- Sept. 17, 2020: Is 2020 finally the year for a DH to win MVP?
After driving in 130 runs and still finishing fourth in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2018, Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez felt understandably pessimistic about his position.
“For a DH to win MVP,” he told reporters the following spring, “they’re going to have to walk on water.”
Well, the Twins’ Nelson Cruz hasn’t quite done that in 2020. But he has arguably done enough to force the DH issue to the forefront. This is the “Year of the DH” -- as in “doubleheaders” (lots of ‘em) and the DH finally arriving in the National League. But one DH has stood out from the rest -- at age 40, no less.
Bottom line: One cannot concoct a short list of viable AL MVP candidates that doesn’t include Cruz.
Before we state his case, a little history:
No player has ever won the MVP Award in a season in which DH was his primary position. The closest Major League Baseball has ever come to a DH as MVP was Don Baylor’s AL win in 1979, when he started 97 games in the outfield and 65 as the Angels’ DH.
Only six times has a DH finished in the top three of the AL vote (or what we now call a “finalist”):
1993: Paul Molitor, 2nd
1995: Edgar Martinez, 3rd
2000: Frank Thomas, 2nd
2005: David Ortiz, 2nd
2006: Ortiz, 3rd
2014: Victor Martinez, 2nd
It’s hard to argue any of the above were hosed. Edgar’s 1995 effort was deserving, but probably not as deserving as Albert Belle’s 50-homer, 50-double campaign (either would have been a better choice than the real winner, Mo Vaughn). The best MVP argument of the bunch belongs to Ortiz in 2006. When we conducted a “re-vote” for 2006 on MLB.com earlier this year, second-place finisher Derek Jeter overtook the real winner, Justin Morneau, with Ortiz moving up from third to second. Ortiz did, however, finish slightly ahead of Jeter in Baseball Reference’s WAR calculation (5.8 to 5.6), with the AL lead in homers (54), RBIs (137) and walks (119) and the league’s best OPS (1.049) among those with at least 500 at-bats.
Looking at each year individually, the fact that no DH has won this award is defensible, even before you get into people’s reservations about the role. And those reservations, for the record, have merit. A player manning a position can detract from the value of his offense if he doesn’t field that position well. The DH carries no such concern. If he delivers at the dish, that’s all we see from him.
Ordinarily, I get all of that, and I would not utter much of an argument for a DH to be the MVP.
But pretty much everything is different about 2020, Cruz’s case included. For the sake of discussion, let’s present it:
1) Cruz has been the AL’s best offensive player.
If a DH is ever going to win this award, it goes without saying that he’d better be the best hitter in his league.
Cruz has met that lofty bar so far. At midweek, he was tops in the AL in slugging percentage (.646), OPS (1.059), adjusted OPS+ (184), weighted runs created plus (178), adjusted batting runs (19) and adjusted batting wins (1.8), while vying for the home run title (16). That OPS+, by the way, would be the second-best ever for a DH, trailing only the aforementioned Edgar in ’95 (185).
Cruz’s 32 RBIs do rank a distant eighth in the AL. But even after stranding nine runners in a single game against the White Sox earlier this week (a performance that admittedly did not help this column’s cause), he carries an extraordinary .379/.526/.724 slash with runners in scoring position. So let’s not dwell on his RBI rank.
2) Cruz has been the best player on a good team.
This matters, too. A DH can’t afford to have his case complicated by sharing the spotlight with a teammate and/or playing for an also-ran.
Injuries and regression have prevented the Twins from being the “Bomba Squad” of 2019. With their big winter acquisition, Josh Donaldson, having missed all of August with a right calf strain, Miguel Sanó (.831) is the only qualified hitter on the Twins other than Cruz to have an OPS north of .800.
So Cruz’s impact has clearly been crucial in Minnesota again vying for the AL Central title.
3) WAR does not necessarily work against him.
Right or wrong, fair or not, Wins Above Replacement has taken on an outsized importance in how voters cast their MVP ballots. In a normal year, this basically kills any chance of a DH winning the award.
But the shortened 2020 season prevents Cruz from getting totally whipped in WAR. Per FanGraphs, he’s at 2.0 compared to league leader Anthony Rendon’s 2.4. He’s further off in the Baseball Reference tally, with a 1.7 against league leader José Abreu’s 2.4. But it’s not a situation like the one Martinez encountered in 2018, when his 6.5 bWAR were more than four full wins behind MVP Mookie Betts' 10.6 mark. There simply haven’t been enough games for that to happen.
4) The AL MVP field is muddled.
Where Cruz’s MVP case really gets interesting is when you consider the complications associated with other candidates on other clubs.
We have to start with Trout, who is bound to attract his annual MVP attention with another monster year. But unlike his 2016 and 2019 wins, Trout is unfortunately not out front in enough categories to rise above the Angels’ subpar standing. Furthermore, he now has a teammate in Rendon who has every bit as strong an MVP case, leading Trout in both WAR tallies.
As for the AL postseason field, it is littered with complications:
White Sox: Tim Anderson (2.4 fWAR) and Abreu (2.1) are both viable candidates on their own. But they’re not on their own. They’re on the White Sox. You’d struggle to get consensus even among the club’s fans as to who its MVP is. Voters will face the same issue, so Anderson and Abreu stand a good chance of impeding each other’s first-place votes tally.
