James’ Day Unequaled until Chisenhall
Vince Guerrieri | On 17, Jun 2014
But one afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum in 1991, James had the game of his life, setting the team record with nine runs batted in – a mark equaled last week by Lonnie Chisenhall in a rout of the Texas Rangers.
James, the brother of Southern Methodist University and New England Patriots running back Craig James, signed with the Phillies out of high school. He made his major league debut in 1987 in Philadelphia, and in 1989, he was dealt to San Diego for John Kruk and Randy Ready. He spent half a season in San Diego before being dealt to Cleveland.
James appeared in 140 games for the Indians in 1990, with a .299 batting average – a career high – and 12 home runs. He started the season as the team’s designated hitter in 1991, as fans started to see some of the pieces that would make the Tribe great through the late 1990s. Albert Belle batted after James in the lineup, Alomar was the everyday catcher, and Baerga started the season at third. But the speedy center fielder leading off was Alex Cole, and Felix Fermin was starting at shortstop. He would be dealt to Seattle before the 1994 season for Omar Vizquel.
The Indians opened the season on the road at Kansas City, then played four games at Fenway Park before returning home to Municipal Stadium. On April 26, the Indians started a swing through the American League West, with series slated against Texas, California, Oakland and Seattle.
The Athletics were in the waning days of their late 1980s dynasty, but still had a potent lineup, which included future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson as well as Walt Weiss, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, each former rookies of the year.
Kirk Dressendorfer took the hill for the Athletics, and walked the first two batters he faced, Mike Huff and Mark Lewis. Huff got picked off first, but Lewis advanced to second when Beau Allred singled, and then took third on a wild pitch. Belle popped out, bringing up James with two on and two out. He swung at a 2-0 pitch and put it over the fence to give the Indians a three-run lead.
In the bottom of the second, James came up with two outs and runners at the corner. He worked the count full against Dressendorfer, then hit another home run to stake the Indians to an 8-1 lead.
James came up again in the fourth, with runners at first and second and one out. Curt Young had replaced Dressendorfer two batters earlier, and James singled to shallow right, scoring Lewis to make it 10-1 and bring his total up to seven RBI for the day.
In the sixth, James grounded out to Weiss at short off Eric Show, but he came up again in the eighth inning with ducks on the pond, with Allred and third and Belle at second. James hit a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield, scoring Allred and Belle for his eighth and ninth RBIs. James came around to score on a Baerga double, and he was done for the day, as manager John McNamara brought Jeff Manto in at first to replace James. All told, James went 4-for-5 with nine RBI as the Indians won 20-6. His two home runs represented 40 percent of his total output that season.
It was James’ finest moment in an Indians uniform, and there wouldn’t be many more. At the end of the year, he was let go by the Indians. He latched on in San Francisco for a year, and bounced around the majors after that, never playing more than 73 games in a season before ending his career with Boston in 1995.