#73 Michael Tucker
It seems difficult to remember now, but Michael Tucker was a highly touted college ballplayer from Division II Longwood University, and a member of the 1992 Olympic Baseball Team. After helping Team USA finish fourth in Barcelona, Tucker was taken tenth overall in the 1992 Amateur Draft. Almost immediately, Tucker was billed as a future superstar, a kid with a "can't miss" swing.
Initially Tucker hit well, sporting an .840 OPS in 1993, splitting time between A ball in Wilmington and AA ball in Memphis. He was known for having a sweet swing, with some good power, good speed, and good walk totals. Still, he wasn't showing the superstar skills that many thought he was capable of. In 1994, the Royals decided to move him from second base to the outfield. He hit .276 that season at AAA Omaha with 21 home runs and was seen by many as an integral part of the Royals future youth movement.
Tucker won the left-fielder starting job in the spring of 1995, but struggled initially, and was demoted after Memorial Day with his average hovering near the Mendoza Line. After hitting .306 in 71 games in Omaha, Tucker returned to Kansas City in August to hit .354 and finished the season at .260.
In 1996, Tucker moved to right-field to make room for Johnny Damon, but once again struggled out of the gate. By June he was hitting just .201 and was on the disabled list with a sore wrist. He surged to hit .363 in August, to lift his average to .260, but missed the last month of the season with a dislocated finger.
"He's doing fine to survive right now but he has to get better...I think we've shown we've given him every opportunity to do that."
-Royals Manager Bob Boone
Going into 1997, the Royals had a very left-handed heavy outfield with Tucker, Damon and Tom Goodwin. During spring training the Royals surprised many by trading Tucker to the Atlanta Braves along with utility infielder Keith Lockhart for outfielder Jermaine Dye and lefty reliever Jamie Walker.
This was just one of those moves that hurts a team, even if Dye turns out to be good, which is no guarantee by the way. Dye had a reasonably good half-season for the Braves, but they were not sold on him. It's hard to be sold on a guy who walks less than Marlon Brando. This guy chases bad pitches like Tommy Lee Jones going after the Fugitive. The Braves wanted to send Dye back to the minor leagues or plop him so far along the bench he would have needed to catch a commuter plane to get to the water cooler. And, incidentally, Michael Tucker still has big-time potential.... "One major-league manager, when hearing the Royals might deal Tucker, said: "That would be a big mistake. I love Tucker. One day, he will figure it out, and then he'll be incredible."
-Joe Posnanski, March 30, 1997
Tuck had two pretty non-descript seasons in Atlanta where he befriended former child actor Emmanuel Lewis. He followed that effort with another non-descipt season in Cincinnati. In his second season in Cincinnati, he developed some newfound power and slugged fifteen home runs in just 323 plate appearances, good for a .511 slugging percentage. But it was just Fool's Gold, and the next season he was his mediocre self, both for the Reds and the Cubs.
In December of 2001, Royals General Manager Allard Baird needed an outfield bat to replace Dye, the man Tucker had been traded for several seasons before. The Cubs were looking to unload the $2.5 million salary of Michael Tucker to make way for Moises Alou, so they sent him to Kansas City for minor league pitcher Shawn Sonnier.
"This is another piece of the puzzle in improving our team," said Allard Baird, the Royals general manager. "Michael brings us versatility, allows us to improve our defense and team speed and makes our offense more productive versus right-handed pitchers."
As the everyday right-fielder, Tucker was his usual mediocre self. He hit .248 with twelve home runs and 56 RBI in 2002, although he did finish ninth in the league in steals with a career high twenty-three swipes. For the 2003 season, the Royals toyed with the idea of playing Tucker at his original position - second base, but in the end they went with Tucker in the outfield. For an outfielder, Tucker put up perfectly pedestrian numbers - .262 with thirteen home runs and 55 RBI.
After the season, Tucker was eligible for free agency. Before the Royals had a chance to decline to offer Tucker arbitration, the San Francisco Giants inexplicably swooped up Tucker and signed him to a deal, perhaps confused that there would be a rush on the light hitting outfielder. This enabled the Royals to offer Tucker arbitration without the risk of Tucker accepting, thus giving the Royals free agent compensation for losing Tucker, which they turned into pitcher Matt Campbell.
Tucker spent all of last season at AAA Pawtucket. It was first season out of big league action since he began his Major League career. The one-time future All-Star has had a twelve year career with 1047 hits, 125 home runs and a .256 average. He never hit .300, never hit more than 15 home runs, and never made an All-Star team.
Had he stayed a second baseman, Tucker might have been a pretty decent value. He could have had a Mike Lansing-type career, with decent pop, decent speed, and decent walk totals. Instead, he is just remembered as a player who never lived up to his potential, oft-injured, and a bit of a malcontent.