Just no quit in Olerud

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

We haven't had a lengthy conversation with John Olerud since last Oct. 13 at Yankee Stadium.

After discussing the pros and cons of retirement, Olerud wnet out and hit a two-run, sixth-inning homer that night off Pedro Martinez to give the New York Yankees a 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League championship series.

Passing by friends and family of the players afterward, we saw Olerud's wife Kelly, who was expecting, and asked her to give a message for John's mom, Lynda, to call us.

We were curious about her fears about her son's brain aneurysm, but also the joy of that night. The call never came. The next night before Game 3 we saw in the pre-game notes that Kelly had given birth.

Now Olerud, 36, retirement talk gone, is back, headed for more October games, his eighth post-season visit in 17 seasons.

First, he'll be at Rogers Centre Monday as a part-time player with the first-place Boston Red Sox.

The Sox did something to Olerud the Jays never did -- sending him to the minors after 7,419 major-league at-bats. A sore foot prevented Olerud from playing the remainder of the Sox-Yankees series.

Boston signed him in May and sent him to triple-A Pawtucket for his first minor-league game. The ball from his first hit was going to be a souvenir, except the PawSox were unable to get the ball -- Olerud homered.

After two games and eight at-bats, he was back in the majors.

For the record, Dave Winfield and Bob Horner are the only Blue Jay big leaguers never to play a day in the minors.

The Jays selected Olerud, 1988's U.S. college player of the year, with their third-round choice in June of 1989, despite the fact he said he'd be return to the University of Washington State.

Pat Gillick selected Olerud on the basis that people change their minds.

In 1986, the Jays were set to choose Bo Jackson, even though he said he would only concentrate on football. Jackson wound up playing with both the Kansas City Royals and the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

Not choosing Jackson was a mistake.

Choosing Olerud wasn't.

Gillick made nine trips to either Pullman, Wash., or Seattle to visit with Olerud and his family before making a contract offer.

We made one such trip.

As college campuses go, we had only been to a few back then and Pullman was pretty special. Down the left-field line was a picnic area under the trees with a four-foot high cement semi-circular wall with a slanted top, adorned by plaques.

The Olerud name was on roughly half of the plaques: Lynda as a booster; Dr. John Olerud as a WSU captain; John, Jr. as a captain, as a Baseball America player of the year, as a conference all-star, etc., etc.

Plus, legendary WSU coach Bobo Brayton was dropping lines like: "John was in my first class and I'm not retiring until John Jr. graduates."

This wasn't a Scott Boras-type, "we need a record sum of money" deal. The Jays were battling WSU, tradition and Olerud's health, with the Beach Boys' Be True to Your School playing in the background.

Gillick asked us the chances of signing Olerud.

"Absolutely none," we said.

In July, scouting supervisor Don Welke followed Olerud's summer team, the Palouse Cougars. Olerud swung the bat 49 times and didn't miss once.

SIGNED

Surprise, surprise ... on Aug. 25 the Jays signed Olerud.

Gillick is too wise to name his favourite all-time player. But if he was threatened -- say he had to answer or lose his phone privledges -- our guess is it would be Olerud.

George Bell won the American League MVP in 1987 while Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay combined to win four Cy Young awards.

But you could argue that Olerud's 1993 season -- he was hitting .398 with six weeks remaining -- was the best season ever by a Blue Jay.

He finished with a .363 average, an on-base percentage of .473, slugged .599, led the league with 33 intentional walks, 54 doubles, and added 24 homers and 107 RBIs. 


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