Background image by HeongSoon from Pixabay
By Robert Dominguez
At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Andres Galarraga was an imposing figure on the diamond known as “The Big Cat” for his unexpected quickness and agility at first base.
But as good as he was with the glove, the Big Cat also swung a big bat. He was a lifetime .288 hitter over 19 seasons, smashing 399 homers and averaging 102 RBI a year.
A five-time All-Star, Galarraga played for six teams, including eight seasons with the Montreal Expos before signing with the expansion Colorado Rockies as a free agent in 1993, when he won his only batting title. He hit .370, the highest average for a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio’s .381 in 1939.
Galarraga also won a home run title in Colorado’s rarefied mountain air in 1996, when at 35 years old he enjoyed his finest season: 47 homers, 150 RBI, 190 hits and a .304 average.
On June 25, 1995 the Big Cat had the best game of his career. Playing against the San Diego Padres on the road, he connected for three home runs in three consecutive innings, only the fourth player to achieve that.
The Caracas, Venezuela, native also drove in a career-high seven runs, helping to turn a tight 2-1 lead into an 11-3 laugher.
Making Galarraga’s performance even more impressive is that the homer hat-trick came off three different pitchers. He broke the game open with his first dinger in the top of the sixth inning, a two-run shot, followed by another two-run blast in the seventh.
Facing former Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela in the eighth, Galarraga demolished a two-out pitch, sending it deep into Jack Murphy Stadium’s left-field stands for a three-run bomb.
He was on deck when the last out of the ninth was made, missing the chance for a record fourth homer in four innings.
As remarkable as that day was, Galarraga may be more admired for the way he came back from a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of lymphatic cancer, a few years later. He missed the entire 1999 season undergoing chemotherapy, then returned the following year and hit .302 with 28 HRs and 100 RBI to win the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Robert Dominguez is co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls.”