Indians: Starter Shane Bieber is their best candidate. But the Tribe has lost two of the last three games he’s started, which -- given the difficulty pitchers encounter in trying to claim this prize -- won’t help his cause.
Yankees: DJ LeMahieu (1.7 fWAR) and Luke Voit (1.5) have the best cases but likely aren’t at the forefront of the voting, as of today, and, much like the Sox guys, could affect each other’s totals.
A’s, Rays and Blue Jays: It’s been more about the collective than any single candidate jumping off the page. The Rays’ Brandon Lowe and the Blue Jays’ Teoscar Hernández are the most likely candidates from any of the three clubs to get down-ballot love.
Astros: Who’s their MVP? Dusty Baker?
Even if Cruz’s position prevents him from raking in first-place votes, you could see him compiling enough points via second-place votes to come out in front in this convoluted ballot.
5) Cruz is doing all of this at age 40.
This is not a reason to vote for Cruz. But it is a reason to appreciate his MVP candidacy even more. Should he win, he would not only be the first DH to win the award but also the oldest MVP by three weeks. Barry Bonds, who was born on July 24, currently holds that distinction for winning his last NL MVP at age 40 in 2004. Cruz was born on July 1.
Meanwhile, Fernando Tatis Jr. is the likely NL MVP at age 21. That’s right: In the same year, we could have both the oldest MVP in history and the youngest, as well as the first MVP DH.
And Cruz might not even have to walk on water to make it happen.
|DOB:||7/1/1980||Agent:||Relativity Baseball-Mark Pieper|
|Birth City:||Las Matas de Santa Cruz, D.R.|
|Draft:||1998 - Mets - Free agent|
Nelson was good enough at basketball, which he concentrated on more than baseball as a teen, to play for the Dominican Republic Junior National team.
- In 2000, when the Mets looked to acquire utilityman Jorge Velandia from Oakland, the two teams initially couldn’t agree on a player in return. The A’s Latin American scouts raved about Cruz following his monster season in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, so they took him. (Baseball America - December 2004)
When Nelson was a teen in the Dominican Republic, his family sent him to work at an uncle's car repair shop, working on tractors and trucks as a mechanic. He was a big kid, but Cruz just dabbled a little bit in sports. His baseball experience was limited to street games.
"When I was 15 or 16, I knew more about tractors than autos," Cruz said. "I know how to fix a car from the 1990s, but cars today are all computers. I would work with my uncle at his auto shop, using heavy machinery and things like that."
That changed when Mets scout Eddy Toledo spotted Cruz in a pickup game and persuaded him to join a team. It turned out that Nelson's skills weren't limited to fixing cars, and Toledo signed him at age 17.
Cruz shares a hometown with Ozzie Virgil, the first Dominican to ever play Major League Baseball. Both are from Monte Cristi.
During the offseason before 2005 spring training, Baseball America ranked Nelson as #10 prospect in the A's organization. Before 2006 spring camp, the magazine had Cruz as 8th-best prospect in the Brewers organization.
In 2005, Nelson was the Brewers Minor League Player of the Year after helping lead the Triple-A Nashville Sounds to the Pacific Coast League Championship.
- On September 4, 2006, Nelson hit two home runs, one of which was the 21st inside-the-park home run in Texas Ranger history. Cruz was the sixth Ranger to hit two home runs in a game with one being inside the park. Rusty Greer was the last Ranger (July 21, 1994), against Pat Hentgen and the Toronto Blue Jays. Bump Wills, Gary Ward, Bob Brower, and Ruben Sierra also accomplished this feat.
Bump Wills did it on August 27, 1977, against the New York Yankees. That was the famous moment when Toby Harrah and Wills hit inside-the-park home runs on consecutive pitches off Yankees pitcher Ken Clay. (T.R. Sullivan-MLB.com-9/4/06)
In 2008, Cruz was named the Pacific Coast League's MVP after hitting .342 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs for Triple-A Oklahoma.
In 2008, Nelson was named the Rangers' organization's Player of the Year.
In 2011, Cruz easily won the ALCS MVP for leading the Rangers to the World Series. No one else in Major League history has hit six homers or collected 13 RBIs in a playoff series. The only other players with even five homers in a single postseason series were Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Juan Gonzalez, and Chase Utley.
He was 8 for 22 (.364) and all eight hits were extra-base hits—the six homers and two doubles. Only one player has had more extra-base hits in a playoff series was Yankee Hideki Matsui, who had nine in the 2004 ALCS vs. Boston.
Consider his other "Nellie-fest" feats:
+ He hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history.
+ He became the first player with extra-inning homers in two games of one series.
+ He became the first player to hit six homers in two postseasons, and he's done it in back-to-back years.
+ He became the franchise's career postseason home run king.
In 2012, Nelson purchased a fire truck for the city of Las Matas Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic. The town of 18,756 people is in the Monte Cristi province in which Cruz grew up.
American Medical Response also donated two ambulance to Las Matas Santa Cruz. And the Arlington, Texas Fire Department contributed to the effort.
"It's a big deal," Cruz said. "I know kids who have died because we didn't have an ambulance. I had a friend who lost his house because we didn't have a fire truck. My town is not that big. It's definitely needed. We have firefighters, but we didn't have a fire truck."
August 5-September 30, 2013: Cruz and 12 other players around MLB were handed 50-game suspensions that effectively ended their regular season, for using PED's. His Rangers teammates were sympathetic and supportive, while recognizing Nelson had made a terrible mistake. He spoke to his teammates before leaving the clubhouse.
