Monday, January 9, 2012

Extinct Tigers: Paul Bako

It’s easy to write about Tiger legends like Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, or Alan Trammell. But in “Extinct Tigers”, I’ll occasionally look back at some of the lesser players to pass through the D and impact me in some way. Is it because every player is special? Is it because I’m bored? Is it because I really buy into the “Always a Tiger” thing?

Yeah…it’s probably because I’m bored. The first subject is former Tigers catcher, Paul Bako.

In 1998, Paul Bako made his MLB debut and played his lone season with Detroit. He would hit .272/.319/.348 with 3 homers and 30 RBI in 96 games. Still, in that limited playing time (splitting the catching duties with mainly Joe Oliver) he would finish fourth in the AL by throwing out 36 baserunners.

Bako made his major league debut with the Tigers on April 30, 1998, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Not the best start. But his first major league hit, a bases-loaded double, came the next day off Bill Swift, when he went 2-for-5 against the Mariners in a 17–3 Tigers win. He hit his first major league home run, a three-run shot, on May 15 against the A’s off of Mike Mohler. He also went 4-for-4 against the New York Yankees on July 21.

But without question, Bako’s career highlight as a Tiger came on a 1998 summer evening when he hit a foul ball into the Tiger Stadium seats on the upper third base side. It took one hop and was expertly snatched by a young smartass named Rogo. It was the first and only foul ball I caught until I got one off of Alex Avila’s bat last season.

Gabor Paul Bako II (huh?) was drafted in the fifth round of the 1993 Draft by the Reds. You might recall the '93 Draft as the on where the Tigers took shortstop Matt Brunson with the 9th overall pick ahead of other first rounders like Billy Wagner, Derrek Lee, Torii Hunter, and Jason Varitek. Sigh. Bako quickly earned a reputation in the minors as a great game manager and defensive specialist. MLB pitcher Brett Tomko once recalled a conversation he and Bako had on the mound in the minors back then:

Bako: Are you really trying out here?

Tomko: What do you mean?

Bako: Because your stuff is horrible today and if you don't try a little harder, you're not going to make it out of this inning.

Honesty is fun out of young players. In November of 1997, Bako and Donne Wall were traded by Cincinnati to Detroit for outfielder Melvin Nieves. After the 1998 campaign, Paul was shipped off again, this time with Carlos Villalobos, Mark Persails, Dean Crow, and Brian Powell to the Astros for C.J. Nitkowski and, of course, Brad Ausmus. You could build a small army out of people the Tigers have traded for (and received for) Brad over the years.

After 74 games in Houston, Bako would go on to play in Florida, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Chicago (Cubs), Los Angeles (Dodgers), Kansas City, Baltimore, back to Cincinnati, and lastly in Philadelphia in 2009. However, despite lasting so long in the bigs due to his defense, Bako would never have a season as good as his first in the D.

Bako is currently the co-owner and equipment representative for the Marucci Bat Company, based in his home state of Louisiana. Ex-Major League first baseman David Segui is his partner in the venture. He’s married with two kids, a son and a daughter.

So good luck with your bat business, Paul. Thanks for swinging late that day in ’98. It’s amazing what can make a player unforgettable to a silly fan in the game of baseball.


PaulBakosNumberOneFan said...

Gabor! Yes! I knew this post was coming someday!

SRogo said...

Haha...I had you in mind when I wrote it.

Jay Hathaway said...

Well done.

momotigers said...

Neat series, Rogo (is it a series if I've only seen one?)  We're pretty close in age, I'll probably get a kick out of all of these "I-totally-forgot-about-that-ass-clown" guys.