Every now and then in my usually daily visit to Baseball Reference, I come across a picture of some random player the site generates on the main page and wind up in a rabbit hole. It’s a wonderful rabbit hole packed with statistics and memories and half-forgotten moments, not just the ones I saw unfold on a baseball field, but in my own life as well.
It’s not surprising Brad Fullmer would be one of the players I had no choice but to investigate thoroughly when I saw his picture on the main page. If I were any other age, he’s the type of player who wouldn’t mean anything to me at all. His career, which included eight seasons of slightly above average production at the plate, was about as ordinary as possible. He was a power hitter in an era of inflated offense, a lefty who couldn’t hit lefties, a first baseman who couldn’t play anything but first base. Baseball history is full of players exactly like Brad Fullmer, and there’s no reason to remember him based on statistics alone.
But for me, every late-’90s Expo is worthy of celebrating. Javier Vazquez, Jose Vidro, the version of Vladimir Guerrero who stole a bunch of bases and got thrown out almost as much. Brad Fullmer played with all those guys, although he didn’t have his biggest seasons until a few years later with the Blue Jays and Angels, after he was included in a bizarre three-team swap of first basemen that also involved Lee Stevens and David Segui.
He was an actual prospect in a time when prospects weren’t quite as closely tracked by the general public. By the time he had his first cup of coffee call-up, Baseball America was pretty sure he was the real deal; he entered the 1998 season as the 14th ranked prospect in all of the minors, thanks largely to an impressive showing at Double-A Harrisburg in his age-22 season. In just under 400 plate appearances, Fullmer slashed .311/.372/.549 with 30 walks and just 25 strikeouts, showing a mastery of the strike zone and game-changing power.
The success carried over to the highest level, and he was impressive with the parent club in his 43 plate appearances as a September addition at the end of the 1997 season. He even homered in his first major league at-bat, starting what could have been a storybook career.
So many things to say about that. First of all, just check out that awesome batting stance. That’s the first thing I thought of when his name re-entered my brain, all the funkiness and wiggling. Second, the homer came off Bret Saberhagen of all people. If that at-bat isn’t a nostalgia trip for a baseball fan who grew up in the ’90s, nothing is.
Of course, like so many highly regarded prospects before and since, his final numbers don’t match the hype. FanGraphs has him at just under 5 WAR for his entire career, along with a respectable-but-forgettable wRC+ of 108.
He may have looked the part of a superhero with his broad shoulders, chiseled physique, and strong jaw, but ultimately his body betrayed him, especially a troublesome right knee. Injuries forced him out of the game before the age of 30, but not before he won a World Series with the Angels in 2002 and earned what Baseball Reference estimates at just under $10 million. The two-floor condo he put on the market for $1.6 million in March of 2017 doesn’t look so bad either.
One of my very favorite parts about baseball is looking back at players who fell off the radar and drifted completely outside of my consciousness at some point. Brad Fullmer just happens to perfectly embody that concept, and I think he deserves some recognition for that.