"It was a really emotional talk," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "He's part of our family. I've known him since he has been here. He's always had my back and talked to me during bad times. We love him. It was tough as a man to stand up in front of everybody and talk for real. You can see how tough it is for him and his family.
"At that moment, you're not a player, you're a human being. Nobody is perfect and nobody has the power to judge. The main thing is to support him. I love him like a brother."
Said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, "People around here really respect Nellie for the way he goes about his business. He was very remorseful and sad. He did not make excuses. He said he made a mistake. We're all men here. We all have to live with the consequences. It's a shame it happened, but we'll get through it."
Washington said no players expressed any anger directed at Cruz for being suspended. There was also no anger expressed over Cruz deciding not to appeal the suspension. If Cruz had filed an appeal, he would have still been able to play until the case was heard by an arbitrator.
"I read or heard something about us being angry," pitcher Derek Holland said. "That's not true. We love the guy. That's got to stop. We love him and we're behind him."
In 2014, Cruz was the Most Valuable Oriole, beating out Adam Jones and Zach Britton.
Nelson grew up working on his grandpa's farm. His parents were both teachers, Dominga at his elementary school and Nelson Sr. a social studies instructor at the high school.
Cruz was selected to start in the 2015 All-Star Game.
Cruz had the best season of his life in 2015, smashing a career-high 44 home runs and batting .302 in his first year with the Mariners. So what did the 35-year-old do to celebrate? He went home to the Dominican Republic and kicked his offseason training regimen up another notch.
"I've been working harder this year than ever before," Cruz said.
Some players wind down in their mid-30s, but Cruz has shown no signs of regression. Power has always been a big part of his game, but he proved to be a better all-around hitter than the Mariners expected last season after signing him to a four-year, $56 million contract.
"I guess my excuse has to be that I started playing baseball late," Cruz said. "I'm still developing."
Indeed, Cruz didn't play a lot of baseball as a kid growing up, instead focusing more on basketball. He signed with the Mets as an 18-year-old, but didn't become a full-time Major Leaguer until age 28 with the Rangers.
"I'm working like I was 20," he said. "I have that love. That's the most important thing. When you quit loving the game or having the passion, you start breaking down. The love and passion are still there, and that's what you need to perform and go out there and compete every day." (Johns - MLB.com - 2/24/16)
Baseball has been good to Nelson. He's living the good life as a Major Leaguer. The Mariners' 2016 cleanup hitter, however, has not forgotten the reality of life back home in the Dominican Republic. And Cruz is committed to helping as best he can to make things better for his fellow Dominicans.
It started with a gesture of concern for his neighbors in Las Matas de Santa Cruz in 2011 in response to a fire that destroyed the home of one if his lifelong friends. Cruz, with the Rangers at the time, arranged for the purchase of a firetruck that was shipped back home, and he started what is a growing effort to help his countrymen.
"In my community, we didn't have a firetruck," Cruz said. "We also needed an ambulance because we don't have the biggest hospital. When somebody gets sick, or accidents or heart attacks, any emergency, we had to transport those people in trucks or SUVS, nothing that can give you the medical attention you need."
When Cruz first looked into buying the firetruck, there was sticker shock. "It was $300,000, $250,000," said Cruz, whose salary was $440,000 in 2010, the season before he began the search. "I could not afford that. [The Rangers] helped me contact the fire department in Texas, and they helped me find one. I bought the firetruck, and they donated the ambulances."
The program has grown since Cruz's arrival in Seattle, underscored by a foundation he is creating this year to help improve the situation for firefighters and medical attention. Cruz.said it's an attitude that was ingrained in him as a child. He parents were both teachers, and his father also became a lawyer.
"My dad was always involved with the community," said Cruz. "He founded a basketball team in my community. He founded the Patronales [a celebration to honor the patron saint of Las Matas]. My dad always goes to meetings to help the community develop. I learned from him. Now that I have a chance to help people, there is nothing better than to feel I can do something for my country, my community."
In addition to the firetruck and the ambulances, Cruz's initial efforts include providing the people in his hometown with firefighting gear, including uniforms and hoses.
"Last year I talked to the [Seattle] Fire Department and they donated a bunch of equipment," Cruz said. "We spread the equipment all over the state [of Monte Cristi]. We raised money, trying to train guys so they can be firefighters and paramedics.
"In my community, they are voluntary firemen. They don't make any money. We collect money so they at least have food for their family. We help them out, sending their children to school, stuff like that." (Ringolsby - MLB.com - 6/13/16)
December 2016: Cruz committed to play for the Dominican Republic in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Joe West has been an MLB umpire since 1976. In 2017 he had entered his fifth decade in the game, which is just astounding. Clearly impressed by West's impeccable career on the diamond, Nelson saw fit to ask West for a photograph ... as he strode to the plate in the sixth inning of the 2017 All-Star Game. But he wasn't looking for a selfie, thanks to spot-photographer Yadier Molina behind home plate.
Why not, right? And the end result was pretty magnificent, as Cruz proudly displayed the photo during his dugout chat with FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. And later in the evening, Cruz presented the big reveal on his Instagram page.
After the game was over, Cruz explained that this was actually his plan from the very beginning -- kind of. "I thought about it before the game and told everybody I was going to take a picture with Joe West my first at-bat. It was supposed to be a selfie, but I saw Yadi say batting gloves would make it [difficult]."
