Toledo's Mike Hessman is in a tough spot. The slugging third baseman finds himself in a position to be celebrated as one of the game's most prolific sluggers, yet because he's banging out homer after homer in the Minor Leagues, some of the luster that would normally accompany his accomplishments just isn't there.
I enjoy baseball history. In particular, I've grown very attached to Minor League history, a fact to which anyone who has read the Cracked Bats series here on MiLB.com can attest. So when I was perusing some stats last week, it didn't take long to see that Hessman was doing something special in Toledo.
The former 15th-round pick by the Braves -- he was selected 452nd overall in 1996 -- smacked his 100th homer as a Mud Hen last week. He is far and away that franchise's career home run leader. I decided to dig a little deeper and see where he stood on the active home run list and was not surprised to learn that he had taken over the top spot in that category as well.
Hessman has hit 18 home runs this season as I write this, giving him 272 for his career -- one more than Fresno's Scott McClain, who has nine homers this season. McClain turned 36 on Monday and, frankly, who knows how much longer he'll be around. He's a journeyman slugger who has appeared in 30 Major League games over 19 seasons. Like Hessman, he could play a few more years in the Minor Leagues, but he doesn't have time on his side.
The same can't be said for Hessman, who turned 30 earlier this year. While Hessman's Major League resume -- 65 games, including 17 last year with Detroit -- isn't much more extensive than McClain's, he is six years younger. Based on the pace he's set so far in his career, there's a reasonable chance he'll hit his 300th homer this season and an even better chance that he'll become just the sixth player to hit 400 homers in the Minor Leagues before he puts his bat away for good.
Hector Espino is the all-time Minor League home run leader with 484. Andres Mora (444), Buzz Arlett (432), Nick Cullop (420) and Merv Connors (400) are the other members of the 400-homer club.
But these are unusual records to be discussing. Decades ago, many of the Minor Leagues, such as the Pacific Coast League, were considered to be professional leagues on par with the American and National Leagues. Therefore, holding such a record on these circuits was prestigious. Being that big fish in a smaller pond today doesn't resonate nearly as much with historians and fans.
"I had no idea about any of it," Hessman said. "I couldn't tell you how many homers I've hit or the statistics I have. When someone brings it up to me, it's news as well. It's a good and bad thing. It's good because you can put up numbers and bad because you're doing it in the Minor Leagues. I just have to continue to play hard and hope someone gives you a look.
"I don't even have an answer about the records, though. I don't know if I want the Minor League records. It's a constant reminder that I've been here for a while."
It was actually a tough discussion to have with Hessman because I honestly didn't want to make the guy feel bad. He's not Crash Davis and this isn't a movie. It's someone's life and career we're talking about here, regardless of whether I think it's a cool record to have. The fact that Hessman has been around as long as he has and done as well as he has is a testament to how good a ballplayer he is.
And for what it's worth, he's loved in Toledo. But no one will be forking over millions of dollars at an auction house for his 400th home run ball or the 485th, should he pass Espino.
"I'll probably look at the home runs a little more once I'm done playing," Hessman said. "Right now I don't look at the numbers and see where I stand. Obviously my main goal is to get back to and stick in the big leagues. When everything is said and done, I'll look back on it.
"I haven't thought at all about retiring. I'm going to play as long as I can, and that will be until they pretty much have to take the jersey off my back. I want to play every day. That's what I've done all my life."
Whether he gets the chance in Detroit again this season remains to be seen. The Tigers are stacked offensively and there really isn't room for Hessman on the roster. It's unclear whether he'll even re-sign with the Tigers after this season.
It's a tough situation, but Hessman is handling it with aplomb. If he does have to spend the next few years in Toledo or Albuquerque or Indianapolis or Charlotte, here's hoping he'll at least have a record to show for it.