Shawn Green (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Shawn Green

This article was written by Douglas Jordan

Shawn Green (THE TOPPS COMPANY)As of 2021, Baseball-Reference reports that there have been over 232,000 professional baseball games played since the establishment of the National League in 1876. Therefore, it is a significant accomplishment to be the sole holder of any single-game record. Shawn Green is one of the few players with that distinction.

Playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 23, 2002, Green hit four home runs, a double, and a single at Miller Park – adding up to an unprecedented 19 total bases during one nine-inning game.1 Approaching what he knew would be his last at-bat that day after collecting three homers and 15 total bases in his first five plate appearances, Green recalled, “There’d be no backing down this at-bat; I had a once in a lifetime shot at history.”2 In spite of the pressure, he launched the third pitch he saw over the wall in right-center field. This shot tied the record of four home runs in a game and set a new mark for total bases.

Over parts of 15 seasons (1993-2007) with four teams, Green produced 328 homers and 2,003 hits, including single-season highs of 49 and 190, respectively. Green is one of just eight players to have a season (2001) with more than 45 home runs, more than 20 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 150 or greater.3 The 6-foot-4 lefty swinger and thrower finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times, appeared in two All-Star Games, and won a Gold Glove for his defense in right field. He was arguably baseball’s most outstanding Jewish star since Sandy Koufax. Green finished his career with just three fewer home runs than Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.

Shawn David Green was born November 10, 1972, in Des Plaines, Illinois. His parents, Ira Jay Green and the former Judith Lynn Schneider, were both from Chicago.4 The Jewish family didn’t have a traditional-sounding Semitic last name because Ira’s father abbreviated the surname Greenberg for “business reasons.”5 Ira played sports as a youth, including three seasons of basketball at DePaul before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1966. Ira married Judy in 1968, and Shawn’s only sibling, Lisa, was born two years later. Ira’s job selling medical supplies for Johnson & Johnson forced the family to move to New Jersey when Shawn was about five years old. Later, the family moved across the country to San Jose before settling in the Southern California town of Tustin in 1985.6 There, Ira coached high school baseball and set up The Baseball Academy to work one-on-one with players to improve their game. Graduates of Ira’s academy include Shawn, Aaron Boone, and Freddie Freeman.

Shawn excelled at both academics and baseball during his time at Tustin High School. He was proficient enough in both areas to be admitted to Stanford on a baseball scholarship.7 Green stole 30 bases in 30 games his junior year. His .479 batting average as a senior led to being chosen as the Times Orange County player of the year in 1991. He compiled 147 hits at Tustin – third highest in career high school hits in California.8

However, Green’s plans for college were altered when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him in the first round (16th overall) of the June 1991 draft and offered him $725,000.9 Green signed on September 25 – the first day of classes at Stanford. In addition to receiving the third-highest cash bonus in baseball history to that point, he was also permitted to attend two years of fall and spring courses at the Blue Jays’ expense.10

He made his professional baseball debut with the Blue Jays’ Dunedin affiliate in the advanced-A Florida State League in 1992. As the youngest player on the team, Green batted .273 in 114 games despite missing time with a broken left thumb.11

Following a promotion to the Double-A Southern League in 1993, Green broke his right thumb diving for a ball.12 He was limited to 99 games but hit .283 for the Knoxville Smokies. Green made his major-league debut on September 28, the night after Toronto clinched their third straight AL East title. He went 0-for-4 as the designated hitter in Milwaukee.

The highlight of Green’s minor-league career was a Triple-A International League batting title in 1994, when he hit .344 playing for the Syracuse Chiefs.13 His compact, left-handed stroke often evoked comparisons to John Olerud, Toronto’s American League batting champion the previous season. Bob Didier, who was Green’s manager in Syracuse, recalled, “He had the prettiest natural swing, and Mel Queen [then Toronto’s farm director] said, ‘If I see any of you guys mess with his swing, you’re fired.’”14

Opposing managers polled by Baseball America voted Green the circuit’s most exciting player, the best batting prospect, and owner of the best outfield arm.15 He also spent a month with the Blue Jays that season and collected his first big-league hit with an infield single against Mark Clark in Cleveland on June 13. That winter, Green appeared in 41 games for the Venezuelan League’s Cardenales de Lara and batted .306.16

Green made his first of 13 consecutive Opening Day starts in 1995. The left-handed batter platooned with righties Candy Maldonado and Mike Huff in right field. Green played in 121 of the Blue Jays’ 144 games that year (the season was shortened by a late start resulting from the continuation of the 1994 players’ strike into April 1995). He batted .288 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs. This performance earned him a fifth-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Marty Cordova.