So why Joe West? "Well, he's a legend, you know? I think that's the only chance you get to take a picture with Joe West." (Garro & DeNicola - mlb.com - 7/11/17)
Nelson drives a Mercedes-Benz. Other Cruz Favorites:
Movie: The Day After Tomorrow
Actor: Denzel Washington
TV Show: El Chavo del Ocho.
Music: Latin Music.
Food: Latin food.
July 2018 : Cruz was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.
Oct. 16, 2018: In American-themed shoes, Cruz announced on Instagram that he'd become a U.S. citizen. His post reads in both English and Spanish, "Mission accomplished. Next stop: Registering to vote."
Charity work off the field in 2018 : Nelson’s compassion ranges from promoting education to ensuring the most vulnerable people of his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic have the necessities to lead safe, healthy lives. To date, he has sent two ambulances, a fire truck, wheel chairs, medicines, school supplies and baseball equipment back home and he is currently raising money to build a police precinct on property he purchased.
2018: Cruz became a US citizen. Despite having played professional baseball in the United States since 2001, Nelson Cruz only became an official US citizen in October, 2018. Nelson’s wife and two kids were already US citizens, so it made sense for him to take the plunge too. Plus, it sounds like he was looking forward to voting in November.
Cruz takes a nap before (almost) every game. Every player has a pre-game ritual, and apparently for Cruz his involves sleeping. He is said to take a nap before every game,typically lasting an hour, but sometimes only 30 or 40 minutes. These are professional naps with blankets (or in a pinch, towels). He reportedly once dreamed about Ichiro Suzuki during a nap before a rather successful game at the plate.
Nickname: “BOOMSTICK”The legend of the “Boomstick” began when Cruz filmed a commercial promoting the MLB 2K10 video game with 2K Sports in 2009. He and former American League Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey were tasked with trash-talking each other, and the folks at 2K Sports came up with the name “Boomstick” to describe Cruz's bat. Once the commercial aired, the name stuck with Cruz's teammates.“This is me, with my Boomstick,” Cruz says to Bailey in the commercial as he points to a crudely drawn cartoon. “This is you, sad and sweaty and nervous.”
Oct. 15, 2019: Cruz was chosen the Twins most valuable player for 2019, and also won the team’s Bob Allison Award for leadership by the Twin Cities chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Nov 11, 2019: You know that age-old question: "What would it be like to hit a golf ball on the moon?" Please, see your answer below, courtesy of prodigious baseball slugger Nelson Cruz.
Holy crap. Look at it. It just ignores gravity. John Daly, Tiger Woods, Happy Gilmore can't even do this. It keeps rising and rising until it disappears over the netting into the black of night. I have never, ever, seen a golf ball hit this far in my life
Cruz, a man accustomed to crushing small white balls into different stratospheres, simply gave a little laugh and walked off the tee -- not knowing that the ball likely turned into a giant, flaming meteor that destroyed an entire planet gazillions of miles away.
Or maybe he did know and, frankly, he just doesn't care. (CUT4 -MLB.com - Nov 11, 2019)
Dec. 2, 2019: Cruz was unsurprisingly recognized for his ageless production as the winner of the 2019 Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.The 39-year-old received the award for the second time in his career, having also won as a member of the Mariners in 2017. The recognition capped a busy awards season for Cruz, who also won the American League's Silver Slugger Award at designated hitter and finished ninth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
Nov. 10, 2019: Baseball had never before had an official star squad that salutes a full season's worth of work the way other major professional sports do. But the results of the voting for the first All-MLB Team finally arrived at the Winter Meetings. The Twins Cruz was named as the first team DH.
On March 21, 2020, Nelson went live for half an hour from his complex in the Dominican Republic, showing off a wide variety of exercises while "Iron Glenn" Freeman, his personal trainer, explained the intent of the exercises on the stream.
"In my case, I try to play a little bit of basketball, a little bit of vitilla (Dominican stickball), and just try to be more active on my social media so the fans and teammates and other players have something to do and something to look for," Cruz said.
Cruz said on the conference call that his facility allows for him to train and hit as he would throughout the offseason and in Spring Training. Cruz started with some stretches before working with a resistance band and going through weighted strength and agility drills in his gym, surrounded by framed jerseys from his various stops around the Major Leagues over his 15-year career.
Cruz's cousin also showed off the many framed bats lining the wall of his batting cage, including gifts from Albert Pujols, Iván Rodríguez, Paul Konerko (one of Cruz's favorites), Adrián Beltré, Andruw Jones, Josh Hamilton, Edwin Encarnación, Robinson Canó, David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera.
"With everybody staying at home and the gyms closed and stuff, Nelson is a perfect example of, there's still ways you can get things done," teammate Taylor Rogers said. "I think with his example for our team, everybody has taken his lead and put together something to do at home and something to do to stay active. Everybody is in this together and we know these times will pass."
Aside from staying fit, Cruz said he also fills the time playing dominoes with his cousin and watching movies. He has also upped his nap frequency to thrice daily. But it was clear that Cruz misses baseball -- and his teammates.
