Kimera Bartee (TRADING CARD DB)

Kimera Bartee

This article was written by Kevin Warneke - John Shorey

Kimera Bartee (TRADING CARD DB)Randy Smith had to figure out a way to compete against the likes of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in the coming 1996 season. The 32-year-old, newly hired general manager of the Detroit Tigers knew he couldn’t go after the same type of players that the big-market Yankees and Red Sox could sign. Instead, Smith searched for young players with overlooked skill sets to improve Detroit’s prospects. When the Minnesota Twins released Kimera Bartee after claiming him from the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft, the Tigers pounced. “It was game-changing, top-of-the-chart speed,” Smith said. “He (Bartee) created a lot of havoc when he was on the bases.”1

Bartee was a 23-year-old outfielder with only three years of professional baseball experience when he reported to Detroit’s spring-training camp in 1996. He quickly caught the attention of future Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell, who was beginning his final season with the Tigers that spring. “He could fly,” Trammell said. “I mean, he could fly.2

Bartee led Detroit in stolen bases that season and spent parts of six years (1996-2001) with the Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, and Colorado Rockies. After his playing days were complete, he became a coach, including four seasons in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit. He was still a Tigers coach when he died in 2021 at age 49.

Kimera Anotchi Bartee was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 21, 1972. He was the son of Jerry and Ramona Bartee, and he had three siblings: Khareth, Ramona, and Kambell. Baseball held a prominent position in the Bartee house. “You grow up in the Bartee house, your first love is baseball,” Jerry once joked, “or you don’t live in the Bartee house.”3

Jerry had been an all-city shortstop for Omaha Central High School. In 1966, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh round of the June amateur draft. Speed was also one of Jerry’s main attributes. He stole 25 bases and hit .267 for the Cedar Rapids Cardinals of the Midwest League in 1969, but he never advanced above Class A in five seasons. After his minor-league career ended, he returned to Omaha and became the head baseball coach at Creighton University from 1978-1980. He left that position to pursue a career with the Omaha Public Schools in various capacities, including assistant principal, principal, athletic director, and assistant superintendent. Ramona was also an OPS administrator.4

Growing up in an athletic environment, Kimera stood out. Kathy Trotter, his kindergarten teacher, said, “He was a nice, quiet young man who tended to his business and did excellent academic work. But even at the age of 5, when you put a baseball in his hand, he was no longer quiet; everything changed. He moved faster and threw the ball like a much-older child. I told him that if he kept throwing the ball like that he may end up as a professional baseball player.”5

Like his father, Kimera attended Omaha Central High School and starred on its baseball team, as a center fielder and second baseman. After batting .413 as a junior, he hit .500 the following season with 10 doubles, 32 stolen bases, three home runs, and 36 RBIs. He was named to the Omaha World-Herald All-Nebraska baseball team.6 During his 1990 senior season, he signed a letter-of-intent to play baseball for Creighton University, where he majored in marketing. On signing day, Bartee wore his father’s old Creighton jacket. “At first, I actually wanted to get out of town and grow up a little bit. But coach (Jim) Hendry and the players just turned me on to Creighton and showed me a whole new atmosphere that I never saw even though I grew up there.”7

Hendry, who later became the general manager of the Chicago Cubs, was the head baseball coach of the Creighton Bluejays. With a roster featuring five future big-leaguers – Bartee, Alan Benes, Scott Stahoviak, Mike Heathcott, and Dax Jones – in 1991, Creighton made its first (and, as of 2021, only) appearance in the College World Series, contested each summer in Omaha.. “[Bartee] was as fast a runner as I ever coached on any level, including my years in pro ball,” Hendry noted. “On the pro scale of 20-80, 80 being the highest number, I used to call him a 90 runner.” Along with the speed, Hendry also noted Bartee’s intangible qualities that stood out. “He was kind of a special guy. He was so well-raised by his parents, Jerry and Ramona. They raised him more importantly to be a great kid off the field and a really good player on the field.”8

Brian O’Connor was a relief pitcher on Creighton’s 1991 College World Series team.9 “[Bartee] is absolutely the fastest player that I played with or coached,” O’Connor recalled. “He worked incredibly hard. He had a demeanor about him that I feel like was in a pretty select group. He had a confident, calm presence.”10

After hitting .340 in spot duty as a freshman, Bartee struggled early in his sophomore year. A 4-for-33 slump left his batting average at .251. “I kept joking around with the guys and say, ‘Just wait until the conference tournament. I’ll come out of it,’” Bartee said.11 True to his word, he hit .500 with three RBIs in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to help the Bluejays achieve their third consecutive NCAA baseball tournament berth. Next, Bartee played for the Hyannis (Massachusetts) Mets in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the top summer circuit for college players.

