Raised by his grandmother, the short, squat Mitchell used baseball to escape the violent San Diego street gangs of his youth, but not before collecting three gunshot wounds as a member of the notorious Syndos. In the minors, Mitchell's sullen, street-wise attitude often overshadowed his obvious talent, and in 1981 he brawled with teammate Darryl Strawberry during a pickup basketball game.
Though sometimes a fan favorite, the selfish parts of his attitude would often arise, forcing teams to come to blows with him. More tragic were his run-ins with the law: he was sued in 1989 by a former girlfriend who claimed that he had beaten her, and arrested in 1991 on suspicion of rape (the charges were later dropped).
Mitchell played six different positions for the World Champion New York Mets as a rookie in 1986, including 24 games at shortstop, and hit .277 to finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Todd Worrell and Robby Thompson. In the off-season, he was traded to the San Diego Padres with a slew of prospects for outfielder Kevin McReynolds.
Pegged to be the Pods' starting third baseman, Mitchell was faced with hometown distractions that affected his play, and on July 4, 1987 he was traded to San Francisco. He was hitting only .247 with seven home runs at the time of the trade, but he belted a pair of homers in his Giants debut and hit .306 the rest of the season as the Giants won the NL West.
Giants coach Dusty Baker had a special liking for the youth from the streets, and worked extensively with Mitchell after he slumped to .251 in 1988. In the field, Mitchell was competent but rarely spectacular at virtually every position. However, in early 1989 he achieved highlight godliness when he overran a fly ball in the left-field corner and reached back to catch it bare-handed.
Along with the instruction from Baker, Mitchell made two physical adjustments before the 1989 season that brought along his best year ever: he had arthroscopic surgery on his ailing right knee the winter before, and began wearing contact lenses. The effects were immediate, as Mitchell broke off 47 longjacks and 125 RBIs batting cleanup behind Will Clark. In the National League Championship Series, he hit .353 with two dingers and seven RBIs, and eventually brought home the NL MVP Award.
That season marked the pinnacle of Mitchell's career. For the next two years, he showed a decrease in production in almost every offensive statistic. Despite hitting 27 home runs in 1991, Mitchell was traded that December along with Mike Remlinger to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Dave Burba, Bill Swift, and Mike Jackson.
Though the Giants were initially lambasted for trading Mitchell, many applauded the decision. The outfielder didn't seem to have the same drive as he did in his 1989 MVP season, and with a new indifferent demeanor on and off the field, Mitchell drew the ire of some hard-nosed teammates like Will Clark. General Manager Al Rosen related the constant problems the team had with him, saying, "Headaches, stomachaches -- it's always something with this guy."
Mitchell arrived 30 pounds overweight to Mariners camp in 1992, and began the season poorly. Injuries to his ribs and foot limited the portly outfielder to just 99 games. Even though he batted .354 after the All-Star break, Mitchell grumbled through much of the season, and at one point had to be convinced by a young Ken Griffey Jr. not to quit baseball. In November 1992, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Norm Charlton.
Mitchell once again succumbed to injuries in his first year with the Reds, as he played in a career-low 93 games due to a torn rotator cuff. However, he showed a tenacity that was remarkably missing from his San Francisco years, undergoing cortisone shots to quell the pain so he could play, and batting .341 for the season. And though his attitude resurfaced during a midsummer fight with manager Davey Johnson, the team -- and Johnson -- defended him to the press. In just 95 games in the following strike-shortened year, Mitchell bashed 30 dingers and drove in 77 RBIs, announcing his return as a slugger.
But in the wake of the strike-shortened season, Mitchell fled to play in Japan for 1995. He signed a contract with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks for $4.5 million, becoming the highest paid player in the country's history, and initially proved his worth when he bashed a grand slam in his first at-bat. However, when his request to receive treatment in America for knee problems was denied by Hawks management, Mitchell went AWOL to the United States for ten weeks. Despite the insubordination, the front office let the rotund slugger finish off the season when he returned, and he ended the campaign with an even .300 batting average over 37 games.
When Mitchell came back to the majors, he bounced from the Cleveland Indians to Reds to the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland Athletics, all with disappointing results. The A's released him in August 1998. Out of organized ball, Mitchell once again ran into problems. He was arrested in late 1998 for battery, accused of hitting his father during an argument.
Two years later, though diagnosed with diabetes, Mitchell got his life back on track as the designated hitter for the independent Western League's Sonoma County Crushers, and as a big brother to inner city youths whom he would take out for paintball and lunch. But Mitchell's bad attitude resurfaced in August 2000 when he was suspended for nine games for punching the opposing team's owner in the mouth during a bench-clearing brawl. (AG/SCL/ArB)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»April 27, 1986: The Mets win their 9th consecutive game 5–3 at St. Louis, and in the process end John Tudor's 18-game winning streak at Busch Stadium. Kevin Mitchell hits his first ML home run for the Mets.
