It has not taken long for Washington baseball fans to experience the pain of seeing one of the home team's former prospects turn into a star with another organization. When Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jason Bay was named National League rookie of the year yesterday, it gave occasion to ask the perennial question: How did he get away?
Before Bay was a phenom who hit 26 homers, drove in 82 runs and batted .282 for the Pirates this season -- despite missing the first month of the season following shoulder surgery -- he was a Montreal Expos prospect, a 22nd-round draft pick in 2000 whom the team traded away in spring training of 2002.
Bay, 26, won the award in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, receiving 25 of a possible 32 first-place votes to defeat San Diego Padres shortstop Khalil Greene. Greene received the remaining seven first-place votes; Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka finished third. Bay, a native of Trail, B.C., is the first Canadian and the first Pirate to win the award.
"It means the world to me," Bay said in a conference call with reporters from Seattle, where he was married two days earlier to his college girlfriend, Kristen. "November 2004, especially the last two days, is something I'll never forget."
In the American League, Oakland Athletics shortstop Bobby Crosby was an overwhelming choice for rookie of the year with 27 of a possible 28 first-place votes. Chicago White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu received the other first-place vote and finished second in the voting, with Baltimore Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera finishing third.
Crosby, whose rapid development as a prospect led the A's to allow Miguel Tejada to walk away as a free agent after the 2003 season, performed admirably as Tejada's heir, hitting 22 homers and driving in 64 runs. However, his batting average of .239 was the lowest ever by a non-pitcher to have won the award.
"I really didn't put any pressure on myself at all," said Crosby. "I knew if I went and played like I did in . . . the minors, I would be successful. Replacing Miggy wasn't really on my mind."
While Crosby had a big-time pedigree -- he is the son of former major league infielder Ed Crosby, and was a first-round draft pick in 2001 -- Bay, as he admitted yesterday, "came out of nowhere."
After only a year and a half in the Expos' farm system, Bay was traded by then-general manager Omar Minaya to the New York Mets, along with pitcher Jim Serrano, for veteran shortstop Lou Collier. Collier, however, would amass only 11 at-bats with the Expos before being released.
At the time of the trade, the Expos, owned by Major League Baseball, were slated to be contracted, and Minaya had no qualms with giving up prospects for veterans who might keep the team competitive.
"We didn't think the team would exist the next season," Minaya said recently. "We had no future to build for."
Bay eventually was traded from the Mets to the San Diego Padres in July 2002, and from the Padres to the Pirates in August 2003 -- along with pitcher Oliver Perez for outfielder Brian Giles.
The Expos, of course, survived contraction and are set to move to Washington, where they are scheduled to begin play next April. They could sorely use a power-hitting right-handed outfielder such as Bay. But the Pirates are unlikely to make the same mistake as the organizations that traded him.
"I've bounced around," Bay said. "I've been traded here and there, so it's finally nice to have somewhere I can hopefully call home."