Al Pedrique: RBI Baseball mystery man

RBI Baseball was the first hugely popular baseball game to appear on the Nintendo NES. It featured real baseball teams who’d done well in 1986 and 1987 with actual player names, so kids could replay the 1986 and 1987 postseasons. It also featured two All-Star teams. The National League All Star team included a mystery man: Pedrique, a shortstop. His real life counterpart was Al Pedrique, who briefly played shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Today, if people remember Al Pedrique, it’s probably for his appearance in RBI Baseball.

Al Pedrique RBI Baseball
Al Pedrique’s 1988 Topps card billed him as a rising star. So he wasn’t as controversial of a choice to include in RBI Baseball in 1988 as he is today.

Al Pedrique made his debut in 1987, playing half a season for the Pirates. I remember him as a slick-fielding shortstop with a good throwing arm. The first time I saw him play, I was watching the Pirates play the Cubs on WGN. Someone hit a ground ball to short, and Pedrique made a nice play on it, including a rocket throw to first base.

“The Pirates are pretty excited to have Al Pedrique at short,” Cubs announcer Steve Stone said.

My dad and I turned to each other. “I’ll say!” Dad said. We were impressed too. We had no idea where he came from, but we both thought Pittsburgh had found a jewel.

Al Pedrique had a nice half-season. He hit .301 and played good defense. In an era when shortstops could hit .220 and hold down a starting job for 10 seasons, he stood out. He looked like a potential star at a time when the National League had one great shortstop and a lot of so-so ones. That’s why I think he ended up on the NL All-Star Team in RBI Baseball.

A curious choice

Al Pedrique RBI Baseball
RBI Baseball was the first Nintendo NES baseball game to include real players like Mike Schmidt… and Al Pedrique.

Of course, the 1987 Pirates had a number of promising young players. Bobby Bonilla, the third baseman, was one bright young star. Within a few years, he would be the highest-paid player in the game. They also had a guy named Barry Bonds playing left field. You might have heard of him. Sid Bream and Andy Van Slyke weren’t slouches either. But the Pirates’ representative on the RBI Baseball NL All-Star team was Al Pedrique.

Why Al Pedrique?

Tengen put players on the All Star rosters who weren’t on the other teams in the game. Ozzie Smith was the best NL shortstop in 1987, but he was on the Cardinals team in the game. Today the obvious choice would have been Barry Larkin, but Larkin’s 1987 statistics weren’t great. Larkin emerged just after RBI Baseball landed on store shelves. The other good choice would have been Hubie Brooks. So I understand why they chose Pedrique instead. Kids tend to gravitate toward newer, younger players. Brooks was a veteran playing on a small-market team. Why not include a young, exciting, up-and-coming shortstop on the National League roster? It was a gamble, but it could pay off big.

And besides, Tengen wasn’t the only company high on Al Pedrique. Topps named Pedrique to its 1987 all-rookie All-Star team. His 1988 Topps rookie card notes it in the lower right-hand corner.

The uphill climb for players like Al Pedrique

In 1987, when he won the job as the Pirates’ starting shorstop, Al Pedrique was 26 years old.

Some late-bloomer players make it. Ben Zobrist was 28 years old when he finally stuck in the majors. He made three All-Star teams and was the MVP of the 2016 World Series. He probably won’t be a Hall of Famer, but if you say he’s had a very nice career, it feels like an understatement. In 1987 we didn’t have Zobrist to compare him too, but that’s probably the kind of player the Pirates thought they found in Pedrique.

It’s relatively rare for 26-year-old rookies to go on to have long and illustrious careers. A more common and realistic upside for late-20s rookies is Mike Aviles or Rex Hudler. They ended up being useful part-time players for a decade or so, but not stars. Further down the ladder are players like Kevin Maas, who had a good half-season and stuck around for about five years but ended up spending most of it on the bench. And then we have other extremes like Bo Hart, who tore up the league for a half season and captured fans’ imagination, but faded out after one magical summer and spent less than two full seasons in the majors.

When they finally get a starting job they may go on a hot streak like Al Pedrique did. But after about a half season, the league tends to figure them out and adjust. If the player doesn’t adjust in turn, he’s in trouble. That’s why Al Pedrique turned into a Bo Hart-type player. If you remember players like Pedrique and Hart, you’re a pretty serious baseball fan.

The other problem, when we look at Al Pedrique’s statistics from a modern perspective, is that he hit .301 but didn’t draw a tremendous number of walks or get very many extra-base hits. He hit .301, but it was a fairly hollow .301. Al Pedrique’s .301 batting average looks better than Barry Larkin’s .244 average the same season. But Pedrique’s total contributions at the plate were about as hard to find as a .239 hitter. Larkin fared worse, contributing like a .226 hitter. But the gap between the two wasn’t nearly as great as the gap in their batting averages made it seem.

In 1987, according to WAR, Pedrique helped the Pirates win 1.4 more games than they would have if they’d just played some random last-guy-on-the-bench. Larkin helped the Reds win 1.2 more games. But in 1988, Larkin increased to 7, looking like the Hall of Famer he is. Pedrique regressed to last-guy-on-the-bench levels.

Al Pedrique’s rapid fall

In 1988, the league figured out how to keep Pedrique from hitting singles, so his batting average dropped to .180. Al Pedrique won the starting job because he could hit better than Rafael Belliard. When he stopped, the Pirates started playing Rafael Belliard and his .213 batting average.

At the end of the 1988 season, the Pirates released him. The Detroit Tigers signed him. Detroit had an outstanding shortstop in Alan Trammell, but not much at third base. If Pedrique could recapture 1987, maybe it would make sense to play him at third, or shift Trammell to third and play Pedrique at short.

But Al Pedrique didn’t have another 1987 in him. Detroit used him as a utility infielder, filling in at second, short, and third. He hit .203. RBI Baseball was still on retail shelves and selling well when Al Pedrique’s big-league career ended. He bounced around in the minors a few more years but never played in the majors again.

Al Pedrique went on to become a coach and a manager. He managed the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004. He currently manages the Yankees’ AAA minor league team. Struggling middle infielders like Pedrique often turn into good coaches and managers. But RBI Baseball remains Al Pedrique’s greatest claim to fame.

And about that Nintendo NES…

If you’re sick of putting cartridges in your Nintendo NES console and having it blink at you instead of playing the game, here are my tips for cleaning Nintendo NES consoles and games. The NES is very reliable once you clean it, but the cartridge connector design creates some well-known problems.

Also, if your AC adapter is missing or broken, there are plenty of acceptable substitutes. An AC adapter from a Sega Genesis works fine with the Nintendo NES. For that matter, any AC adapter that outputs 9 volts, AC or DC and 1 amp (1000 mA) or more whose jack fits will work. As a general rule, using random AC adapters is usually a no-no, but the Nintendo NES is unusually forgiving when it comes to power.

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