Thursday, February 19, 2015

We Barely Knew Ya...Keith Mitchell

Had Twitter existed in the spring of 1992, the social media site would have erupted in chatter over a trade that took place involving one of baseball's premier stars. And although the trade didn't become public knowledge until years later, you know that it would have somehow leaked in today's culture.

In Built to Win, a book released in 2006 by former Braves GM and current team president John Schuerholz, fans were given details of a trade that was agreed upon during spring training of 1992 between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves. Schuerholz revealed that he had acquired Pirates superstar Barry Bonds for then-Braves closer Alejandro Pena, outfield prospect Keith Mitchell and a prospect to be named later. However, shortly before the trade was announced, Schuerholz was informed by Pirates GM Ted Simmons (yes, that Ted Simmons) that he was going to have to renege on the deal. Apparently, Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland went ballistic upon being informed of the agreed trade, causing Pirates president Carl Barger to pull the plug on the deal.

Buried on the organizational depth chart, Mitchell found himself in AAA Richmond to start the '92 season. He also found himself an emotional wreck during its first few months. Discourage that he had optioned back to the minors, despite hitting .318 in 66 at-bats for the big league club the previous year (and making the postseason roster), the outfielder languished in Richmond, hitting what at that point was a career-low .227. In a Los Angeles Times article from June of that year, Mitchell pulled no punches in describing his situation. "I'd rather see myself in a different uniform than to be back at Richmond. It's kind of hard to be back down here." Okay, then. That's one way to punch your ticket out of town. Without having to give his approval on a trade, it's probable that Keith never knew he had been traded just a couple of months earlier.

Fast forward one year later, to March of 1993- Mitchell was once again about to be traded, this time to the St. Louis Cardinals (this was reported years later, by Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). That is, until tragedy struck.

That spring, the Cleveland Indians suffered a devastating loss when pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed and a third pitcher, Bob Ojeda, was seriously injured in a boating accident. In desperate need of arms, GM John Hart inquired about Cardinals pitcher Rene Arocha, but was told that he was not on the market. When Hart offered Cardinal GM Dal Maxvill hard hittin' Mark Whiten, Cleveland's right fielder, a deal was struck, sending infielder Juan Andujar and pitcher Mark Clark from St. Louis to Ohio.

 Once again, Mitchell found himself in Richmond for the 1993 season and, once again, his play did not warrant a call-up. Keith finished out the season at AAA and would then be released by the Braves on October 15. 

While Keith's time on the big league roster was a short one, he did have a number of cards showing him with the tomahawk across his chest- many of which are minor league issues. As far as his big league cards, here is a checklist:

1991 Bowman # 575
1991 Topps ML Debut #125
1991 Upper Deck Final #56F
1992 Bowman #62
1992 Donruss #508
1992 Fleer #364
1992 Pinnacle #258
1992 Pinnacle Rookie Idols #8 (w/ Dave Henderson)
1992 Topps #542
1992 Score #748
1992 Stadium Club #551
1992 Upper Deck #454

Mitchell's call to the big leagues in '91 came at the expense of pitcher Pete Smith- who had been struggling badly and was demoted to the minors. Keith had been the team's hottest bat in the minors at the time, but had played only 25 games in AAA Richmond at the time of his promotion (coming after only 60 games of experience in AA). 


  1. Had the Bonds trade gone through, it would have been a steal of infamous proportions, even ignoring the numbers juiced up Barry put up in the early 00's. I just can't understand the logic of trading one of the best players in the game, during a season where you have World Series aspirations, to your primary competition for a completely blah player package. Going into the '92 season, Mitchell was ranked by Baseball America as the Braves 8th best prospect, and 89th in baseball. Given how undervalued prospects were then and how stocked the Braves system was, and it's almost laughable that that's the best they could do.

    Not that it mattered. Even if they had traded Bonds, I doubt the next two decades could have gone much worse for the Bucs than they did.

    1. Especially when you consider how bad Pena was for the Braves in '92, missed '93- and then still played for the Pirates in '94. I would have thought the more appropriate player for the Pirates to ask for would have been Mike Kelly, although he didn't pan out like we had hoped. But, yeah- a one year rental of Bonds should have netted much more than that (although, I'd like to know who the PTBNL would have been).