06/21/2007 4:25 PM ET
Who needs home runs, anyway?
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
Some day, somewhere, Jason Tyner of the Minnesota Twins will step up to the plate and launch the smooth, short swing that has made him a Major Leaguer. The ball will hit the sweet spot on his bat and soar into the air, high and far and into the seats.
Jason Tyner leads active Major Leaguers in at-bats without a homer. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
And on that day, Tyner will end baseball's most frustrating streak with the first Major League home run of his career.
He will trot triumphantly around the bases, get a pat on the back from the third base coach, maybe a high five from the on-deck hitter and understand for a moment what it's like to be a slugger.
Tyner came into this season with 1,052 Major League swings and not a single home run. By June, he was over 1,150 at-bats and still looking for that first long ball. He had nearly twice as many swings without a homer as Oakland's Jason Kendall, who was No. 2 on that embarrassing list with 619 fruitless at-bats before he connected in mid-June for his first homer in two years.
Two years and 619 swings is a blink of the eye in Tyner's homerless saga. He once went 2,631 at-bats without a homer before connecting for the lone long ball of his career, a shot heard round his own world when he was playing for the Triple-A Richmond Braves in 2004. The homer came in Richmond against Jim Mann of Columbus.
"That's one of the bigger Minor League ballparks," he is proud to point out. "I knew I hit it good."
Friends and family lit up the phone lines to celebrate the milestone event. By then, Tyner's reputation was solidly in place. He had been playing professional ball since 1998 without any homers. Before that, he had more hits and more stolen bases than any player in Texas A&M history without any homers.
None of that has ever prevented Tyner from finding a job. He was a first-round draft choice of the New York Mets in 1998, the 21st player chosen. Some sparkling Minor League statistics, including 97 stolen bases in less than three seasons, earned him a promotion to the Mets in 2000. A day after reaching the Majors, he tagged Mike Mussina for his first hit. It was not a home run.
But those Mets were headed for the World Series and packaged Tyner to Tampa Bay in a four-player trade for veteran help. He spent three full seasons in the Devil Rays organization before moving on briefly to Texas, then to Atlanta and, for the last three seasons, Minnesota. He's had impressive numbers at every stop -- but no home runs.
That's OK with the Twins, who have benefited from Tyner's tools. He can steal a base, execute the hit and run, play some defense. He can be a useful player, the poster boy for old fashioned small ball.
Tyner knows what he brings to the table.
"I try to play smart," he said. "I always have. I do what I can. Successful teams play that way. I want my teams to be successful, to compete for the playoffs."
Tyner's power problems are not a terrible concern to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who likes what the outfielder can do for his team.
"He's a good role player," Gardenhire said of Tyner. "He can do a lot of things for us. He's one of our best hitters off the bench right now. He has a good, smooth swing, so he can have good at-bats."
Of course, Gardenhire can relate to Tyner more than other managers might. That's because in 710 Major League at-bats covering parts of five seasons, he managed just four career home runs.
Those are slugger numbers compared to Tyner.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.