Former Texas Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez was once one of the most feared hitters in all of Major League Baseball.
He was a face for a new era of baseball, as power hitters changed the sport’s landscape.
Juan Gonzalez with a rad mullet, sending missiles into the Baltimore outfield, and winning the MLB Home Run Derby in 1993. pic.twitter.com/2PXaMuvKGK
— Adam Gone Wild (@adamgonewild) December 3, 2019
Gonzalez was a perennial 40 home run threat, proving to be a premier run producer as well.
He did this with a majority of his production coming before his age-30 season, setting him on pace to put up staggering numbers.
However, despite this, he is relatively lesser known than some of the other big-time sluggers of that generation.
Some of this may be contributed to his reported steroid use.
While this has never been confirmed, it has left a lasting stain on his legacy.
Here is a look into the life and career of a hitter that once had the potential to break some major records.
From Puerto Rico To The Majors
Gonzalez grew up in Puerto Rico where he was surrounded by future MLB talent.
His talent as a kid earned him looks from professional scouts.
The Rangers were one of the teams, eventually signing him as an amateur free agent in 1986.
As a young teenager, Gonzalez took some time to adjust to professional baseball.
After struggling in rookie ball, he was moved into Single-A for the 1987 season.
Here, he began to find some of the power that he later became known for as he slugged 14 home runs.
After he struggled in 1988, he tallied 21 homers in Double-AA at just 19-years old.
His performance earned him a call to the Majors in 1989, where he struggled to produce in 60 at-bats.
Because of this, he started the 1990 season in Triple-A where he put up impressive power numbers.
Again, he was given a chance in the big leagues where he started to produce.
In 90 ABs, he hit .289 and had four homers, proving enough to earn a spot as a starter the next season.
Gonzalez Becomes A Young Phenom
At just 21-years-old, Gonzalez wasted little time becoming a solid contributor at the Major League Level.
In his first full season, he hit .264 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI, establishing himself as a cornerstone of the team’s offense.
8/18/91 – Rangers LF Juan Gonzalez hits his first career grand slam as the Rangers topple the Indians 9-4. #MLB #sports #baseball #texas #Rangers #texasrangers #dallas #DallasTX #Cleveland #Indians #DFW #History #gone #sundayvibes pic.twitter.com/lE8JVJj7pX
— Classic MLB vids (@classicMLBvids) May 3, 2020
However, this was just the beginning.
In the next season, Gonzalez led the American League in home runs with 43, adding 109 RBI and a .260 average.
1993 would bring much of the same, as he once again led the league in home runs with 46.
He also upped his batting average a staggering 50 points to .310.
This earned him his first All-Star appearance, along with a fourth place in MVP voting.
Though his next two seasons were be shortened due to the strike in 1994 and an injury in 1995, Gonzalez was poised to take yet another step forward.
Gonzalez Becomes An MVP… Twice
In 1996, Gonzalez began a four-season stretch that rivals some of the greatest in MLB history.
The numbers that he put up in this period are on video game levels, as he was one of the most dominant hitters in the sport.
It started with a 1996 season where he slugged a career-high of 47 home runs, 144 RBI and a .314 batting average.
These numbers earned him his first career MVP award,
However, he did not stop there.
Gonzalez added a 42 home run and 131 RBI season in 1997, proving that it was no fluke.
Then, to top it all off, Gonzalez hit 45 home runs and had a league-leading 157 RBI in 1998 when he won another MVP award.
101 RBI before the All-Star break!? 🤯
Juan González did that on this day in '98. pic.twitter.com/7yyFHaLERO
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) July 5, 2021
He also led the league in doubles that season with 50.
Though his numbers took a slight dip by his standards in 1999, he was still one of the greatest hitters.
He only hit 39 home runs but raised his average to .326.
This capped off a string of four seasons that few other players in the sport’s history can rival.
After The Peak
Following the 1999 season, Gonzalez was traded to the Detroit Tigers where he struggled to match the same level of production due to the change in field dimensions.
He opted to enter free agency after 2000 and signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians.
Here, he once again returned to All-Star form as he hit 35 home runs and posted 140 RBI.
This would be on the downswing of his career though, as he returned to Texas the following year and struggled.
However, he did hit 24 home runs in just 82 games in 2003, before injuries forced him out of the Majors in the following years.
He attempted to make a return to the league, playing on an independent team in 2006 but once again endured injuries.
Gonzalez also was given a Spring Training invite by the St. Louis Cardinals but was hurt again before the regular season began.
This would eventually be the end of his career.
When it was all said and done, Gonzalez totaled 1,936 hits, 434 home runs, 1,404 RBI, and a .295 batting average.
In honor of Juan Gonzalez turning 51 today, here’s a clip of him launching his 400th career homer.
— MLB Daily Dingers (@MLBDailyDingers) October 20, 2020
These are very solid numbers for a player that had his 30s derailed by injuries before he could enter the Hall of Fame discussion.
While his numbers do not quite warrant an enshrinement in Cooperstown, they represent one of the most feared hitters of his generation.
Gonzalez Involved In Steroid Scandal
In 2005, noted steroid user Jose Canseco published a book that named various sluggers in MLB who were using performance-enhancing drugs.
One of the names mentioned was Gonzalez, who was also included in the infamous Mitchell Report on the use of banned substances.
Despite this, Gonzalez vehemently denies any involvement with steroids.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said in a 2010 interview with ESPNDeportes.com. “Nothing. And I offered to be tested, whenever they wanted.”
Whether he did use or not, his name will forever be linked to PED use during his generation.
Since retiring, Gonzalez has been around the sport serving as a coach.
He was named the manager and head coach of the Puerto Rican national team in 2018.
With them, he led the team to a gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games.
His team once again won gold at the 2019 Pan American Games but failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
Manager Juan Gonzalez names Puerto Rican Olympic qualifier roster, which feature players with MLB experience
— WBSC ⚾🥎 (@WBSC) May 24, 2021
Gonzalez has also been involved in the political world, developing a close relationship with former President George W. Bush.
Bush was the owner of the Rangers at the time of Gonzalez’s MLB debut, with the two being close ever since.
Gonzalez was also named to the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in 2015, being the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs, RBI and slugging percentage.