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Countdown to Opening Day – 69 days
The Cleveland Indians broke in some seldom used numbers late in the 1980’s, including the overlooked usage of the number 69 late in the 1988 season by slugging prospect Luis Medina.
After being drafted by the New York Mets out of high school in 1981, and drafted again out of Cerritos Junior College by the Mets in January of 1982, and the New York Yankees in June of 1982, and the Cincinnati Reds in January of 1983, and the Oakland Athletics in June of 1983, and by the Houston Astros in the first round of the June 1984 draft out of Arizona State University, Medina finally landed in Cleveland after his ninth round selection in the June 1985 draft.
The apparently highly sought after right-handed hitting first baseman and outfielder proved the selections were worthwhile at the beginning of his professional career, slugging a dozen homers in his first 76 games in 1985 before hitting .317 with 25 doubles, 35 homers, and 110 RBI for Class-A Waterloo in 1986. In 1987, he added a .320 season in Double-A before hitting .310 for Triple-A Colorado Springs the next season prior to a September call-up to the show.
He had a pair of hits in his Major League debut, a 4-3 walk-off win in 13 innings against the Chicago White Sox. He singled in each of his first two at bats.
In his fourth game, he made his presence felt by hitting a pair of homers off of Tommy John and driving in three in a 5-4 win in New York against the Yankees. He added homers in each of his next two games and finished his first month with six blasts and eight RBI.
Following his first career two-homer game, he was asked by the media about his number 69 jersey.
“Sure I’d like a lower number, but I’m just glad to be here,” he was quoted in the September 9, 1988, edition of The Plain Dealer. “I’m sure not going to ask them to change it. Numbers don’t mean a thing anyway. I’d wear number 100 if I could play in the big leagues.”
While Medina hit .255 in his first 16 MLB games, he was showing some all-or-nothing tendencies that would plague him throughout his career. He struck out 18 times in 51 at bats and drew just a pair of walks. His 13 hits on the year were divided up by the six homers and seven singles.
He did parlay the power display into a spot on the club the following April, working his way into the lineup primarily as a designated hitter. But his prior tendencies continued despite a change to the number 29 on his back.
He hit .257 in April with a pair of homers, a double, and four RBI to his credit. He struck out 13 times in 38 trips to the plate. In May, the average was just .200 for the month while he supplied the club with six singles, a homer, and 14 strikeouts versus one walk in 36 plate appearances. He struck out eight more times in five games in June, hitting .077 for the month with a solo homer for his only hit and found himself back on his way to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He hit .175 for the Sky Sox in 51 games.
He spent all of the 1990 season in Colorado, hitting .272 before another strong showing at the Triple-A level (.324 average, 27 homers, and 98 RBI in 117 games over the season) got him a return call to the Majors in June. But in five games, he struck out seven times and had just a single to his credit, giving him a .063 batting average in what would be his final games in the MLB.
He signed with Kansas City in the offseason and played for their Triple-A Omaha club in 1992, but went overseas for three seasons from 1993 to 1995 while playing for Hiroshima.
Following his career, he worked as a scout and Area Supervisor for the Arizona Diamondbacks and then moved back to the Royals organization, first as an award-winning scout before working his way into his current role as the club’s Special Assistant to the General Manager/Player Personnel. According to his bio on the Royals team website, he was elected to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. He was also part of the selection committees for the 2008 Summer Olympic Baseball team and the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
His stay in jersey number 69 was so brief, it was missing from the Baseball-Reference.com list of players to wear each number in Cleveland history, but the above historical evidence was passed along to the good guys there last year by Did The Tribe Win Last Night to ensure Medina got credit where credit was due. He remains the only Indians player to date and one of just eight players all-time to wear 69 on the field during in-game action.