away the few times it was thrust upon him. The 2002 Angels made it to the postseason for the first time since 1986, sending Tim to his inaugural postseason after 1,388 games and 5,968 plate appearances in the regular season.
Once in the playoffs, Tim made the most of his opportunity. He hit .288/.382/.525 overall in the 2002 postseason and put up a 346/.452/.615 line in the World Series, including two clutch Game 2 home runs, leading the franchise to their first and only World Championship.
The 2002 postseason would prove to be Salmon’s lone playoff appearance, as injuries kept Tim off the roster for most of the 2004 and 2005 seasons. But even as health issues took their toll on Salmon’s career, the Kingfish always gave Angels fans something to root for. Some admired his hustle and fire on the field, others found inspiration in his outspoken faith and still others—like my friend’s mom—simply enjoyed watching Tim patrol right field in tight polyester pants.
Always an active member in the local community, Tim has always carried his tireless work ethic and positive attitude into his efforts off the field. This year, the Tim Salmon Foundation will host its 14th annual golf tournament on July 16 in an effort to raise money for charities assisting abused and at-risk children in the OrangeCounty area. The annual tournament has raised over $900,000 to date.
I often wonder to myself what Salmon’s career would have been like had he broken in just a decade earlier, when his numbers would have made him a household name; that maybe the juiced ‘90s and early ‘00s were just the wrong time for Tim. But if his statements on the matter are any indication, perhaps he emerged at exactly the right time. In a 1998 interview with Baseball Digest, Salmon said “I shy away from the limelight. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m just comfortable being me, a big kid playing baseball.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathe Aderhold just finished his Masters program in London and is currently procrastinating on his dissertation by interning as an English teaching assistant in Amman, Jordan.
In the world of baseball, he is a contributor at Halos Daily, Bugs & Cranks and MLBDailyDish. Aderhold originally hails from Tustin, California, and is a graduate of LoyolaMarymountUniversity. He can be followed on Twitter at @AdrastusPerkins.
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