Matt Williams broke the Major League Baseball single-season Home Run record in 1994. As strange as that statement sounds, it could very well have been true had the strike not wiped this as well as "Tony Gwynn is the last batter to hit .400." from the record books. Home Run record-holder or not, Matt "The Marine" Williams was one of the top third basemen of the 90's.

Williams made his major league debut as a 21 year old with the San Fransisco Giants, but his first year as a regular starter was not until 1990, when he led the league in RBIs with 122 and finished fourth in the Home Run Race with 33. In 1991 he won his first of four Gold Gloves. Aside from a subpar 1992, (and if any Giants fans could /msg me the cause of that slump I'd be eternally grateful), he continued to produce. In 1994, however, he was on a roll. At the time of the strike he had 43 home runs in 445 at bats. If he hits home runs at that pace over a full season he's within two or three home runs of 60, and he was red hot. From 1994 to the beginning of 1995, during a 162 game period, he hit 64 home runs.

He failed to stay healthy over the course of the season in 1995 and 1996, and before the 1997 season he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for second baseman Jeff Kent, pitcher Julian Tavarez and Utility Man Jose Vizcaino. He had a career rennaisance in Cleveland, belting 32 home runs and driving in 100 for the first time in five years.

Nonetheless he was taken by the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks the next year, and after a subpar 1998 he finished third in the MVP balloting in 1999, hitting 35 home runs and driving in 142, a career high. He was never again healthy for an entire season, becoming a valuable (if expensive) bench player for the title-winning Diamondbacks in 2001. He retired in 2003 after being designated for assignment (read: released) following the Diamondbacks' deal for third baseman Shea Hillenbrand.

Had a few more breaks fallen his way we'd perhaps think of Matt Williams as a hall-of-famer. A full season in 1994 and Matt Williams vs. Jeff Bagwell for the home run title could be the kind of legend that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire became just four years later.



Sources: Bill James' Baseball Abstract, www.baseball-reference.com, www.baseballlibrary.com

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