#75 - Juan Beniquez, LF, CF, RF - Juan moves up 9 places from his position on the Post-2005 Top 100 Angels.
It was shocking to examine Beniquez' stats in hindsight - his development from a glove to a bat matches that of a rookie learning his way through the big leagues - I had forgotten he was a seasoned veteran when he arrived in Anaheim. Juan played just over 500 games in a Halo uniform and only three players with that many games hit for a higher average than his .293: Rod Carew, Garret Anderson and Luis Polonia (and Polonia's was .294!).
But was it his batting acumen or his Totally Eighties hairstyle that got Juan's mojo working?
Sportswriting legend Matt Welch takes time away from his WARBLOG to examine the Beniquez Mystique...
Easily the best 4th outfielder in Angels history, and one of the few humans you'll ever see who learned how to hit Major League pitching at the ripe old age of 33. When he came to the club he was a defensive specialist (with a 1977 CF Gold Glove to his credit) whose already mediocre offense had declined for four consecutive years, to the point where he was sitting behind Joe freakin' Simpson on a 1980 Mariners team that lost 103 games. His first year for the Angels was even worse -- .181, with 8 extra base hits. In the fine year of 1982 Beniquez was still mostly a defensive replacement, with just 196 AB in 112 games, but his bat perked back above the Mendoza line. Then he went bonkers.
After never hitting higher than .291, starting in 1983 he went for .305, .336, and .304. In 1984 he set career highs for OBP (.370) and slugging (.452), and even finished 25th in the MVP voting. Before age 33, he hit .257/.309/.360; after El Ano de Jesus he exploded for .302/.350/.404. I don't remember an adequate explanation for the turnaround, but I suspect two culprits -- Jheri curls, and Rod Carew. Sometime around '83 he started juicing up the 'fro, and around the same time he began laying his bat parallel to the ground, balancing on his front toe, and driving the ball to right-center.
Whatever the cause, he was like a Jeff DaVanon who could hit, or an Orlando Palmeiro who could actually throw the ball all the way to the infield without bouncing. One of the best free agent signings during the Autry era.