Bartee showcased his speed by swiping 27 bases for the Bluejays during his 1993 junior season. In June, the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 14th round of the amateur draft. He signed and began his pro career with the Bluefield (West Virginia) Orioles of the rookie-level Appalachian League. In 66 games, Bartee batted .246 and stole 27 bases, leading the league in the latter category. His 59 runs scored tied for second overall, and he crossed the plate 32 times in one 31-game stretch.12

In 1994, Bartee was promoted to the Frederick (Maryland) Keys of the High-A Carolina League. In 130 games, he improved his batting average to .292, with 10 home runs and 44 stolen bases, ranking among the league’s top 10 in batting, hits, and runs scored. He topped the circuit’s outfielders in putouts.13 On May 15, Bartee made a leaping grab against the outfield fence to preserve the win for his team. He cut his arm and injured his ankle on the play, but later shared, “I said, ‘Don’t tell me about the wall, I’m going to catch this one.’ It was a do-or-die play.”14

Although Bartee led all Orioles minor-leaguers with 117 strikeouts, league managers polled by Baseball America voted him the Keys’ top prospect, ninth-best in the circuit overall, and the Carolina League’s best baserunner.15 That winter, Bartee played for the Perth Heat and went deep in five consecutive games.16 He was named the Australian Baseball League’s All-Star center fielder.17

Bartee began the 1995 season with the Rochester (New York) Red Wings in the Triple-A International League, but he was demoted to the Bowie (Maryland) Baysox of the Double-A Eastern League after just 13 games. In May, he broke his ring finger and hyperextended his wrist while attempting a catch. The injury sidelined him for nine weeks.18 Despite losing time, Bartee managed a .284 batting average with 22 stolen bases in 53 games. He returned to Rochester to finish the season and batted a team-high .364 (4-for-11) in the International League championship series.19

The Orioles had acquired former 20-game winner Scott Erickson from the Minnesota Twins in July for rookie pitcher Scott Klingenbeck and a player to be named. On September 19, the Twins acquired Bartee to complete the trade.20

After the season, the Twins did not put Bartee on their 40-man roster, which left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft. The Orioles snatched him back for $50,000, planning to bring him to the major leagues. However, the Orioles determined during spring training that Bartee wasn’t ready for the majors in 1996. After Baltimore put Bartee on waivers, Detroit – lacking overall team speed – claimed him on March 13. “We just don’t have players like that in our system,” saidSmith, Detroit’s general manager. “He’s not going to hit for power, and he doesn’t have the best arm, but he’s got some tools, and this was something we had to try.”21

Because Bartee was a Rule 5 pick, the Tigers had to keep him on their major-league roster for the entire season or offer him back to Minnesota for half of the $50,000 draft price. When Bartee made his major-league debut on April 3, 1996, as a defensive replacement in a 16-7 loss at Minnesota, he became the first black major-leaguer from Omaha since Bob Gibson.22 The original plan called for him to make a few spot starts, come in for defensive purposes, or pinch-run. By midseason, however, Bartee, who batted right-handed, was starting against all left-handed pitchers.23 Speed may never slump, but Bartee’s hitting did. After struggling early and barely hitting above the Mendoza line, Bartee started to hit his stride in June. In two weeks, he raised his average to a respectable .265. He recorded the first three-hit game of his career against the Yankees on June 8. He followed that with another three-hit game on June 22 against the Twins in which he also swiped two bases and scored twice. In July, he made ESPN SportsCenter with a leaping crash against the outfield wall to rob Chili Davis of the Angels of a home run.

After Detroit traded center fielder Chad Curtis to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31, Bartee started 43 of the club’s 55 remaining contests.

In August, Bartee hit his first MLB home run in Kansas City with 60 friends and family members in attendance. “It was the second pitch of the game,” said his brother, Khareth. “At first, we just thought he hit it pretty well. But then we saw the outfielder climbing the fence, and it was gone. We were all high-fiving each other and cheering. Kimera had a big smile when he rounded third base – he was really cheesin’ it then.”24

On May 27, when Bartee played in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City for the first time, he said it reminded him of childhood trips with his father. “Kansas City’s is the park you visited frequently when you’re a kid,” he said. “When they put me out there, I had to stop and look around. I looked up at the left-field bleachers where me and my dad would sit, up in the $4 or $5 general admission seats. We used to sit close to the visitor’s bullpen so we could heckle the pitchers. I looked up and thought, ‘I’m actually on the field!’”25

