At the start of every season there is that one player who seems to set the baseball world on fire. You know, the player that fantasy baseball managers dream about as they scan the wires for that diamond in the rough. In 2006, the Detroit Tigers’ Chris Shelton was that guy, and it led to a remarkable two weeks of baseball.
Drafted by the Tigers in the Rule 5 Draft in 2003, Shelton barely played in his first year with the club. During the 2004 season, Shelton had just 46 at bats and hit a measly .196. The following season, Shelton had one of his best years as a professional. He appeared in 107 games for the Tigers while playing first base and batted .299. Shelton also cracked 18 home runs and 59 RBI as the Tigers finished up the season 71-91, dead last in the AL Central. Shelton showed signs of life in his one good year of his career, earning him a spot on the roster to begin the 2006 season after spring training.
“Big Red” as he was known to broadcasters Rod Allen and Mario Impemba, caught fire to start the 2006 season. In the final game of a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians, Shelton became the first player in MLB history to hit nine home runs in the first 13 games of a season. Through the first two weeks of the season, Shelton tore through starting pitchers and bullpen pitchers as he posted a .471 batting average with 17 RBI as the Tigers began the season 7-6.
Shelton had given Detroiters something to cheer about and pack the stadium to begin what looked to be a promising year for the team. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. For the rest of the season, Shelton managed to hit just seven more home runs as he finished the season with a .273 average, 16 home runs and 34 RBI. While he was a serviceable first baseman, he was not a good fit for the club and failed to make the 2007 Opening Day roster. Shelton went on to appear in just 50 more MLB games from 2007-2009 with the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners, and his chances to succeed were few and far between.
In somewhat of a romantic fashion, Chris Shelton rose to the ranks of the greatest hitter in baseball, albeit for just a few weeks. He dazzled fans with his long, sweeping swing, yet he angered them just as easily when he would strike out swinging. Whether it was his record-setting pace to begin the 2006 season or a glimpse of potential scouts saw in him, Shelton was given several more opportunities to succeed. After failed attempts in the Houston Astros and New York Mets farm systems, Shelton hung up his cleats for good after the 2010 season.
While he may have failed as an everyday player, Shelton brought fire to a team that needed it badly as he earned the title of the greatest hitter to begin a new season. As we look back on one of the greatest starts in a single season, we can only hope that the Tigers can start 2014 on the right foot just as Shelton did before his epic decline into the depths of baseball history.