I spent the last week of March in Arizona. Along with two other chaperones, I took 11 high school boys out west for a spring training trip. Over the course of the trip we saw some sites, ate some food and went to a couple of spring training games. However, the main point of the trip was to get the kids some expert training. The guys attended three days of pretty intense training with two different camps.
Most of the instructors/coaches at these camps were former ball players, most of them at the minor league level. At one of these camps, I was standing with my fellow chaperons and we were watching the kids play. The lead instructor comes up to us and starts chatting. The guy was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in the 1990s and was actually in their minor league system before they even had a big league team. Old school, right? We asked him about where he played and all that jazz and he uncorks this gem of a story. I’m paraphrasing, but I think it’s pretty close:
A couple years back I was playing independent ball and that was a lot of fun. We had a player/manager. Do you guys remember Matt Nokes (We all smile and nod). That dude was our manager and he was a ton of fun and he was HUGE…and I’ll tell you why in a minute. (The guy then walks away for about 30 seconds to talk to someone else and then returns.) The guy LOVED steroids, man. He loved them so much that he was pushing them on all the other guys, trying to get them to take them. I think he got at least three other guys hooked. But man, he loved them and he was BIG.
So there, that’s Matt Nokes apparently. As a Tigers fan, I have fond memories of a young Nokes taking the league by storm in the late 1980s and then fading off after leaving the club.
Nokes’ best season was in 1987 when he was a rookie with the Tigers. Nokes debuted with the San Francisco Giants in 1985 and had a cup of coffee with the Tigers in 1986, before finally sticking in 1987. That season, Nokes made his only All Star appearance and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. The 23-year-old Nokes slugged 32 home runs and won the Silver Slugger award for the catcher position.
The following season was not as kind to Nokes. He hit only 16 homers in 1988 and followed that up with 9 in an injury shortened 1989 season. In 1990, the Tigers shipped the struggling slugger to the New York Yankees for a couple of pitchers. Nokes struggled in New York in 1990, but rebounded with a pair of 20+ HR seasons in 1991 and 1992. However, Nokes was kind of an all-or-nothing kind of hitter. In those two power-filled years in New York he had OBP of .308 and .293 and it’s really hard to stick around in the bigs when you’re getting on-base at that rate.
In 1995 Nokes had cameos with the Orioles and the Rockies before exiting the majors for good. Nokes then bounced around the minors and some independent leagues for the better part of a decade before finally hanging up the spikes for good.