February 18, 1949 |
|September 10, 1968 for the Houston Astros|
Last MLB appearance
|September 28, 1982 for the New York Yankees|
|Runs batted in||879|
Career highlights and awards
John Claiborn Mayberry (born February 18, 1949 in Detroit, Michigan) is a former Major League Baseball player who was active from 1968 to 1982 for the Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees.
High school and minor leagues
Mayberry attended Northwestern High School, graduating in 1967. He was a gifted high school athlete, playing baseball, football, and basketball at Northwestern; John was twice named to the Detroit News All-State Basketball Team. After graduation, Mayberry was selected by the Houston Astros in the first round (sixth overall) of the 1967 Major League Baseball Draft. He was the second first baseman taken in the draft, Ron Blomberg having been selected number one overall by the New York Yankees.
As an 18-year-old, Mayberry was assigned to the Covington Astros of the Appalachian League. While there, he batted .252 in the 1967 season, hitting 4 home runs in 155 at-bats. He continued to develop the following season, making appearances at three different levels of minor league baseball. His batting average for the 1968 season was a robust .320, with a high of .338 in 195 at-bats for the Cocoa Astros of the Florida State League. Between three levels, Mayberry hit 23 home runs and slugged .552. He made his major league debut that season, appearing in four games but amassing no hits. During his four-game call-up, Mayberry recalled the first time that he met Hank Aaron, who was playing for the Atlanta Braves:
"'I just stood there looking at him,' Mayberry said. 'I said to myself, "so this is the Hammer, this is Henry Aaron."'"
At 20 years old, Mayberry played 123 games for the Oklahoma City 89ers of the AAA-level American Association. With 21 home runs, a .303 batting average, and a .522 slugging percentage, his power began to resemble the man he met the year before in the majors. He batted in 78 runs and scored 95, walking more times than he struck out (62/42). Mayberry's second short stint in the majors did not result in his first hit, though he did make it on base with one walk in five plate appearances. That would not come until the following year; after playing 70 games at Oklahoma City and batting .273 with 13 home runs, Mayberry was called up to the Houston Astros.
Major league career
Mayberry played in 50 games during his first extended stint in "the Show", with his first career hit coming in April 1970 before he was sent back down to AAA. It came against the San Francisco Giants in a 7–4 loss; he hit a single to right field off of Giants right-hander Frank Reberger. The 1971 season was yet another year split between the minor leagues and the major leagues. While he hit .324 with 13 home runs in 64 games in the minors that year, Mayberry could only muster a .182 batting average in 46 games with Houston, hitting seven home runs and striking out 32 times. The Astros tried to turn Mayberry into a slap hitter rather than utilizing his natural power:
"'They wanted me to cut down on my strikeouts,' he said, 'but all long ball hitters seem to strike out a lot, don't they? What happened was that I not only wasn't cutting down on my strikeouts, but I wasn't hitting the long ball any more either.'"
In the 1971 offseason, the Astros traded Mayberry, along with Dave Graangard, to the Kansas City Royals for Lance Clemons and Jim York. The trade was regarded as one of the worst in baseball history.
Kansas City Royals
Mayberry was a classic slugging first baseman who batted left-handed. In his first season with the Royals, he hit 25 home runs and drove in 100 runs. His 78 walks were slightly more than his 74 strikeouts, and his .298 batting average came with the re-discovery of his power stroke. The 1973 season produced nearly identical statistics, but yielded better production. Mayberry led the league in walks (122) and on-base percentage (.417) while still batting .278, hitting 26 home runs, and driving in 100 for the second consecutive season. Mayberry's pure statistics, though, were even more remarkable in light of the fact that the Royals had no other power hitters in the lineup to protect him. Other than center fielder Amos Otis, who equaled Mayberry's 1973 home run total, no other Royals batter achieved double-digits in home runs.
1975 was widely considered Mayberry's best season in Kansas City. He set career marks in doubles, home runs, runs scored, and RBI. His 34 home runs in a season were a Royals team record when he retired after the 1982 season. He was named the American League Player of the Month in July 1975 for hitting 12 home runs and posting a .365 batting average, and he hit three home runs in a game against future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. He also had an eight-game stretch during which he hit eight home runs.
But his good fortune was not to continue. Mayberry's statistics declined drastically in 1976 and 1977. He amassed a .232 batting average and only 13 home runs in 1976. Mayberry's home run production rebounded slightly in 1977; he hit 23 home runs, earning him a tie for the Royals team lead (with right fielder Al Cowens) in that department. But his batting average remained low at .230, and his RBI total declined from 95 in 1976 to 82 in 1977.
On August 5, 1977, Mayberry went 4-for-5 against the Chicago White Sox, hitting a single off Chris Knapp, a home run and a triple off Bart Johnson, and a double off Don Kirkwood to complete the cycle; the Royals won the game, 12–2.
During the 1977 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, Mayberry arrived late for the fourth game, which was played in the afternoon, after a late-night outing. Mayberry played very poorly on both offense (striking out twice in two plate appearances) and defense (dropping a foul pop and a routine infield throw). Mayberry's ragged play prompted manager Whitey Herzog to bench him midway through Game Four and to leave him out of the starting lineup for the decisive fifth game.
Herzog later blamed Mayberry for the Royals' failure to defeat the Yankees in the ALCS and demanded Mayberry's dismissal from the team, even though he also said he had "always loved the way John played". Consequently, before the start of the 1978 season, the Royals sold Mayberry to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were beginning their second season of play in the American League.
"Big John" hit the final Royals home run ever at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium on September 29, 1972 in a 9-2 Royals win over the Oakland Athletics. Oakland's Gene Tenace hit the final home run in the stadium's history the following night as the A's defeated the Royals 10-5.
Toronto Blue Jays / New York Yankees
After his trade to Toronto, Mayberry only hit above .250 once again in his career. His season high in home runs for Toronto was 30, hit in 1980, but his statistics never returned to their 1975 level. He batted in 82 runs in 1980, but never approached the 100-RBI mark that he had met or exceeded three times with Kansas City. The Blue Jays traded Mayberry to the Yankees in 1982, but he retired at the end of the season having posted a .218 batting average, 10 home runs, and 30 RBI. In his last three seasons, Mayberry began to strike out more than walk, a trend that differed from his early career.
Mayberry was an All-Star twice in his career (1973–1974). In 15 seasons, he compiled a .253 batting average with 255 home runs and 879 RBI. He had 1,379 career hits in 5,447 at bats. He shares the record for most home runs in a season without hitting a double, with 7 in 1971. Upon his retirement, he held both the Royals (34 in 1975) and Blue Jays franchise records for home runs in a single season,. Mayberry had a sharp eye at the plate as evidenced by his leading the American League in walks (bases on balls) twice 1973 and 1975 and leading the American League with Intentional walks (bases on balls) with 17 in 1973. Mayberry still holds several Royals single season records including most home runs in a season for a left-handed batter with 34 (1975), most walks in a season with 122 (1973), and most home runs on the road with 23 (1975).
After his retirement, Mayberry spent five years as a coach for the Blue Jays' farm system, two years as a coach for the Royals, and worked for the Royals' Community Affairs Department. He was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mayberry's son, John, Jr., has played major league baseball, most recently as an outfielder for the New York Mets. When watching his son's first game at Yankee Stadium, the Fox telecast incorrectly identified Mayberry Sr. in the stands. When told of the incident, John, Jr. said, "I got a kick out of that". John, Jr. hit his first two career home runs in 2009 against his father's last two teams.
- List of top 300 Major League Baseball home run hitters
- List of second generation Major League Baseball players
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