Bartee appeared in 110 games his rookie season. It was his speed that made the biggest impact, as he topped the Tigers with 20 stolen bases, and per Baseball-Reference, he led the American League center fielders with a 3.18 range factor (with 209 putouts and one assist in 594 innings). Bartee’s path to the majors after only three minor-league seasons took him by surprise. “I thought it was going to be a long process. I would see players in college, and they’d disappear for five or six years, then you see them sneak in on a major-league team,” he said. “I thank the Lord for this opportunity. I want to make the best of it.”26

That fall, Bartee played in the Arizona Fall League to enhance his major-league prospects by becoming a switch-hitter. In 1996, he had batted .378 in 82 at-bats against lefties, but just .178 in 135 at-bats against right-handers. Learning to switch-hit for the first time at the professional level was a daunting task, and Bartee understood the challenge. “It’s hard to learn to do something at 24 that I should have been learning at 12.”27 Detroit manager Buddy Bell thought Bartee could use his speed more effectively by switch-hitting. So Tigers hitting coach Larry Herndon went to work. “We went from ground zero,” Herndon said. “It was like teaching a youngster who had never picked up a bat how to hit.”28

Since the Tigers had fulfilled their Rule 5 obligation by keeping him on their major-league roster for an entire season, the plan was for him to return to the International League to begin 1997 with the Toledo Mud Hens.29

Bartee struggled with the switch-hitting experiment through the season. In 136 Triple-A games, he managed a .218 batting average. However, his speed and defense continued to excel. He led the International League in stolen bases (33), putouts by an outfielder (336), and total chances by an outfielder (341). In September, he appeared in 12 games for the parent club, making eight plate appearances and collecting one hit in five at-bats.

In 1998, Bartee bounced between Toledo and Detroit four times as he continued his attempt to master hitting from the left side. When interviewed during the season, Bartee said, “If you would have asked me a couple months ago if I thought this was a good idea, I would have said, ‘No.’ But things are coming around, and I’ve learned you have to go backward to move forward.”30 In 51 games for the Mud Hens, he raised his average to .247. But in 98 official at-bats for Detroit he hit .195. His struggles at the plate did not negatively impact his baserunning or his outfield play. In more than 230 plays in the outfield, he made just two errors, and he made appearances on ESPN SportsCenter highlights.31

Detroit Tigers manager Larry Parrish, who replaced Bell in late 1998, approached Bartee during spring training 1999. Their discussion addressed the idea of ending the two-year switch-hitting experiment. After hitting .175 as a left-handed hitter, Bartee decided to return to hitting solely from the right side. “I watched Tony Clark and Bip Roberts switch-hit,” Bartee said, “and I went all the way for it. But a couple weeks into the offseason, I started to evaluate the season and think about it. It made better sense to just hit from one side. I’m 26, and I’m at a point in my career where I have to make something happen. Hitting right-handed is the best way to do that.”32

Bartee once again spent the 1999 season on the shuttle between Triple-A Toledo and the Tigers. Hitting exclusively from the right side, he elevated his season batting average to .286 in 104 games at Toledo. But in 89 plate appearances for the Tigers, he mustered a .195 batting average.

After four years with the organization, the Tigers dealt Bartee to the Cincinnati Reds for a player to be named or cash in December.Bartee spent the 2000 season with Cincinnati’s Triple-A International League affiliate, the Louisville RiverBats. In 119 games, his batting average was .298, including eight home runs, 48 RBIs, and 28 stolen bases. That performance earned him a September call-up; he appeared in 11 games for the Reds and went 0-for-4.

The Reds released Bartee after the 2000 season. He signed a one-year contract with the Anaheim Angels. After his productive campaign with Louisville, Bartee looked to build on that with the Angels. A bulging disc in his back during spring training, however, put him on the 60-day disabled list. “I just aggravated it one off-day in spring training,” Bartee said. “I was doing some yard work at my house in Phoenix. I picked up a bag of weeds, and the next day I could hardly walk. It was a freak accident.”33

Although his injury delayed his quest to return to the majors, that summer included a silver lining. During an injury rehabilitation assignment to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (PCL) with the Salt Lake Stingers, Bartee returned to his hometown to take on the Omaha Golden Spikes at Rosenblatt Stadium – the first time he had played there since the College World Series 10 years earlier. “The coincidence of getting hurt and then happening to have a rehab here, that’s something from above,” said Bartee, who had nearly 70 friends and relatives in attendance. “I had relatives out there who had never seen me play live, just on TV. So, in a weird way it was a blessing.”34

A few weeks later, on July 13, Bartee was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Chone Figgins. In 12 games with the Rockies, he went hitless in 15 official at-bats. This stint with the Rockies would be his last appearance at the major-league level. He was designated for assignment in early August and completed the season with the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs.