In the background of Cruz's workout, one of the televisions in his gym featured highlights of his teammates' biggest moments from 2019. Cruz paused a resistance-band workout to watch the clip of Miguel Sanó's grand slam in Cleveland off reliever Nick Goody on Sept. 14. That grand slam essentially sealed the division title for the Twins. "This is how much I miss Sanó," Cruz gestured. "I'm watching his highlights." (Park - mlb.com - 3/23/2020)
May 9, 2020: Nelson Cruz on his mom, Dominga on Mothers Day:
When Nelson Cruz signed his first professional contract as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Republic all those years ago, he had never been outside of his small hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz, in the northwestern corner of the country, near the Haitian border. His mother, Dominga, was so reluctant to let her son leave the nest that she took a two-week hiatus from her work as a teacher to follow him to the first stop of his baseball journey.
For two weeks, Dominga lived out of a hotel. Every morning, she would wake up, pick Nelson up from the house where he lived with other players and follow him to the facility, where she would faithfully wait until he was done with games or practices so that she could take him back. Most teenagers these days probably couldn’t imagine having their mother with them so much around all of their new friends, but the young Cruz felt protected and comfortable for those first few days of uncertainty after leaving home.
“It was hard for her to leave my side,” Cruz said. “They always want to take care of their sons. Like I said, they don't see you as a grown man. They always see you as a kid. You know?"
“She tells me that I'm her baby,” he added. “She calls about, 'Did you eat?' 'What did you eat?' 'Do you have food?' 'Are you sick?' Stuff like that. She'd always make time for that. She calls every morning. She sends me a text every day, every morning, to find out how did I feel, how did I sleep.”
Imagine how tough it must have been for Dominga when Nelson made his way to the United States and missed nearly a full decade’s worth of Mother’s Day celebrations before they could finally be together again when Dominga joined Nelson during an early year game in Texas. That Mother’s Day, May 13, 2007, Nelson was determined to make up for all those years that he’d missed.
“I woke up that day and I was like, 'I need to do something cool for my mom,'” Cruz said.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the ninth inning, when Cruz stepped to the plate with one out in a 6-6 game. He took a big hack at the 0-1 pitch from Angels righty Scot Shields and lifted the ball all the way over the right-center field fence for the first walk-off homer of his storied career -- with a proud mom in the building.
“It was magical,” Cruz said. “I remember we went back to the house and we were watching the highlights on ESPN, and she just kept going, 'Play it back! Play it back!'" -- Do-Hyoung Park
Nelson's community service efforts have always far transcended baseball, and they're now getting recognition from the greater sports world. Cruz was named a finalist for the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award by ESPN in honor of the extensive charitable work he has done around his home country of the Dominican Republic.
"To be recognized by ESPN, the ESPYs and especially Muhammad Ali is an honor and is something that makes me and my family proud," Cruz said. "It reinforces and makes you try to do more than what you're already doing. It's just a blessing. Exciting day for me."
"The Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award is given to an athlete whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a measured positive impact on their community through sports," according to the award's description on ESPN. "The candidate must embrace the core principles that Muhammad Ali embodied so well, including confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and respect."
The efforts of Cruz are evident all over his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz, in the northwestern part of the Dominican Republic. According to the release, Cruz has provided a fire engine and an ambulance to the town to increase access to the hospital an hour away, built a new police station and donated a motorcycle, brings optometrists and dentists to the local clinic and purchases wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and canes for elderly and disabled residents.
He also began the "Healing Venezuela" initiative, which helps 2,000 Venezuelan newborns receive nourishment in their first year of life.
Through the Boomstick23 Foundation, established in 2016, Cruz focuses on sports and education around Las Matas de Santa Cruz with the goal of providing professional avenues outside sports for young athletes who might need such educational support. He is working to establish an educational center in his hometown and hopes to expand his reach around the Dominican Republic in the years to come.
"It's definitely something that means a lot to me, my family and my foundation," Cruz said. "I think over the years, we're working just to make a positive impact. We've been going over that and helping, in that case, my community, with whatever the needs might be. Through the years, I've been working and never thought to be recognized. But definitely, it's something that makes you work harder and do more."
Cruz also hasn't let the pandemic get in the way of his contributions to the community. He is part of a group of 60-70 Dominican baseball players -- active and retired -- who are working together to collect money that will go toward food and equipment for hospitals. He and his drivers have also been working to provide food for members of his community.
"That is one of the reasons why I think it is so humbling for me and my family to see the smiles on people, going to houses and their telling you their prayers had been answered because they had been praying to get some food," Cruz said. "Imagine how enjoyable and happy you feel to be able to provide people with what's most important: food. It doesn't get any better than that." (Park - mlb.com - 5/20/2020)
June 21, 2020: Cruz was named the winner of the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.
1998: Cruz signed with Mets scout Eddie Toledo, out of the Dominican Republic. He was 17 years old.
Nelson played three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, was traded to the A's and then the Brewers and eventually designated for assignment. He went unclaimed on waivers by all 30 MLB teams before re-signing a Minor League deal with the Rangers in 2008.
December 15, 2004: The Brewers sent INF Keith Ginter to the A's, acquiring Cruz and P Justin Lehr.
July 28, 2006: The Rangers sent outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, and pitchers Francisco Cordero and Julian Cordero to the Brewers, acquiring Cruz and OF Carlos Lee.
January 18, 2011: Cruz and the Rangers avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $3.65 million contract, with another $150,000 in bonuses.
February 9, 2012: Nelson and the Rangers agreed on a two-year, $16 million contract, with a signing bonus and $500,000 in performance incentives.