In 1996 and 1997, Green posted similar statistics while continuing to split time with several right-handed hitters. By May 1997, he was very frustrated with the platoon situation and asked Toronto general manager Gord Ash to trade him. No deal materialized. After a disagreement with hitting coach Willie Upshaw, Green took out his frustrations on a batting tee. He continued to work off a tee for the rest of his career and credits those drills for his dramatic improvement as a hitter and his increased ability to deal with the pressures of being a major-league player. He thought of the tee sessions as his daily meditation.17

Green also said the tee work improved his focus at the plate and helped him to recognize when pitchers were tipping their pitches. He described how stars like Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, and Greg Maddux, among others, tipped pitches.18 Better pitch recognition, benefits from the tee work, and becoming an everyday player showed up in Green’s 1998 results: he played in 158 games and batted .278 with 35 home runs. By adding 35 stolen bases, Green became the first player in Blue Jays history to join the 30-30 Club. With 100 RBIs and 106 runs scored, he reached the century mark in each category for the first time. 19

Green met his future wife, Lindsay Bear, after the 1998 season. They got engaged in early 2001 and married that November.20 The couple has two daughters. Presley Taylor (born in December 2002) and Chandler Rose (born in August 2005).21

Green’s offensive performance continued to improve in 1999. In addition to posting career highs in batting (.309), hits (190), and runs scored (134), he enjoyed a personal-best 28-game hitting streak and led the American League with 361 total bases and 45 doubles. He also slammed 42 homers, collected 123 RBIs, and played in his first All-Star Game. His outstanding production earned him a Silver Slugger award and a ninth-place finish in AL MVP voting behind Texas’s Pudge Rodríguez. Green was also rewarded with a Gold Glove for hard work to improve his defense.

Green was set to become a free agent after the 2000 season, and the Blue Jays wanted to sign their new star to a long-term contract. But he needed to decide if he wanted to spend the prime of his career in Toronto. Complicating the decision was his growing awareness of the importance of his Jewish heritage. Although he had never been an observant Jew (he didn’t have a bar mitzvah and didn’t go to synagogue), the tremendous support he received from Toronto’s Jewish community convinced him that he wanted to play in a city with a large Jewish population.22 He concluded it was time to move on and told the Blue Jays that he would not sign a long-term deal.

The two obvious trade destinations to meet Green’s requirement were the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the Yankees had won three of the last four World Series, and Green wasn’t sure that he could add much to their ongoing juggernaut. He decided that he wanted to go home to southern California and instructed his agent to make a deal with the Dodgers.23 Trades involving superstars could be difficult to arrange, but the relationship between Raúl Mondesí and the Dodgers had deteriorated to the point that the right fielder wanted out of Los Angeles. This allowed the Blue Jays to trade Green and minor leaguer Jorge Nuñez to the Dodgers in exchange for Mondesí and Pedro Borbón Jr. Green received a six-year, $84-million contract from Los Angeles which made him the fifth highest-paid player in the game.24

Even though Green was happy to be back in his hometown, the size of the contract created high expectations for his performance, both externally and internally. He acknowledged that he did not handle the pressure well. Instead of focusing on the act of hitting during his first season with the Dodgers, he was focused on statistical goals and his offense suffered.25 Green played all 162 games and batted .269 with 24 long balls and 99 RBIs in 2000. Although these were not bad numbers for a player switching leagues, they were far short of his output the previous year.

