Sunday, January 15, 2012
Extinct Tigers: Skeeter Barnes
Today I would like to spend some time talking about an unlikely Tiger hero from the early 90’s. He was Detroit’s version of Crash Davis before Max St. Pierre tried to steal the gimmick last year. He is infielder/outfielder/pinch hitter extraordinaire Skeeter Barnes.
When I was a kid, my best friend’s family adopted a pair of springer spaniel sisters. What’s a springer spaniel, you ask? Here’s a pic.
And the budding Tigers dork that I was, imagine my glee when in 1991 a guy by the name of Skeeter Barnes made his debut in Detroit. I didn’t give a shit if he was any good or not…his friggin’ name was Skeeter! Awesome. Keep in mind this was well over a decade before Lil John taught white folks another meaning for the word “skeet”.
But Barnes actually wasn’t too bad in his part-time role with the team. Dude could hit. In that ’91 season, Skeeter got into 75 games, hitting .289 with 5 homers, 17 RBI, and an OPS+ of 121 in his 159 at bats. Not bad for a 34 year old that had been left for dead in the minors by several other organizations. Overall, in his four years in Detroit, Barnes would play in 278 ballgames, hitting .281 with 11 dingers.
But Skeeter could always hit. A 16th round selection of the Reds in the 1978 draft, Barnes, in his first season with Billings of the Pioneer League, hit .368 with a league leading 22 doubles and 76 runs batted in. Sadly, he was outshined by his teammate Gary Redus who hit a minor league record .462 that season. (Thank you, baseball-reference.com.) Skeeter’s problem was a familiar one to those who have followed Ryan Raburn or Ryan Strieby’s careers. The man simply didn’t have a defensive position that he was very good at. And that kept him off of Major League rosters for the majority of his career.
In 1983, Barnes hit .337 with Indianapolis. That was good for second in the American Association and earned him his first call up to the show in September where he struggled to hit .206 in 15 games for the Reds. He returned to AAA in 1984, where his .328 average for the Wichita Aeros was third-highest in the American Association and earned him another trip to Cincinnati in July.
Used mostly as a pinch hitter, he only hit .119 in 32 games to return to AAA in 1985. He was traded to the Montreal Expos for outfielder Max Venable after only 12 games, and returned to Indy, which was now the Expos' top farm team. Bummer. He spent a little over a month in the majors that summer, but only managed 26 at bats, mainly as a pinch hitter, with a .154 average, before being sent back down.
After returning to Indianapolis at the beginning of 1986, he was again traded in mid-season, this time to the Phillies. Even though he hit .369 for the Portland Beavers after the trade, he did not get a call-up to Philadelphia, and began to move from organization to organization, getting brief but unsuccessful looks with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 and with the Reds once again two years later.
By this time, Barnes was 34 years old, as I am now. I can’t imagine being this age and toiling in minor league town after town without getting a real shot in the pros after so many years. But since he could hit, he kept getting minor league jobs and wound up in Toledo, the AAA team of the Tigers. In 62 games in the hellhole where I live, Skeeter had a .330 average with 9 homers and 40 RBI. That was good enough for a call up and his first steady job in the majors. He would stay in Detroit until retiring after the 1994 season with career home runs off of guys like Jimmy Key, Jim Abbott, and Randy Johnson on his resume.
After that, Barnes was far from done in baseball. In 1995 and 1996, he would stay on as a coach with the Mud Hens. The next two seasons were spent coaching for the West Michigan Whitecaps. In ’99, he returned to the Hens for another season before being named the manager of Lakeland for the 2000 season.
The managerial job didn’t pan out (Lakeland went 52-88), but Skeeter would coach in Indianapolis, Orlando, Montgomery, and for the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays over the years. In 2007, he would land the job of minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Rays, a position that, I believe, he holds to this day. Good for him.
William Henry Barnes is a textbook example of a guy that wouldn’t quit and ended up making a living doing what he loved, no matter how bleak things looked for him. And he continues to do so to this day. And not only that, but he was pretty good once he finally got his chance. He wasn’t the biggest or the best, but he’s a guy that I reflect fondly on and will never forget.
I mean, come on…his name was SKEETER! Best baseball name ever. Well, other than Pork Chop Cash, but eff him, he was never a Tiger.