Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Jack Cust a Modern Day Paul Bunyan by Casey Tefertiller

OAKLAND – The Legend of Jack Cust has oozed through baseball for a decade. By legend, he s a Bunyonesque figure of a man who hits mighty home runs, plays faulty defense and has never made his opportunities count when he had his major-league shots.

He has teased and frustrated for years, putting up big minor-league numbers but never finding a home in the majors. Summoned as an emergency replacement by the A’s, the big question becomes whether he is a player around which they wish to set their future. It is a gamble, but Billy Beane has never feared big gambles.

Casey Tefertiller is an award winning author as well as one of the most astute baseball writers in the country. Thanks Casey, great story, Marty

Click below for more!Through his minor-league years, became a favorite of the stats crowd because of his mammoth power numbers and high on-base percentages. He started with National League teams and was considered such a defensive liability that he was looked upon as mostly a DH prospect from early-on. There were stories circulated behind the scenes of how Cust ran circles around balls in the outfield, bungled and first base and seemed lost in the basepaths. For years, he has been one of the most discussed minor leaguers, with many pondering what would happen if he ever had the chance to hit every day in the majors.

He began with National League teams, a liability for a player branded as a DH-only. Arizona selected him out of high school in the first round of ’97, then he was traded to Colorado in 2002. He seemed to catch his big break with a trade to the Orioles in 2003, but he put up mundane numbers at Triple-A, hitting .285 with just 9 homers in 97 games and four homers in 27 games at the big-league level. These were not the numbers expected from a legend. The next year was even more unimpressive – 17 homers and .235 at Triple-A.

He was granted minor-league free agency after the season and signed with Oakland – seemingly the perfect place for him to show his skills. The year did not go particularly well at Sacramento – he hit .257 with 19 homers. These are not the numbers of a legend, rather those of a journeyman on the decline.

The once-bright image of Cust had faded. If he could not make it with the A’s, there seemed little left for him. What few realized was that he was playing hurt: in January of ’05 he had been diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel syndrome in both wrists, a problem even he did not realize was so severe. He tried to play through it with the Sacramento.

“There wasn’t a lot of pain, just weakness and numbness,” Cust says, holding out his hands to show nasty brown surgical scars in the palms. “I didn’t have much power. (Previously) I’d hit a lot of home runs to left and center field, but I couldn’t hit the ball out that way, so it caused me to try and pull everything.”

He had the surgery after the ’05 season and began regaining his power. He signed with the Padres for ’06 and hit 30 homers at Portland, then eight more in his first 24 games this year before moving to Oakland in the trade for a player to be named later.

At 28, the Cust that takes the field in Oakland is not some minor-league shocker from nowhere, rather he is a player finally fulfilling the promise that made him a first-round pick more than a decade earlier and made him the talk of baseball for years, when so many teams could only imagine his power potential.

The A’s are well aware that if this little summer sampling is prophecy for the future, they could have a hitter of Frank Thomas ability – younger and healthier – to hit in the middle of the lineup and inflict damage on pitchers. And, he is not eligible for free-agency until after the 2011 season.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Cust is no longer a disaster on defense. He can fill in as a corner outfielder at times, giving more maneuverability to manager Bob Geren.

“I played for 11 years, I should be doing the right things by now,” Cust said. “It seems like if I’d make a mistake in the outfield, it gets scrutinized a lot more because I have the reputation.”

This is why Beane’s decision on the DH for the present and future has become so difficult. Mike Piazza is a Hall-of-Famer in the making, but he is also at the end of his career. He hit only one home run during his month with the A’s, before the shoulder injury that sent him to the DL. And, swinging with a bad shoulder, would he be capable of generating the power the A’s need in the middle of the order? Piazza has handled the situation with absolute class and avoided problems.

Cust is a decade younger than Piazza, cheaper and far from free agency. After surviving long-term in the minors, he is grateful for the opportunity and cherishing his every moment in the majors. If he receives the opportunity to play regularly, the A’s will have the chance to evaluate whether Cust is real and a critical part of the future, or just sort of a one-shot wonder, providing a few thrills between minor-league assignments. If this is real, he will be a critical part of the future of the A’s both in Oakland and in Fremont.


There are no comments yet...

Kick things off by filling out the form below.

You must log in to post a comment.