Ex-Blue Jay Delgado used 500-HR chase as motivation during injury rehab

The Toronto Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado, right, and the New York Yankees' Jorge Posada watch Delgado's second home run of the night in the third inning at New York's Yankee Stadium on Thursday, May 22, 2003. (Bernie Nunez/AP)

Early in the 2009 season, Carlos Delgado slid into third base and arose with a sore hip. It seemed innocuous at first, before snowballing into something much more serious.

On May 10, 2009, Delgado took his final MLB at-bat.

Of course, he didn’t know that at the time. But the hip soreness spiralled into a need for hip surgery. Then another. Then another.

In his late-30s, a comeback would be challenging. But he had his eyes on Cooperstown, so he used a nearby milestone as his carrot to keep going.

“When you have three surgeries in 18 months and you’re doing rehab, you need to find a goal,” Delgado said Saturday in an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “You need to have some motivation. To me, I was looking at 500 home runs as a realistic goal.”

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Only 27 players in MLB history are part of the 500 club. Delgado sat at 473 home runs when he got hurt.

As someone with 11 seasons of 30-plus home runs, it was reasonable to think he could achieve his goal even if he only returned for one more season (he also eyed 1,700 RBIs, which would’ve required at least two seasons, given that he had 1,512).

Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be. After two years of “non-stop” rehab, which included a five-game triple-A stint in 2010, Delgado officially retired in April of 2011.

“I would’ve loved to play another year or two, I’m not gonna lie to you,” Delgado said. “It would’ve been fantastic. But I understand that I did everything that I could. I tried…It was time.”

Despite his quiet exit from the game, Delgado made plenty of noise in his 17-year career (of which 12 were spent with the Toronto Blue Jays).

He won three Silver Slugger awards, was named to a pair of all-star teams and still holds Blue Jays records for OPS, slugging percentage, home runs, doubles, walks, runs and RBIs.

As for the Hall of Fame, Delgado was cast off the ballot after one year because he only received 3.8 per cent of the vote (the minimum to stay on is five per cent). As trivial as the 500-homer mark might be, he wonders how voters might’ve factored that in.

“This is my thinking: I played parts of 17 seasons, if I go another year and get 500 home runs and close to 1,700 RBIs, probably the conversation for the Hall of Fame would’ve been different,” Delgado said.

“Am I a better baseball player because I played another year and I got to 500 home runs and (close to) 1,700 RBIs? Hmm, maybe not. It’s just that sometimes longevity gives you an extra boost.”

Delgado said he’s at peace with how his career ended, though he hopes to gain Hall of Fame consideration from the Eras Committee, which reviews players who were previously overlooked on the ballot.

“I’m not gonna cry over spilled milk,” he said. “I enjoyed what I did. I tried to compete to the best of my ability for the time that I had the opportunity to. And I’m happy.”


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