»July 22, 1986:
The Mets win a crazy five-hour marathon with the Reds in 14 innings, winning 6–3 (as recalled by Bill Deane). Setting the tone, Darryl Strawberry is ejected after arguing a called 3rd strike in the 5th. In the 9th, Howard Johnson inadvertently kicks the ball after Reds C Bo Diaz drops a third strike. Johnson runs out of the baseline and is hit in the back with the throw from pitcher Ron Robinson. Reds coach Billy DeMars is ejected for arguing the safe call. The Mets, down 3–1, with two out, tie the game when Dave Parker who drops a routine fly ball. In the 10th, Davey Johnson sends in pitcher Rick Aguilera to hit for pitcher Doug Sisk. Aguilera walks, but is stranded. In the Reds 10th, pinch-runner Eric Davis steals 2B and 3B, bumping into Ray Knight. Knight decks Davis and both benches empty. Knight, Davis, Kevin Mitchell and Mario Soto are ejected. Gary Carter moves to 3B, McDowell comes in to pitch, and Orosco moves from the mound to RF. With two out and a runner on 2B in the 11th, Orosco returns to pitch, McDowell moves to LF, and Mookie Wilson shifts to right. Rose protests when Orosco is permitted eight warm-up pitches. Orosco whiffs Max Venable to end the inning. In the 12th, The Mets are forced to lead off the inning with Orosco and McDowell, and go down in order. McDowell returns to pitch in the 13th and gets Tony Perez to fly to Orosco in right. Howard Johnson belts a three-run homer in the 14th and McDowell retires the side in order.
»May 11, 1988: Six games go into extra innings, tying the one-day ML record. The Mets beat the Astros 9–8 in 10; the Pirates beat the Dodgers 2–1 in 11; the Phillies beat the Reds 4–3 in 11; the Cubs beat the Padres 1–0 on Vance Law's 10th-inning squeeze bunt; the Giants beat the Cardinals 5–4 on Kevin Mitchell's home run in the 16th; and the Indians beat the Angels 4–3 on Bryan Harvey's 13th-inning balk.
»June 6, 1989: San Francisco's Kevin Mitchell hits three home runs in a doubleheader split with Cincinnati, giving him 22 already this season. He accounts for all the Giants scoring, banging a 3-run home run as SF loses 4–3 in the first game. In game 2, his two homers drive in three as the Giants win 3–2.
»November 21, 1989: Giants Kevin Mitchell, who led the big leagues with 47 home runs and 125 RBI, wins the National League MVP Award.
»June 17, 1993: Giants OF Darren Lewis sets a major league record by playing his 243rd consecutive errorless game. It is the most ever by an OF at the start of his career. The Giants defeat the Reds, 5-1, as Bill Swift and Kevin Rogers combine to 1-hit Cincinnati. Kevin Mitchell's infield single leading off the 8th inning is the Reds' only hit.
»June 19, 1994: The Reds score seven runs in the first inning and go on to defeat Atlanta, 12-4. Hal Morris, Kevin Mitchell, Jeff Branson, and Eddie Taubensee all homer off Braves' starter John Smoltz in the frame, as the Atlanta hurler becomes the 14th pitcher in major league history to surrender four round-trippers in a single inning.
»August 3, 1994: The Reds defeat the Giants, 17-4, as former Giant Kevin Mitchell gets five hits and five RBIs against his former teammates. Mitchell strokes two singles, two doubles, and a home run.
»February 23, 1995: Former National League MVP Kevin Mitchell signs with the Daiei Hawks of the Japanese League.
»August 1, 1996: The Red Sox put Jose Canseco on the DL for back surgery. With Kevin Mitchell and Canseco gone from the outfield, the Sox defense will improve and so will their record. But they lose today, 9–4, to the Royals, as Roger Clemens (4-11) is tagged for seven runs in six innings.
»August 31, 1996: Florida scores five runs in the top of the 1st inning to jump out to a quick lead over Cincinnati, but the Reds bounce back with seven runs in the 2nd, and don't look back. They score four more in the 5th, two in the 6th, six in the 7th, and three in the 8th to defeat the Marlins, 22-8. Kevin Mitchell leads the way with six runs batted in for the Reds.
»September 18, 1996:
Cincinnati OF Kevin Mitchell is suspended by the Reds for the final 13 games of the season. After receiving permission to stay behind in San Diego on an off day, Mitchell did not show up in Pittsburgh, as expected, yesterday or today, precipitating the suspension.
»June 2, 1997:
The Indians waive Kevin Mitchell. The veteran was involved in a fight with Chad Curtis on May 20th that injured Curtis' thumb and put him on the 15-day DL. The Yanks will acquire Curtis in a week.