Sarah's Take: Todd Hundley
Todd Hundley had a terrific 2000 season, especially with two stints on the disabled list and rebounding from a disappointing 1999 season. Hundley’s offensive contributions helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win many games. His defense remained his weakness.
Todd Hundley came to the New York Mets as a 20-year-old in May 1990, but he did not stay in the major leagues until 1992. He did not hit above .240 until 1995 when he batted .280. In 1996 he hit 41 home runs that established a major league record for most home runs hit by a catcher in one season. In 1997 he had 30 home runs. Hundley was known as a good defensive catcher before 1999. In September 1997 he underwent right elbow reconstructive surgery, and after the surgery he started performing poorly.
A lack of patience by the management of both the Mets and Dodgers caused Hundley to be humiliated on the diamond. The Mets’ general manager, Steve Phillips, promised Hundley that they were not interested in obtaining Mike Piazza a week before they obtained Piazza. When the Mets determined Hundley could play, he could not play catcher while Piazza caught. Hundley played in left field, and he committed five errors in 34 games. While struggling defensively, he batted .161 with three home runs and twelve RBI in 53 games. The Dodgers traded Charles Johnson, a great catcher, to the Mets for Hundley. Though Hundley could not play much in 1999 spring training, Davey Johnson was so eager to get a left-handed bat in the lineup that he started Hundley often when the regular season started. Hundley could hardly return the ball to the pitcher, and throwing out a base runner was an impossible task. His surgically-repaired elbow prevented him from extending his arms to hit. He had a .207 batting average, 24 home runs, and 55 RBI. He got much ridicule from fans and media for his throwing problems. To his credit, Hundley never complained about the ridicule or made excuses for his poor performance. As most baseball players do, Hundley has taken great pride in his performance, so he must have experienced emotional turmoil during this period.
The 2000 season was better for Hundley despite two stints on the disabled list. He became an offensive force in the middle in the lineup. Despite missing 82 games, he blasted 24 home runs. He batted .284 and drove in 70 runs. After a good start when he batted .298 in April and .284 in May, he severely pulled an oblique muscle that kept him out of action for three weeks. For five games in June he lit up the league with a .429 batting average. Friday before the all-star break a foul tip struck Hundley’s thumb and cracked it. In nine games in July he hit .407. Because he saw the pitches much better batting left-handed, he asked for and was granted permission to bat left-handed solely. When the Dodgers had runners on base, they wanted Hundley at the plate with his .326 batting average. With runners in scoring position he batted .364. Unlike many Dodgers, he had a decent on-base percentage of .375. While walking 45 times, Hundley struck out 69 times. Hundley contributed to the Dodger offensive attack greatly.
As many other Dodgers did in 2000, Todd Hundley struggled defensively. His thirteen errors led the National League for catchers. His .979 fielding percentage was the worst by a National League catcher. Though he threw out 20.0 percent (19/95) of base stealers, that was the second lowest in the National League. It was a huge improvement from 1999, and his throwing improved as the season proceeded. He had eight passed balls. Though Hundley is a veteran catcher, most Dodger pitchers had a lower ERA when another catcher caught.
Todd Hundley has been extremely popular with his teammates because of his non-complaining nature, determination to do his job, and his good work ethic. In September the Dodgers announced through The Los Angeles Times that they would not try to resign Hundley after 2000. Though Hundley’s defense lacks, his offensive skills can contribute to any team.