Bartee signed a free-agent contract with the Chicago Cubs for 2002. Playing for the Iowa Cubs of the PCL, he batted .253 with 10 home runs, 64 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases in 133 games. His season was highlighted by two grand slams and a game-ending double play in which he threw out Lyle Overbay at home plate after snaring a fly ball hit to shallow center.35

Bartee extended his professional career by playing for the Long Island (New York) Ducks of the independent Atlantic League in 2003 and 2004. In the ’04 season, he hit .319, stole 30 bases, and led the team with 27 home runs. He helped lead the Ducks into the playoffs with a clutch home run on their way to their first league championship. Bartee retired after that season.

After deciding that his playing days were over, Bartee planned to return to school to earn his marketing degree. He contacted the Baltimore Orioles to inquire how to access $10,000 he had placed in a trust fund when he signed his first professional contract. To his surprise, he received a call the next day from the minor-league director of the Orioles. “He asked if I was still playing, and I said no,” Bartee said. “He asked if I wanted to play, and I said no. And then he asked if I wanted to coach, and I said no.” Bartee gave that last answer a little more thought, however, when he realized that a coaching position also came with insurance. He had a change of heart. “Honestly, true story, I had no intention of coaching when I got done playing.”36

In 2005, Bartee began his coaching career with Baltimore’s Delmarva (Maryland) Shorebirds team in the Class A South Atlantic League prior to assuming the duties of the minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008. In 2011, he took a one-year break from his regular duties and received his first opportunity to manage when he assumed the helm of Pittsburgh’s short-season, Class A New York-Penn League farm club, the State College (Pennsylvania) Spikes. In 2012, he returned to his coordinator role.

After the 2016 season, Bartee, while driving with his 17-year-old son, Amari, received an unexpected phone call from Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. Hurdle explained that he looked to build on the relationships Bartee had established with many of the Pirates’ young players when they were in the minor leagues. He was going back to “The Show”! “I looked at (Amari), he looked at me, and I said, ‘That’s not a phone call you get to hear every day.’”37

Bartee was the Pirates’ first-base coach from 2017-2019. One of the many minor-leaguers who had benefited from his guidance was Gift Ngoepe, who became the first African to play in the majors, in 2017. When Ngoepe reached first base after his first major-league hit, Bartee was the first to congratulate him. “It was hard to hold back those tears,” Bartee said. “I didn’t know what to say.”38

A managerial change in Pittsburgh at the end of the 2019 season resulted in Bartee moving on to the Phillies’ organization in 2020. In 2021, he returned to the Tigers as their minor-league base-running and outfield coordinator. However, due to a couple coaching positions that opened midseason, first-year manager A.J. Hinch turned to Bartee and named him interim first-base coach and later gave him the permanent job – a role he would never fill.39

Bartee, who was naturally shy, began his coaching stint with the Tigers by laying low. A couple weeks into spring training in 2021, Hinch called him into his office for a conversation. As a joke, Hinch introduced himself to Bartee as he made the point that he wanted his first-base coach to be more assertive. Bartee understood the joke and replied, “No, no, we’ve met. I stole a base off of you in the ‘90s.” Hinch, a former catcher, did some research and confirmed that Bartee had indeed stolen the base.40 “From the start of spring training last year, it was clear that ‘KB’ was the epitome of a player’s coach, having an uncanny ability to build deep connections with anyone from a rookie to a 10-year veteran. I was proud of his selflessness and adaptability when he quickly shifted to the Major League staff last season, and how excited he was about the bright future he had in both baseball and life,” Hinch said.41

Bartee and his fiancée, Terri Slide, were in Omaha visiting his parents prior to the Christmas holiday in 2021. The 49-year-old lost consciousness around 3 a.m. on December 21, 2021, and died from complications related to a large, undetected brain tumor.42 Bartee is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Omaha. He was survived by three children from a previous relationship: Andrew, Amari, and Taeja. The Detroit Tigers, Hinch eulogized, were “honored that he wore the English D until the very end.”43

 

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Mike Eisenbath and fact-checked by John Gregory.

 

Sources

In addition to sources cited in the Notes, the authors consulted www.baseball-reference.com

 

Notes

1 Jason Beck, “Teammates, colleagues remember Bartee,” MLB.com, December 23, 2021, https://www.mlb.com/news/teammates-colleagues-remember-kimera-bartee (accessed January 8, 2022).