That season did initiate a tradition for which Green became well known, tossing his batting gloves to a kid in the stands following a home run at Dodger Stadium. How did that ritual get started? Prior to an at-bat during a game in April, Green noticed that one of his batting gloves had a tear in it. But there wasn’t time to get a new pair before coming to the plate. He happened to homer and afterwards tossed the torn gloves into the stands. Legendary Dodger announcer Vin Scully noticed what Green had done and asked on the air if this was something that the new Dodger did after every home run. When Green heard what Scully had said, he thought it was a good idea, so it became a regular occurence.26

In November 2000, Green was invited to be part of a U.S. versus Japan All-Star series overseas. His former Blue Jays teammate, Carlos Delgado, was also on the U.S. team. Delgado gave Green some much-appreciated advice and sent him a batting trainer called the Dinger after the tour. Practicing with the Dinger forced Green to maintain proper balance and mindset, which allowed him to get his swing and mentality back where they had been before the trade.27

The positive impact became evident during the 2001 season. Although Green did not show outstanding power early on – hitting 11 homers through the end of May – he added nine in June, 10 in July, and 12 in August. Finishing the season with seven long balls in September, Green hit a career-high 49 home runs for the season – a single-season Dodgers record that still stands as of 2021.28 This tied him for fourth best in the league. He also batted .297, scored 121 runs, drove in 125, and stole 20 bases. After his second outstanding season, he finished sixth in NL MVP voting behind Barry Bonds, who went deep a record 73 times.

Green’s commitment to Judaism was also tested that year. Dodger icon Sandy Koufax had set a precedent by refusing to start the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday.29 In 2001, Yom Kippur fell on September 26, with the Dodgers trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks by 3½ games with only 10 to play. Complicating the situation, Green was then riding the longest streak of consecutive games played in baseball at 415, and he needed just two more home runs to reach 50 for the season. Deciding that he didn’t want a focus on statistics to become a problem again – and wanting to show respect for the customs of his heritage – Green sat the game out.30

Shawn Green hits 4 home runs in 2002 (COURTESY OF MLB.COM)In 2002, Green was batting just .230 with three homers through May 17 following an 0-for-15 start to a homestand. The same fanbase that was chanting “MVP, MVP” the previous season began booing him. Although he had been tinkering with his stride all season without success, he decided as a last resort to try no stride at all.31 Even he was astounded by what happened next. In seven games from May 21–27, Green went 17-for-32 (.531) with 10 home runs and 18 RBIs.

The blazing stretch included his 6-for-6 day with four homers and 19 total bases in Milwaukee. That day he hit an RBI double in the first inning followed by a three-run homer off Glendon Rusch in the second. He hit solo home runs off Brian Mallette in the fourth and fifth innings. Green led the eighth inning off with a single before victimizing José Cabrera with the history-making dinger in the ninth.

When athletes are playing this well, they are said to be in the zone. Of that experience, Green wrote, “Still, I was never in control of the zone. Rather it passed through me as it pleased. I was only its vehicle. Top athletes play a different game than others. They have a knack for being in the zone, whether they can explain it or not. That week in 2002, I was one of them.”32 Despite his humility, Green is minimizing his own contribution to the achievement. It was only the thousands of hours of work he’d done on his swing over many years that allowed him ever to be in the zone.

The zone came and went for Green over the rest of the season. His 12-homer June included a stretch of going deep in four consecutive at-bats (over two games). Between producing just three homers in July, and four in September, he smacked 10 in August. Overall, Green hit .285 with 114 RBIs and 42 round-trippers – the fifth best total (shared with Gil Hodges and Duke Snider) in Dodgers history. In NL MVP voting, he moved up to fifth place behind Bonds.

Although Green stroked a career-high 49 doubles in 2003, he produced only a dozen homers through the end of August. The boo birds were out in force at every home game. But what the public didn’t know, because Green did not want to use it as an excuse, was that he was playing with a shoulder injury that would require postseason surgery. A cortisone shot eased the pain enough for his power to return. He went deep seven times in the final 23 games to finish with a .280 batting average, 19 homers and 85 RBIs. The operation was a success, although the recovery caused a significant change to his usual off-season routine.33

The 2004 season brought Green a new challenge: the Dodgers asked him to move to first base to make room for offseason acquisition Juan Encarnación in right field. He agreed, but it was a difficult transition because he had to think carefully about what to do on every play.34 Green succeeded on defense, committing just five errors in 111 games at first for a .995 fielding percentage, comparing favorably with the league average of .993. Offensively, however, it took him a long time to fully recover from his shoulder surgery. Through the end of June, he was hitting .251 with nine homers and 34 RBIs, but he batted .279 with 19 home runs and 52 RBIs the rest of the way, production for a half-season that was similar to his best years.