The contract allows Cruz and the Rangers to avoid salary arbitration.
November 4, 2013: The Rangers extended the $14.1 million qualifying offer to Cruz. Nelson wisely declined it while also continuing to negotiate with the team on a multi-year contract.
February 22, 2014: Cruz signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles. The deal also includes another $750,000 in incentives.
December 1, 2014: Nelson and the Mariners agreed on a four-year, $57 million deal that also includes a $1 million signing bonus.
Oct 29, 2018: Cruz chose free agency.
- Dec 27, 2018: The Twins agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal with Cruz for 2019, with a $12 million club option for '20. If the Twins don't pick up Cruz's option, it would be a $400,000 buyout.
Cruz has solid power to all parts of the park. Though he still tends to try to hit balls farther than over the fence, he is improving. He has a very aggressive swing, strong wrists, and fast hands that generate his fine power.
Cruz hit the 2nd-longest home run of the 2016 season, 473 feet.
Nelson is laying off the high heat and instead takes the ball the other way. Before, he tended to flail at a high fastball, either popping up or striking out on the pitch. Pitchers can still attack the holes in his swing, feeding him offspeed pitches in fastball counts.
In 2008, on the last day of spring training, the Rangers chose Jason Botts over Cruz for the last outfield roster spot. Cruz, out of options, had to pass through waivers to report to Oklahoma, the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate. Any team could have claimed him for $20,000. None did.
Scott Servais, Rangers' organization hitting coach, asked G.M. Jon Daniels if he could fly to Albuquerque, where Oklahoma was playing, and meet with Nelson. "I've got to try something drastic," the former big league catcher said.
Servais changed Cruz's batting stance to a more open position, similar to changes Andres Galarraga and Luis Gonzalez made well into their careers. "The main purpose was to flatten out his swing path," Servais says. "Nellie was a dead low-ball hitter, but he tended to flail at breaking balls, and his swing had a loop to it. To Nellie's credit, he worked hard and he got results with it right away." (Tom Verducci-Sports Illustrated-10/24/11)
The first four games of the 2011 season, Cruz tied a Major League record by hitting a home run in each game. Only Willie Mays and Mark McGwire had hit home runs in each of the first four games of the season. (Interestingly, Nellie had homered in four of his first five games at the start of the 2010 season.)
Nelson's bat is nicknamed "Boomstick" because of his reputation for hitting long home runs.
September 23, 2014:Cruz, who was named the Most Valuable Oriole on the team's became just the sixth player in franchise history to hit the 40-homer mark in a season. Cruz joins Chris Davis, Brady Anderson, Jim Gentile, Frank Robinson and Rafael Palmeiro.
As of the start of the 2014 ALCS (O's vs. Royals), Nelson had joined Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in post-season slugging. He became one of three players with at least 100 plate appearances and a career .700 slugging percentage in the post-season.
August 5, 2015: Cruz's streak of five consecutive games with a homer ended. It was his second five-game streak for the 2015 season. Since 1970, only four other players have done that in a season: Harmon Killebrew (1970 Twins), Frank Thomas (1994 White Sox), Barry Bonds (2001 Giants), and Chase Utley (2008 Phillies).
September 10, 2015: After hitting his 40th home run of the season, Cruz became just the fourth player in club history to accomplish the feat, joining Ken Griffey Jr. (six times), Alex Rodriguez (three times), and Jay Buhner (three times).
- May 28, 2016: We know that Nelson Cruz excels at launching baseballs into ... unorthodox places -- when you've earned the nickname "Boomstick," neither innocent cownose rays nor some poor guy's car is safe. But during batting practice prior to a game against the Twins, Boomstick managed to out-boom himself. He didn't just go where baseballs rarely go, he went where a baseball had never gone: up and completely out of Safeco Field.
... no, seriously, out of Safeco Field. Like, onto the street:Just how far did Cruz's blast travel? It wasn't game action, so there's no way to know for sure. We do know a couple of things, though: 1) Cruz is the first person to ever hit a ball out of Safeco, and 2) through technology, all things are possible:Granted, not the most scientific of estimates, but still: 489 feet! (Chris Landers - Cut 4)
2016 season : The longest recorded Mariners home run, in feet, hit by Nelson Cruz this season, according to Statcast™ measurements. And that blast -- off Tyler Duffey of the Twins at Target Field on Sept. 24 -- stood as the second-longest in MLB for 2016, trailing only a 504-footer by the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton off the Rockies' Chad Bettis on Aug. 6 at Coors Field.
Average exit velocity, in mph, of 375 balls hit by Cruz this season, was the highest mark of any MLB player with 40 or more balls in play.Cano's WAR rating, per Baseball Reference, which ranked fifth among AL players this year and 10th best all-time by a Mariners player. Alex Rodriguez ranks first at 10.4 in 2000, with Ken Griffey, Jr. second at 9.7 in his 1996 MVP season..323 was Cano's batting average on the road, which was the highest of any Mariner. He hit .272 at home.
Nelson launched his 300th career home run in a 3-for-4 night with five RBI.
"It's special," Cruz acknowledged. "I've come a long way. Not only what I did in baseball, but in the Minors and where I came from in the Dominican. Never in my dreams did I think about hitting 300 homers in the big leagues."
Cruz has hit 143 homers in his last 3 1/2 seasons, the most in the Majors since 2014. And 103 of those have come since he signed with Seattle in 2015 on a four-year, $56 million deal.