2 Beck.

3 Steve Sinclair. “Central Baseball Standout Signs with Jays Bartee Follows Path to Creighton,” Omaha World-Herald, May 4, 1990: 27.

4 Dirk Chatelain, 24th & Glory (Omaha, Nebraska: Omaha World-Herald, 2019), 144.

5 Janice Gilmore, “Omaha native, a star on the field and in the classroom, earns major league coaching job,” Omaha World-Herald, November 17, 2016,

https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&t=pubname%3AOWHWE%21Omaha%2BWorld-Herald%253A%2BWeb%2BEdition%2BArticles%2B%2528NE%2529/year%3A2016%212016/mody%3A1117%21November%2B17&year=2016&format=text&docref=news/16291A97DEB0DF60, (accessed February 9, 2022).

6 Stu Pospisil, Omaha World-Herald prep writer, email communication with writer, January 18, 2022.

7 Sinclair.

8 Jim Hendry, telephone interview with author, January 12, 2022.

9 After graduating from Creighton University in 1993, O’Connor pursued a collegiate coaching career. He was an assistant baseball coach at his alma mater (1994-95) and Notre Dame University (1997-2003). In 2004 he assumed the head baseball coaching duties at the University of Virginia guiding the Cavaliers to their first CWS Championship in 2015.

10 Brian O’Connor, telephone interview with author, January 10, 2022.

11 Steve Pivovar, “Bartee Awakes to Find Stroke,” Omaha World-Herald, May 20, 1992: 23.

12 1996 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 45.

13 Kimera Bartee, 1995 SP Top Prospects baseball card.

14 Sam Gazdziak, “Obituary: Kimera Bartee (1972-2021),” RIP Baseball, December 24, 2021, https://ripbaseball.com/2021/12/24/obituary-kimera-bartee-1972-2021/ accessed, January 9, 2022).

15 1996 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 44.

16 Kimera Bartee, 1995 Bowman baseball card.

17 Kimera Bartee, 1995 Rochester Red Wings baseball card.

18 Cliff Brunt, “Earning Stripes with Tigers,” Omaha World-Herald, June 17, 1996: 15.

19 1996 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 44.

20 Brunt.

21 Patrick Zier, “Tigers Pick Up Former Oriole Bartee for His Speed, Defense,” Ledger (Lakeland, Florida). March 14, 1996: C8.

22 Chatelain, 24th & Glory: 170.

23 Brunt.

24 “Principals’ Son a Big-Leaguer,” Omaha World-Herald, December 19, 1996: 17.

25 Brunt.

26 Brunt.

27 Wayne Drehs, “Bartee Makes Switch to Stay in Majors,” Omaha World-Herald, June 12, 1998: 25.

28 Drehs.

29 “Principals’ Son a Big-Leaguer.”

30 Drehs.

31 Drehs.

32 “Bartee finished with switch-hitting trial,” The Associated Press. March 1, 1999, BC cycle. https://advance-lexis-com.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:3VXJ-K6P0-007D-K3TK-00000-00&context=1516831, accessed February 9, 2022.

33 Rob White, “Bartee Stays Patient as Back Injury Heals,” Omaha World-Herald, May 31, 2001: 31.

34 White.

35 “Cubs 6, Sidewinders 5,” Council Bluffs (Iowa) Nonpareil, May 10, 2002: 15.

36 Rich Kaipust, “Bartee manages to catch on with the big leagues,” Omaha World-Herald, November 8, 2017: 1C.

37 Kaipust.

38 “First African to Play in the Major Leagues Is a ‘Pinnacle’ for Baseball,” New York Times, May 8, 2017.

39 Evan Petzold, “Detroit Tigers finalize MLB coaching staff for 2022 season, keep the status quo,” Detroit Free Press, November 27, 2021, http://ct.moreover.com/?a=46424321921&p=33s&v=1&x=3WkXgAmOSYLXGGxcurYrPg, accessed February 9, 2022.

40 Dirk Chatelain, “Many gather to remember a gem on, off diamond,” Omaha World-Herald, December 30, 2021: C2.

41 Gazdziak.

42 Dirk Chatelain, “Bartee Remembered On, Off Diamond,” Omaha World-Herald, December 23, 2021: C1.

43 Chatelain, “Many gather to remember a gem on, off diamond.”

Full Name

Kimera Anotchi Bartee

Born

July 21, 1972 at Omaha, NE (USA)

Died

December 21, 2021 at Omaha, NE (USA)

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