He was a rare breed of two-way players meaning he could pitch and hit, and he did both very well.
His long, storied baseball career begins at Washington State University just like his father’s did (John E. Olerud).
The elder Olerud was a proud father who said this about his son.
“I think he works very hard on his game. The relaxed approach he takes in the field belies how hard he works on his game. He just does it in a quiet way. He’s just as easygoing off the field.”
His three seasons, from 1987-1989, at WSU were legendary.
As a true freshman in 1987, his batting average was .414, and he went 8-2 as a pitcher with a 3.00 ERA.
He was named Baseball America‘s NCAA Player of the Year after his freshman season.
Olerud continued to set records in his sophomore season and repeated as Baseball America‘s NCAA Player of the Year in 1988.
In January 1989 at the age of 20, he collapsed while running indoors.
Olerud suffered from bleeding in the brain which later revealed a brain aneurysm.
In late February he had surgery for the aneurysm and was back on the field by April.
Based on his doctor’s recommendations, Olerud began wearing his signature hard batting helmet while playing the field to protect his head from potential line drives or collisions with other players.
At the end of his college career, Olerud left as WSU’s career leader in the following categories:
- Batting Average (.434)
- Slugging Percentage (.824)
- Top five in home runs (33)
- Top five in pitching wins (26)
Olerud was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.
In 2016, Olerud was named Pac-12 Player of the Century and a member of the All-Century baseball team.
Major League Years
Drafted in the third round by the Toronto Blue Jays, Olerud left WSU after his junior season.
He never played in the minor leagues and quickly ascended to be a star first baseman for Cito Gaston‘s Blue Jays.
Olerud was a member of the back-to-back championship Blue Jays teams in 1992 and 1993.
His professional career spanned 17 seasons with the Blue Jays, Mets, Mariners, Yankees, and Red Sox.
#OTD in 1996, the Mets acquired John Olerud from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Robert Person.
Olerud hit .315/.425/.501 with 63 homers, 291 RBI and 142 OPS+ over three seasons in New York.
His incredible defensive skills can be seen in the highlight below. pic.twitter.com/jjMuSM2QhT
— Metsmerized (@Metsmerized) December 20, 2020
He retired in 2005 after playing 2,234 games.
Olerud had a .398 on-base percentage, 500 doubles, and 255 home runs during the course of his career.
He also is one of only 26 players to hit for the cycle multiple times in his career, and he did it in both the American and National Leagues.
All this talk about John Olerud this weekend led me down a YouTube blackhole of his highlights. It's a shame Shea looked pretty empty when he hit for the cycle on 9/11/1997. #Mets #LGM (via MLB/YT) pic.twitter.com/iG1mrXOFBK
— Matt Musico (@mmusico8) December 21, 2020
In 2020, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Many have made the argument that Olerud should also be in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Off The Field
Olerud married a high school classmate, Kelly.
They live in Seattle and are parents to three children, two daughters and one son, Jordan, Jessica, and Garrett Olerud.
His daughter Jordan was born with a rare chromosomal defect in August 2000 that shortened her life span.
She died in 2020 at the age of 19.
Olerud has devoted his post-baseball career to the Jordan Fund, a nonprofit he and Kelly set up in 2003 to help children with special needs.
The organization provides grants to needy families, funds organizations that help special needs children, and assist families with therapy and equipment costs not covered by insurance.