Luis Gonzalez has been persona non grata as a spoken name here in the Tasker household. There was that certain bloop hit in 2001 that ruined everything and ended a dynasty. He is used by some to refute the greatness of the great relief pitcher he hit that bloop against (as if). But that was a long time ago. It wasn't Gonzalez's fault that Torre brought the infield in. The fact is that Gonzalez has been gone from the game for five years now. From this seat, his retirement went unnoticed and his career has had little reflection given. The guy was a better player than people remember. May it dare be said that his career was perhaps a hair or a cut below Hall of Fame caliber?
The trouble with Luis Gonzalez has been the whispers. He played in the era of steroid use. His 57 homers in 2001 are treated with smirks and proof of his guilt. Plus, he is Hispanic, so that paints him guilty by association. But Gonzalez has vehemently denied ever using and to this observer's knowledge, has never been painted with a guilty test. Should we believe him? The answer is ambivalent. Does it make any difference? And yet those 57 homers stick out like a sore thumb. They make him the Brady Anderson of his era.
That season was certainly his peak. It was also an outlier. But it should not detract from what was a long and productive career. Fangraphs and Baseball-reference.com differ on the value of his career. B-R has him at 48 rWAR while Fangraphs gives him ten more wins. On the bottom of his B-R page, Gonzalez passes at least one HOF test. He drove in and scored over 1,400 runs. He accumulated over 2,500 hits. His career in left field led to over 90 runs above average on defense (both sites agree on that). He tallied over a thousand extra base hits. And his career triple slash line was: .283/.367/.479.
His career wOBA was .364 and his career WPA came in at 30.98. This was a terrific player!
Many point to the fact that he did not become a star until he came to Arizona. To those who say that, the association again comes down to PEDs or the fact that Arizona is a nice place to hit with its dry, warm air. The fact long forgotten is that before his Arizona days, he played seven seasons with the Houston Astrodome as his home park. That place was murder on hitters.
Gonzalez endured 1,465 plate appearances in the Astrodome. His OPS there was .738. Just for the sake of comparison, in later years, after the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park, Gonzales (SSS) compiled an OPS over one in that park. Imagine his current stats and then adjust for those 1,465 plate appearances and his numbers would look a whole lot better. Gonzalez also spent more than a year with the Dodgers with Dodgers Stadium as his home field and another year in Tigers Stadium. Both could be tough on hitters.
Luis Gonzalez was better than you think. He walked eleven percent of the time in his career and struck out only a little over eleven percent of the time. His ground ball to fly ball ratio was neutral. He only swung and missed 6.1 percent of the time for his career. All of those things are extremely rare for a slugger. And yet Gonzalez left the game with little fanfare and is largely forgotten since he left. His career has been strangely whitewashed by the times in which we live and that is hugely unfortunate.