"I've known Nelson a long time and there's a lot of people in this game that bet that Nelson Cruz would never hit 300 home runs," said Mariners manager Scott Servais, who was the Rangers player personnel director when Cruz was coming up. "He proved a lot of people wrong and we've been the beneficiary here in Seattle of seeing a bunch of them recently.
"He was in a drought for a while. He went 20-some games [24 games] without hitting one. But the sluggers, they usually come in bunches. And he's in a good groove. He's seeing the ball good right now, he's staying behind the ball and it's great. We needed him and our big guys to step up tonight and they certainly did." (Johns - mlb.com - 7/7/17)
November 9, 2017: Cruz won his 1st Silver Slugger Award.
Nov. 30, 2017: Cruz didn't have to venture far to find the perfect role model for how to succeed as a designated hitter.
Major League Baseball announced that the 37-year-old Cruz has been selected as the 2017 winner of the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award, named after the man who has been Cruz's hitting coach with the Mariners for the past two and a half years.
September 12, 2018: Nelson knocked in a run when he belted a mammoth solo shot to left field to earn career RBI No. 1,000. Cruz is now the 11th active player in the 1,000 RBI club, along with teammate Robinson Cano. He joined Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and three others as the only players to reach the milestone in a Mariners uniform.
June 2019: Cruz now has double-digit homers for the 11th straight season.
July 25, 2019: Nelson has been one of baseball’s most prolific sluggers over the past decade, and at 39, he has continued to age like a fine wine. Even after 382 career homers, Cruz accomplished something he never had with the first three-homer game of his career in the Twins' 10-3 victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“It's not easy,” Cruz said. “To hit three [homers] is a blessing.” (Dorsey - mlb.com)
- July 29, 2019: After putting on remarkable display of power over the past seven days, the Twins' Nelson Cruz was named the American League player of the Week. Cruz hit .414 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs in seven games for Minnesota, with one of those contests yielding the first three-homer effort of his career.
This is the sixth AL Player of the Week win for the 39-year-old, who becomes the third Twins player to receive the honor this season, joining Jake Odorizzi and Max Kepler.
August 4, 2019: Cruz became the third hitter in Major League history with a pair of three-homer games within 10 days of each other, joining Doug DeCinces of the 1982 California Angels and Johnny Mize of the 1938 St. Louis Cardinals.
Aug 6, 2019: For much of the night game, Nelson Cruz provided the Twins’ only offense against Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. By the end of the contest, the 39-year-old designated hitter found himself -- once again -- etched in the Twins’ record books.
Cruz continued his torrid second-half power show with two more homers in a 12-7 loss at Target Field, tying the Twins’ club record with his sixth multi-homer game of the season. He had also singled in the first and third innings, good for the 17th four-hit game of his career, and third this season.
Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew had been the only other player in Twins history with six multi-homer games in a season, a feat he accomplished when he led the Major Leagues and set the franchise single-season record with 49 homers in his 1964 campaign.
Sept 3, 2019: Nelson Cruz put an exclamation point on his latest milestone.
Cruz reached 35 home runs for the sixth straight season with authority, sending a 420-foot shot out of Fenway Park at a speeding 104.9 mph, per Statcast. His homer off Rick Porcello to center field jump-started a three-run fifth inning that paved the way for the Twins’ 6-5 win over the Red Sox.
The Twins’ designated hitter joins Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro as the only players with six 35-home run seasons at 33 or older. Palmeiro did it consecutively from 1998-2003, while Bonds hit 35 in 1998, followed by 2000-04.
Sept. 22, 2019: Cruz crushed an opposite-field solo homer off Kansas City reliever Gabe Speier in the fourth inning to become the 57th member of Major League Baseball's 400-homer club.
The blast made Cruz the ninth Dominican-born player to reach the 400-homer mark, joining names like Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltré, Vladimir Guerrero, Edwin Encarnación and Alfonso Soriano. It also marked Cruz's team-leading 40th bomb of the season, joining Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron as the only players in MLB history to hit the mark at age 39 or older.
Nov 7, 2019: Cruz won his third Silver Slugger Award for 2019. He's an ageless wonder. Cruz was at the heart of a powerhouse Minnesota lineup, putting together a vintage campaign in which he posted a 1.031 OPS and slammed 41 homers -- including the 400th of his career -- in his age-38 season.
Dec 3, 2019: Cruz was recognized for his ageless production as the winner of the 2019 Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award. The 39-year-old received the award for the second time in his career, having also won as a member of the Mariners in 2017. The recognition capped a busy awards season for Cruz, who also won the American League's Silver Slugger Award at designated hitter and finished ninth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
May 9, 2020: Who is the best power hitter on the Twins? Nelson Cruz:
There's also a very good argument to be made here that Miguel Sanó deserves this spot, but when in doubt, you kind of have to go with the guy who has 401 career big league homers. Though Cruz was 38 years old when he signed with the Twins ahead of the 2019 season, he didn't show it at all, overcoming a ruptured tendon in his left wrist to post arguably the best power numbers of his career: 41 homers, a .639 slugging percentage and 1.031 OPS. Cruz is the decade's leader for home runs in the 2010s and has clubbed 37 or more homers in each of the last six seasons, making it a rather easy decision for the Twins to exercise his club option for 2020.
