Forgotten Player of the Moment – NICK ESASKY
(by Ed Agner)
Nick Esasky must have broken a fair share of mirrors in his day. Oh, he wasn’t the unluckiest man who ever lived but good fortune sure didn’t smile on him. While I can think of more snake-bitten careers – like that of any pitcher who crossed paths with, say, Jeff Torborg – Esasky’s pathway through baseball sure was the equivalent of Tom chasing Jerry through a garden, stepping on rakes and shovels and running into trees in the process.
Esasky was a rarity when he came up to a horrible Reds team in ‘83 – someone resembling an actual major league player. He was a big, strong guy with a decent eye, a bit of pop and a nice stroke – sort of comparable to a young Paul Konerko. And like a younger Paul Konerko, Esasky tantalized and frustrated an overly-anxious organization with his promise and youthful inconsistency. Also, like a younger Konerko, Esasky was, in theory, versatile enough to sort of be able to stand in at a couple of positions and occasionally stop a baseball. Of course, like Konerko, that perceived versatility was merely a ruse – Esasky was a pretty decent first baseman for a guy trying not to get killed at third and the corner outfield spots.
A smart organization would have merely filled Esasky in at first and watched him bloom. But these were the Reds. In came a completely spent Pete Rose chasing the all-time outs– err, hits record and Esasky got shifted to third base. Oops, make that left field. No, make it RF. Naw, left field. Wait, right field. Oh, can you fill in at third and first, occasionally? Hey, can you catch too, Nick?
Ahh, the Pete Rose managerial years! So bizarrely ran! Such egregious mishandling of the good young talent FINALLY coming through the system! I’m not saying I believe that Rose DIDN’T bet on his own team, I’m just saying that if IIIIIIIIIIIII was a manager and was betting on my own team, IIIIIIIIIIIIIII would have made more sensible managerial decisions. But that’s just me. I am not a gambler. I do not understand the gambler’s mind.
Anyway, back to Nick – so he spends the mid-80’s moving from position to position, pretty much a butcher at every spot but first – which, of course, he couldn’t play too often since the Out — err, Hit King had to bog down the spot with his…hustle? And as Esasky moved from spot to spot butchering balls at a new place daily or finding himself inexplicably on the bench, the promise most saw in him seemed but a joke.
But, finally, Rose got his outs — err, hits record in ‘86 and he began phasing himself out as a player and devoting himself to the managerial gig – for the good of the team, of course (HAH!) – giving Esasky his deserved shot at being a full-time first baseman.
Finally! Some luck!
Not so fast.
Esasky, finally given a fair shot at the first base gig he should have had all along, becomes fragile. An injury here and there now and again over and over throughout the ‘87 and ‘88 seasons seriously cut into his playing time, causing the press to feed his perceived lack of toughness. Rose, the great person he is, continued to do everything he could to hamstring Esasky’s career by needling him in the press for not being a gamer, all the while benching him when finally healthy for no particular reason.
After the ‘88 season the Reds and Esasky had had enough of each other and with a contract year ahead and there being no way in hell Esasky would stay in Cincy, a trade to Boston (for Todd Benzinger, perhaps the anti-Esasky) seemed like the ideal solution for all involved. And it was – Esasky had a huge ‘89 season in Fenway (30 homers and 108 RBI) to prep himself for a big free agent pay day. Meanwhile, behind him, Cincinnati fell into complete disarray in the Summer of Rose’s Gambling Trials.
Finally! Some luck!
Not so fast.
In the ‘89 offseason, Esasky was wined and dined by scads of major league teams looking to sign themselves a budding star. But it was Ted Turner who backed up the truck to sign the local boy in yet another attempt to change the Braves’ laughingstock ways of the ‘80’s.
You know how this will go.
Esasky played all of 35 games for the 1990 Braves before a severe bout of vertigo ended his career and made him into yet another in a long list of Braves free agent busts. Meanwhile, behind him, the Red Sox made the playoffs in ‘90 and the Reds won the World Series. D’oh!
On the bright side, Esasky got at least one big payday for all his troubles. And he probably got to meet Captain Planet. D’oh!