Green also encountered a second Yom Kippur dilemma in 2004. Yet the problem was even trickier than in 2001 because two games fell on the holy day, which lasted from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. Both contests were against the rival San Francisco Giants, who trailed the Dodgers in the NL West by just 1½ games. Green decided to show respect to both his Jewish heritage and his teammates by playing on Friday night (his two-run homer led Los Angeles to a 3-2 victory) and sitting out on Saturday afternoon.35

The Dodgers hung on to win the NL West for the first time since 1995, finishing two games ahead of the Giants. In Green’s first taste of postseason play, Los Angeles lost the first two games of the NLDS to the Cardinals in St. Louis. Game Three at Dodger Stadium provided the setting for one of the highlights of Green’s career. His fourth-inning home run to center field off Matt Morris boosted L.A.’s lead to 3–0 and brought the crowd to its feet. After he took Morris deep again in the sixth to increase the Dodgers’ advantage to 4–0, Green allowed himself the only fist pump of his career as he rounded first base.36 The victory forced a Game Four the next day, but the Dodgers lost and were eliminated, three games to one.

The Dodgers’ first-year general manager, Paul DePodesta, had made a series of unexpected deals at the trading deadline despite his team being in first place. It was clear that DePodesta wanted to remake the team, and he asked Green to waive his no-trade clause after the 2004 season ended.37 Green agreed, and was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Dioner Navarro and three minor-leaguers. He had a good year for the D-backs in 2005. Although his power numbers were down (22 homers), he batted .286 with 37 doubles.

By August 22, 2006, the Diamondbacks were struggling to stay in contention while the New York Mets had a 13½-game NL East lead. The Mets wanted a veteran left-handed hitter to help them down the stretch, so Green agreed to waive his no-trade clause for the second time. He was traded to the Mets in exchange for Evan MacLane on August 22. The trade was a boon for Green in a couple of ways. He was reunited with a number of former teammates, including Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Orlando “El Duque” Hernández. And he was joining a team that was a serious World Series contender, offering a rare chance to win a championship ring.

As fate would have it, the Mets faced the Dodgers in the NLDS, so Green’s second exposure to post-season play came against his former team. Although he was held hitless in the first game, Green’s three-hit performance in Game Three included a single and a double off future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, both of which drove in runs as the Mets completed a sweep of the series with a 9–5 victory. Green caught the final out on a pop-up in foul territory and wrote, “Oh, my ego loved beating the team that traded me – that’s human. No sense in denying it.”38

Green had a good NLCS against St. Louis, playing all seven games and batting .304. But the heavily favored Mets (who had won 97 regular season games to the Cardinals’ 83) were upset by the eventual World Series champions.

In 2007, Green was a regular until August, when the Mets decided they wanted to give younger players more playing time. In 130 games, he finished with a .291 batting average, 30 doubles, 10 home runs, and 46 RBIs. Even though Green was only 34, he’d had 15 years of big-league battle experience. During a red-eye flight from L.A. back to New York that summer, he realized that the lure of watching his daughters grow up was stronger than his desire to continue playing. He decided to retire at the end of the season.39

Green finished his career with 1,951 games played, a batting average of .283, and a WAR of 34.7.40 He recorded 2,003 hits, 1,070 RBIs, 445 doubles and 328 home runs. Green’s overall offensive production compares favorably with the career totals of Reggie Smith, Derrek Lee, Fred Lynn, and Matt Holliday. Although his totals are not Hall of Fame worthy (he received only two votes when he appeared on the 2013 ballot), he significantly reduced his chances of enshrinement by choosing to forego additional potentially productive seasons for an early retirement.

Green has remained active in baseball. Usually, he attends spring training as a guest instructor for the Dodgers. In 2012, he was proud to be asked to play for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament.41 The Israeli team won their first two games before losing to Spain, costing them a chance to participate in the 2013 WBC. Green was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.42

Green turned a lifelong interest in technology into an entrepreneurial opportunity in 2014. That year he and his cousin, Daniel Kirschner, co-founded the social media company Greenfly. Green said that the company created an app that “is a way for a team or brand or league to collaborate on the creating and sharing of content with the community that is important to that organization.” He’s actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm.43 Among others, Greenfly clients include MLB and the French soccer powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.44

Green’s daughter Presley graduated from Newport Harbor High School in 2021 and plans to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara. Green and his wife Lindsay appeared on the television show Celebrity Family Feud on August 22, 2021.45

Last revised: January 4, 2022

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-reference.com.