The scary thing for opposing pitchers is that the underlying metrics don't show any reason to believe Cruz will slow down any time soon. In 2019, Statcast showed Cruz to be second in expected slugging percentage among qualified hitters behind only Mike Trout. He was third in the Majors in average exit velocity, third in hard-hit percentage and first in barrels per plate appearance. How does he still do this? Tune into one of Cruz's intense quarantine workouts on Instagram Live, and it's easy to see how the designated hitter continues to stay ahead of Father Time with a dogged work ethic. -- Do-Hyoung Park
One absurd hot streak: Cruz hit 17 HR's in 30 games in May of 2014.
As of the start of the 2020 season, Cruz had a career batting average of .277 with 401 home runs and 1,119 RBI in 6,212 at-bats in the Majors.
July 26, 2020: At age 40, with a ruptured tendon in his left wrist, Cruz became the fourth-oldest player in Major League history with seven RBIs in a game. He joined Stan Musial, Jason Giambi and Reggie Jackson.
- Aug. 18, 2020: At 40 years and 47 days old, Cruz became the oldest hitter with a multi-homer game since David Ortiz accomplished the feat at 40 years and 172 days old on May 8, 2016.
- Sept 8, 2020: Nelson Cruz takes a 20-minute power nap before every game, to prepare himself for the rigors of putting on a power show in the subsequent contest. He does that because, at age 40, he has to focus on recovery more than other players.
It would figure, then, that Cruz might not welcome longer workdays, but he's taken advantage of doubleheaders at a historic rate in 2020. He again homered in both halves of a doubleheader, this time in Tuesday's Twins-Cardinals twin bill at Busch Stadium, with a solo shot in the fifth inning of Game 1 and another in the seventh inning of Game 2.
That feat pushes Cruz above and beyond rarefied company. Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk and Stan Musial are the only other players in baseball history to homer in both halves of a doubleheader at all at age 40 or older. They each did it once.
Cruz has now done it three times since he turned 40 before the delayed regular season began, with the performance joining identical feats in an Aug. 15 doubleheader against Kansas City and on Aug. 29 against Detroit. (DH Park - MLB.com - Sept 8, 2020)
- Nelson has a great arm for right field. He gets good jumps on the ball and is a fine outfielder.
- Cruz has a really powerful, accurate arm. He can throw a ball on a line from rightfield and hit the catcher right in the chest at home plate.
- April 22, 2019: Cruz had a bug up his fanny after being pulled. And he let the coaching staff know.
"I let them know about it. The other day, they pinch-ran Jonathan Schoop [for me], so I told him when we came here [Houston], we'd run a race and I'd show them that I'm faster." -- Nelson Cruz, who legged out two infield singles in a game for the eighth time in his career
May 21, 2005: Cruz was on the D.L. after he slipped on a muddy field while rounding first base during a home run trot.
- June 14, 2008: Nelson suffered a biceps strain while with the Oklahoma RedHawks (PCL-Rangers).
August 2008: Cruz was on the D.L. for just over a week.
July 18, 2009: Nelson had a fracture at the base of his right ring finger that he suffered after he hit a roller down the first-base line, made a nifty move to avoid Joe Nathan's tag, and then dove safely into first base, fracturing the finger doing so.
"I didn't plan on diving into the bag," Cruz said. "I just reacted."
He played with the pain, not going on the D.L.
August 4-21, 2009: Cruz was on the D.L. with a sprained left ankle.
April 26-May 14, 2010: Nelson was on the D.L. with a strained right hamstring.
May 30-June 22, 2010: Cruz was back on the D.L., this time with a strained left hamstring.
August 16-30, 2010: Nelson was on the D.L. with a strained left hamstring, again. He injured it running the bases. He hit a line drive off the wall in the seventh inning and slowed as he rounded second and head toward third base for a triple. He was taken out of the game following the inning.
May 4-23, 2011: Cruz was on the D.L. because of a strained right quad muscle. He first felt it while running out a groundball.
August 29-September 13, 2011: Nelson was on the D.L. after an MRI revealed a Grade 1 strain of his left hamstring. Cruz received a PRP injection from Rangers physician Dr. Keith Meister to stimulate the healing process.
Nelson injured the hamstring as he rounded first base on a double to lead off the sixth inning. Cruz pulled up a few steps past the first base bag and grimaced. He was taken out of the game and went to the clubhouse for treatment.
March 1, 2013: Cruz spent a few hours at an Arizona hospital after experiencing discomfort in his chest. It was a muscle strain near his chest. But he was back to work a day later.
April 3-14, 2018:The Mariners placed designated hitter Nelson Cruz on the 10-day disabled list after he sprained his right ankle when he slipped on the dugout steps at Safeco Field.
May 14-June 3, 2019: Cruz was on the IL with left wrist strain.
Aug 9-19, 2019: Cruz was on the IL with left wrist strain.
Aug 13, 2019: Nelson Cruz will not require surgery on his left wrist and began baseball activity prior to the Twins' game at Miller Park, an update that the club characterized as "good news for Nelson and the Twins."
“Just trust what I feel,” Cruz said of what he was told in New York by Dr. Thomas Graham, who determined that the 39-year-old slugger did not have any damage in the wrist other than the previously reported rupture of the extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU) tendon in the area. “I did everything today. I worked out, I did weights. I swung off the tee, because I don’t want to rush. I want to go slow. I swung with a short bat and a fungo [bat].”
“It was very good news,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.