1977 St. Cloud Tech graduate, St. Cloud State all-time great, and 15-year major leaguer Jim Eisenreich was born in St. Cloud on April 18, 1959.
Eisenreich’s SCSU career overlapped with future major leaguers Bob Hegman and Dana Kiecker. Believe it or not, Jim played junior varsity his freshman year at St. Cloud. According to a teammate I talked to, he hit over .400, “ran like a deer,” and did get a few varsity at-bats (like maybe five).
The Twins selected Eisenreich in the 16th round of the 1980 draft. He had the honor of being the first Twins player to bat in a regular season game at the fabulous new Metrodome, making his major league debut batting leadoff and playing center field on Opening Day 1982 (age 22). His Twins career never got off the ground, however. He played in just 48 games over three seasons, hampered by uncontrollable tics and jerks. He was misdiagnosed with agoraphobia—“the fear of places and situations that might cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment.”
He did not play in 1985 or ‘86. He was selected off waivers by the Royals on October 2, 1986. It wasn’t until he was with the Royals that Eisenreich was correctly diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. With this newfound understanding of his condition, he was able to get his baseball career back on track. He played 44 games with the Royals in 1987, and 82 in 1988. He averaged 131 games per season between 1989 and 1992, hitting .286 over that four-year span.
He hit .341 over 59 career games against the Twins—his best average versus any American League team (he hit .405 in 63 career games against the Dodgers).
Eisenreich signed with Philadelphia prior to the 1993 season, and hit .324 over his four seasons there (1993–1996). He hit .361 in 1996—the highest average by a Philly since Smoky Burgess hit .368 in 1954. Eisenreich was 37 years old in 1996, and had 373 plate appearances in 113 games. Since World War II, the only other players 37 or older to hit over .360 with at least 370 plate appearances are Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, and Barry Bonds (twice). Ten players have done so in major league history (according the Baseball Reference Play Index). Only Eisenreich and Bonds are not in the Hall of Fame.
Eisenreich played in two World Series—with the Phillies in 1993, and Marlins in 1997. He hit clutch home runs in both Series. The Phillies fell to the Blue Jays, but Ike got his ring when the Marlins beat Cleveland in ’97.
Playing for the Marlins on April 15, 1998, Eisenreich hit his 52nd and final home run off former Phillies teammate Curt Schilling. It was a two-run game winner, driving in current Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
On May 14, 1998, Eisenreich was involved in a historic trade that the L.A. Times called “one of baseball’s biggest,” as he, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, and prospect Manuel Barrios were dealt to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. 1998 would be Ike’s final major league season.
I’m always interested in Minnesotans facing each other in the majors. A cursory search of Baseball Reference shows that Eisenreich hit a pinch-hit homer off 1973 Highland Park graduate Jack Morris on August 13, 1987.
He hit a walk-off homer leading off the ninth against 1981 Mankato West graduate Gary Mielke on August 14, 1990, giving the Royals a 1-0 win over the Rangers.
On July 15, 1990, he went 1-for-2 with a walk and double versus 1979 Fairfax grad and former St. Cloud State teammate Dana Kiecker at Fenway Park. It was the first time that SCSU alumni played against each other in the majors. In total, Eisenreich went 4-for-8 with a walk and two doubles versus Kiecker between 1990 and ‘91.
Eisenreich is just one of 10 Minnesotans to play 15 seasons in the majors. The others are Charley Albert Bender, Bullet Joe Bush, Rube Walberg, Jerry Koosman, Tom Burgmeier, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris, and Joe Mauer (Aaron Sele was born in Minnesota, but grew up on the beautiful Kitsap Peninsula, west of Seattle, WA).
Eisenreich is one of a remarkable SEVENTEEN major leaguers to graduate from Minnesota high schools in the 1970s, along with Pat Scanlon, Paul Siebert, Steve Comer, Jack Morris, Paul Molitor, Brian Denman, Gary Serum, Brad Gulden, Jerry Ujdur, Laudner, Bob Hegman, Mike Mason, Kent Hrbek, Mike Kingery, Greg Olson, and Dana Kiecker.