It all started with a message from Eric Roseberry (friend of Banished to the Pen and host of the On Baseball Writing podcast), who was in the process of writing up a post at the Sporting News about the most unlikely one-time All Stars (go read it; it’s fun). In our ongoing NL Central Show Twitter DM thread, Eric mentioned that Henry Rodriguez was among the possible outfielders.
“WHAT??” I thought to myself. I certainly did NOT think of The Mighty Henry Rodriguez as a borderline, even accidental All Star: I remember Henry as a slugger in the 1990s, (probably) a multiple time All Star, surely worth more than 10 WAR for his career. He played for the Cubs, yes, but his best years came with the Expos. Also, yes, the candy bars.
Perusing Henry’s Baseball-Reference page, and being tipped off by Eric, I notice that Rodriguez compiled only 2.4 WAR for his career, with one All Star appearance, in 1996 while a member of the Expos. My memory (and the statistics of the age, perhaps) betrayed me.
While he was not included in Eric’s final Unlikely All Stars post, the mention of Henry sent me down a rabbit hole, which brings us here, to Banished to the Pen’s occasional series (usually written up by Seth Moland-Kovash), Better Know a Ballplayer. Coincidentally, July 5 marks the anniversary of his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 1992. How’s that for timing?
Henry Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic and signed with the Dodgers as an amateur free agent. He didn’t make his Major League debut until age 24, and didn’t have a full time starting job until he was 28, by then a member of the Montreal Expos. (Yes, it does seem like the Dodgers traded a lot of their young players. Yes, it also seems like the Dodgers traded many of their young players to the Expos.) A left-handed hitter, he would go on to play in parts of 11 seasons for the Dodgers, Expos, Cubs, Marlins, and Yankees, mostly in the outfield with some time at first base.
Rodriguez is most remembered for his 1996 campaign with the Expos when the Oh Henry! bars flew from the rafters at Olympic Stadium, he made the All Star team, hit the second most homers (3!) for the NL in the Home Run Derby, and finished the year with 36 homers and MVP votes, as the Expos finished 2 games back of the Wild Card.
However, by WAR, his best season was 1999 with the Cubs (3.1 WAR), when he posted a .304/.381/.544 line with 26 homers and a 134 OPS+. Nobody remembers the 1999 Cubs (they were bad) so it’s not a huge surprise that nobody remembers Henry’s season either.
Any Black Ink?
He led the league in strikeouts in 1996. That’s it.
The Dodgers traded Rodriguez to the Expos for Roberto Kelly, who was in the process of being traded 3 times within a year (from the Reds to the Braves, from the Braves to the Expos, from the Expos to the Dodgers). When in Montreal, Henry joined Pedro Martinez and Mark Grudzielanek as players shipped from LA to the Expos in exchange for higher salaried players.
Rodriguez was later traded to the Cubs for Miguel Batista, who was previously an Expo, but was picked up by the Cubs when the Marlins put him on waivers. Batista would go on to play a prominent role in the Diamondbacks’ World Series win in 2001. Henry’s Cubs tenure came to an end at the trade deadline in 2000 when he was sent to the Marlins for Ross Gload (later a serviceable backup for the White Sox), and Dave Noyce (a career minor leaguer).
Top 3 games by WPA
The great part about this game isn’t that Rodriguez went 4-6, with 2 homers, including a go-ahead 3-run bomb in the top of the 9th with 2 outs on a 2-2 count (Cubs were down to their last strike!). No. The great part about this game is that Henry put up a .886 WPA while also grounding into a triple play.
The Cubs, of course, coughed it up in the bottom of the ninth, losing a wild one by a score of 16-15. [Eric Young also stole 5 bases]
Again, Rodriguez (.755 WPA) hit the go-ahead home run with 2 outs in the ninth inning, to go along with another homer he knocked earlier in the game. This performance, however, did not involve a triple play.
- 3. August 13, 1992: Dodgers 4-3 Reds
This game is from his rookie season, where Henry batted between Eric Karros and Podcast Legend Lenny Harris. Rodriguez finished the game with a homer and the game winning double in the top of the ninth.
Hardway HQ (2017): Henry Rodriguez’s 1996 in Montreal was Underappreciated
Jerome Holtzman (Chicago Tribune, 1996): Oh Henry! Dodgers’ Loss is Expos’ Gain
Mike Downey (Los Angeles Times, 1996): Rodriguez Is a Favorite in Montreal, Bar NoneNext post: MLB Battlegrounds – A Day to Remember
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