Some guys bust at baseball because they can't cut it. Many others bust because their bodies just won't cooperate. It's hardly even fair to call them busts, since we'll never know if they could have cut it or not. But the result is the same: a star burns brightly before collapsing into a black hole. This star was so massive, the Angels are still feeling the pull of his gravity. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the rise, fall, and frickin' stubborn refusal to quit of Dallas McPherson.
Dallas McPherson (3B)
Where He Was
Remember how when you were playing baseball video games as a kid, your little brother would always mash the power meter all the way down? He swung and missed all the time, but that agitating little punk always knocked it out of the park when he did contact. Well, Dallas McPherson plays baseball with the power meter held all the way down, and the offensive numbers he put up were stupid enough to belong in a video game. The Angels drafted the left-handed-hitting McPherson as a junior out of The Citadal, The Military College of South Carolina (a very scary place where young secessionists are drilled in the fine art of shelling Union forts) in the second round of the 2001 amateur draft. He's actually the only college position player the Angels have taken in either of the first two rounds since Troy Glaus in 1997. Immediate comparison to a left-handed version of Glaus, who set a franchise record with 47 home runs the year previous, was inevitable.
McPherson promptly made rookie ball sorry it had ever been born. At Cedar Rapids in 2002, he showed that he had already come to the organization with excellent pitch recognition, but a 26% strikeout rate nearly overshadowed his developing power. However, there was nothing "developing" about his power in 2003 and 2004, as McPherson posted ludicrous slugging percentages of .606, .569, .660, and .680 while shrugging off the competition in Rancho Cucamonga, Arkansas (twice), and Salt Lake. Over 16% of his at-bats resulted in extra bases, and he avoided an out about 40% of the time he came to the plate. Questions persisted about his glove and alarming 30% strikeout rate, but in 2005 it seemed pretty clear that, high batting average or low, Dallas McPherson was going to mash.
What They Said
Dallas McPherson exits 2004 the same way he entered 2004: as one of the top hitting prospects in the game...McPherson has the potential to be a devastating offensive force. He is not a perfect player, however, and has some weaknesses that will have to be addressed...The high strikeout rate is worrisome, and it's quite possible that McPherson won't hit for a good batting average or on-base percentage in 2005...If he develops as expected, the Angels won't miss Glaus, at least not enough to compensate for the amount of money it would take to keep him. McPherson's strikeouts do add a risk premium to his profile, but the upside is very high. #2 organizational prospect, Grade: A- (pre-2005) -- John Sickels
McPherson's bat will carry him in the big leagues and his defense will only get better...His brief stint in September and appearance in the ALDS suggest he’ll struggle initially against pitchers that can throw off-speed stuff in a hitters count. With that said, he’s been getting rave reviews from the coaching staff about his ability to adjust, being teachable and his work ethic is simply off the charts. I can see McPherson putting up .305/.350/.530 #’s while crushing 35-45+ home runs annually. #1 organizational prospect (pre-2005) -- Chuck Richter
McPherson continues to strike out at an alarming rate, including four K's in a September 21 game facing veteran southpaw Jamie Moyer who exposed his weakness for well-located off-speed pitches with movement. That's a problem given the Angels' situational-hitting, "productive outs" philosophy which counts on their hitters to make contact...McPherson's defense is still a work in progress, but should improve with experience. #2 organizational prospect (pre-2005) -- Stephen C. Smith
"Every mistake we made, he made us pay for. He has an easy swing and natural power." #12 prospect overall (pre-2005) -- Baseball America (quoting a minor league manager)
Many think that McPherson's future in the outfield, but he deserves at least a shot to stick at third base. His defense is less than stellar, but McPherson could be a major asset offensive asset at a position lacking big producers. #4 prospect overall (pre-2005); PECOTA prediction: .267/.343/.491, AL Rookie of the Year runner-up. -- Baseball Prospectus
Because of his strikeout totals, Dallas McPherson is one of the more controversial prospects around. There are many who feel that a player who strikes out as often as McPherson did in the minors last season (31.6% of his at-bats) will have too much trouble making contact in the majors, but I don't think it necessarily means he can't become a dominant hitter...If he can get through his spring back problem, McPherson is a favorite for American League Rookie of the Year. #10 prospect overall (pre-2005) -- Baseball Think Factory
Where Is He Now?
Bill Stoneman's decision to let Troy Glaus walk after the 2004 season is still one of the more controversial in recent Angels history. But with 215 pounds of Carolina beef waiting for a chance to put the lumber to some big-league cowhide, the choice was certainly defensible. Glaus was pretty much a cripple during his final two seasons with the Angels anyways, turning third base into a revolving door for utility fielders and replacement players. McPherson got his share of turns through the door during a late 2004 call-up that carried over into 2005. He struck out in over a third of his at-bats, yielding a low batting average, and big-league pitching proved much more difficult to coax for a walk. But when D-Mac did make contact, the ball went a long, long way. His isolated power was high enough to yield a nearly league-average OPS, despite his woeful OBP.
While failing to make much of a splash as a rookie, McPherson at least kept his head above water. No reason for panic; big sluggers often take awhile to learn how to swim. But McPherson's season ended early when he had to have some bone spurs cleaned out of his hip socket in August. His struggles continued the next year, both with the Bees and with the Angels, but McPherson was playing through pain. He had suffered from back pain at least as early as 2003, and by mid-summer 2006 his back condition had degenerated to the point that mobility itself was a challenge, to say nothing of swinging for the fences. McPherson ultimately underwent a major surgical intervention called a "spinal fusion," which evidently involves drills, saws, and other sharp pieces of metal. He spent the 2007 season just learning to walk again.
The Angels rewarded his effort by not offering him a contract to play in 2008. Tough, I know, but that's how the business works. He signed a minor-league deal with Florida and absolutely curb-stomped the PCL all season long, batting .275 with 43 home runs. Cries of "Free Dallas" erupted among Marlins fans (all 12 of them), as Wes Helms doesn't exactly satisfy as corner infield depth. Unfortunately, 28 year-olds mashing in AAA fail to excite organizations for a reason. An over-aged minor-league monster like Jake Fox or Jack Cust terrorizes kid pitching every year, but the fans are usually disappointed when they finally see the big bruiser in person (Paul McAnulty, anyone?). These cast-off sluggers also always seem to end up in Oakland for some reason.
So after briefly surfacing for an uneventful September call-up, McPherson took his pink slip from the Marlins and hitched a ride with the Giants for 2009. More lumbar pain, another back surgery, and one more wasted season later, D-Mac showed up at the Oakland A's spring training complex this March. While he's had some hamstring issues this season, he's still rocking for the Sacramento River Cats. Just like Aerosmith, however, he doesn't rock nearly as hard as he used to. Still, we're at the point in the season where Billy Beane randomly re-shuffles his roster on a nightly basis (seems to come earlier every year, doesn't it?), so one or two Dallas McPherson sightings are entirely possible before 2010 is in the books.
He's a 30 year-old with a chronic back condition and almost no major-league experience in the last four seasons. Sure, he has worse than a snowball's chance in hell, but sometimes, you have to root for the snowball, even if it is dressed up in green and yellow. This guy's desire to play burns hotter than any Oakland trash fire. It isn't fair, it isn't right, but the only thing you or I can do about it is raise a glass to the many thousands of young players who never made it, no matter how much they tried.
To be continued: Tomorrow is happy day.