 

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to SABR member Malcolm Allen. His careful review of the first draft of this biography and the numerous additions he suggested significantly improved the final product.

This biography was also reviewed by Rory Costello and fact-checked by Ray Danner.

 

Notes

1 Two other players (Josh Hamilton and Joe Adcock) have a game with 18 total bases, but Green is the only player to reach 19. Baseball Almanac, “MLB Total Bases Records.”

https://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/total_bases_records.shtml, (last accessed December 8, 2021).

2 Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011): 2.

3 MetsMerized Online, “MMO Exclusive: Two-Time All-Star, Shawn Green,” https://metsmerizedonline.com/2020/06/mmo-exclusive-two-time-all-star-shawn-green.html/, (last accessed November 29, 2021).

4 Michael Bamburger, “Promised Land Back Home and Richer by $84 Million, Shawn Green is Immersing Himself in two Traditions: Dodger Baseball and Judaism,” Sports Illustrated, December 13, 1999.

5 Steve Wulf, “The Bat Belongs to Shawn Green. The Mitzvah is his Breakout for the Blue Jays,” ESPN, July 10, 2012.

6 Wulf, “The Bat Belongs to Shawn Green. The Mitzvah is his Breakout for the Blue Jays.”

7 William Gildea, “An Heir Apparent Worthy of Hank Greenberg,” Washington Post, August 6, 1999.

8 Shawn Green, 1992 Topps baseball card.

9 Bamburger, “Promised Land Back Home and Richer by $84 Million, Shawn Green is Immersing Himself in two Traditions: Dodger Baseball and Judaism.”

10 Chris Foster, “Green Signs; Blue Jays Give Him $700,000 Bonus,” Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1991: C1.

11 Shawn Green, 1994 Collector’s Choice baseball card.

12 Green, 1994 Collector’s Choice baseball card.

13 Stats Crew, “1994 International League Leaders,” https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/leaders/l-IL/y-1994, (last accessed August 20, 2021).

14 Telephone interview, Bob Didier with Rory Costello, May 31, 2018.

15 Shawn Green, 1995 Select Certified baseball card.

16 Shawn Green’s Venezuelan League statistics from https://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=greesha001 (last accessed November 26, 2021).

17 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 3-10.

18 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 53-58.

19 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 69.

20 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 122.

21 IMDb, “Trivia, Shawn Green,” https://m.imdb.com/name/nm1684693/trivia (last accessed August 27, 2021)

22 Bamburger, “Promised Land Back Home and Richer by $84 Million, Shawn Green is Immersing Himself in two Traditions: Dodger Baseball and Judaism.”

23 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 79.

24 Jason Reid, “It’s on Their Shoulders,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2000.

25 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 86–95.

26 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 124.

27 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 105-118.

28 Los Angeles Dodgers, “Stats,” https://www.mlb.com/dodgers/stats/all-time-by-season (last accessed August 24, 2021).

29 John Rosengren, “Myth and Fact Part of Legacy from Sandy Koufax’s Yom Kippur Choice,” Sports Illustrated, September 23, 2015.

30 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 127.

31 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 134.

32 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 149.

33 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 153-162.

34 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 163.

35 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 167.

36 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 169.

37 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 174.

38 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 188.

39 Green, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph: 196.

40 According to Baseball-Reference, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a single number that provides the number of wins a player added to the team above what a replacement player would add.

41 Howard Megdal, “A Sad Ending for Team Israel and Mighty Shawn Green,” Politico, September 24, 2012.

42 IMDb, “Trivia, Shawn Green,” https://m.imdb.com/name/nm1684693/trivia (last accessed August 27, 2021).

43 The Game Plan blog, “Shawn Green – Pitching to VCs and Swinging for the Fences with Greenfly,” https://www.thegameplan.show/ep-9-shawn-green-pitching-to-vcs-and-swinging-for-the-fences-with-greenfly/#show-notes (last accessed August 30, 2021).

44 Joe Lemire, “After Baseball, Shawn Green Is Still in a Flow State,” SportTechie, April 16, 2020.

45 The Reality TV, “Who is Shawn Green from Celebrity Family Feud?” https://www.therealitytv.com/shawn-green/ (last accessed August 30, 2021).

Full Name

Shawn David Green

Born

November 10, 1972 at Des Plaines, IL (USA)

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