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Bob Abreu

Date of birth : 1974-03-11
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Aragua, Venezuela
Nationality : Venezuelan
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-10-13

Bob Kelly Abreu was born on March 11, 1974, in Aragua, Venezuela. His parents, Agueda and Nelson, would welcome three more boys into the world: Denny, Nielsen and Nelson Jr. A pair of girls rounded out the family.

Bobby grew up in northern Venezuela—a part of the country where jungles, beaches and flat plains come together. Money was often tight in the Abreu household. In fact, Bobby worked at a fruit stand as a boy to earn money for the family.

Aragua is a town where baseball and soccer are played with great skill and incredible passion. Bobby and his brothers were no excpetions. Indeed, baseball became the focus of their lives . When they weren’t out playing, they were inside listening to games on the radio or watching them on TV. Nelson knew something about every player. He worked our regularly with his sons until he lost the use of his legs in a car accident.

The Abreu boys all excelled in stickball and later graduated to baseball. Bobby started as a second baseman, emulating his favorite player, Roberto Alomar. Soon, however, it became apparent that his best position was in the outfield. There his speed, instincts, and cannon-like arm would be put to most advantageous use.

Bobby learned the game from his father, who was a baseball fanatic. Nelson played some himself and was also a devoted fan of Venezuela's winter leagues. In fact, Bobby’s middle name came from Pat Kelly, who spent many off-seasons in South America. The one-time All-Star impressed Nelson with his speed and defensive ability.

No team in the majors was more connected to Venezuela than the Houston Astros. After scouting Bobby locally, they came to the Abreu home with an offer just after his 16th birthday. He looked to his father for guidance. “Here’s your chance,” Nelson said. “Take it.”

Two years later, Nelson decided to undergo an operation to restore his mobility. He traveled to Havana, Cuba for the procedure, but the family could not afford to send someone with him. They learned by phone that he died on the operating table. Grief stricken, Bobby considered giving up baseball before deciding to move on with his career.

Bobby's first taste of professional ball came in 1990 at the Astros’ Venezuelan academy. After a year of polishing his skills there, he joined Houston's rookie-level squad in the Gulf Coast League. He knew three words of English when he stepped off the plane in Florida—Hi, Goodbye, and Toilet.

ON THE RISE


With Kissimmee, Bobby hit .301 in 56 games and stole 10 bases. He also gunned down 13 runners to lead the league. He more than held his own against older, higher-ranked prospects like Jimmy Gonzalez, Buck McNabb, and Shawn Livsey.

The following year, Bobby played his first full season of minor-league ball with the Class-A Asheville Tourists of the Sally League. He batted .292 and showed excellent plate discipline for a player who had just turned 18. The club’s star was Gary Mota, but Bobby was rated just behind him as a prospect by league managers.

In 1993, Bobby took another step forward with Osceola of the Florida State League. He batted .283 and began to show gap power with 21 doubles and a league-record 17 triples. He also reached double figures in outfield assists for the third year in a row. After the campaign, Bobby had rotator cuff surgery done on his right shoulder, which had periodically given him problems.

The Astros were not overly concerned about Bobby's injury. It seemed to diminish his arm strength somewhat but didn't hurt his throwing accuracy. Besides, he had the smoothest, prettiest swing in the organization. That easy stroke would be his ticket to the majors. Indeed, Bobby was creeping up the talent charts other teams were keeping on the Astros. Among the converts was Ed Wade of the Phillies, who was bowled over by the 19-year-old when he was scouting the Houston system.

Bobby’s power surge continued in 1994, when he belted 16 homers for Class-AA Jackson of the Texas League and led the circuit with a .530 slugging average. He spent the entire 1995 season at Class-AAA Tucson, where he was the Toros’ youngest player and their best all-around hitter. Bobby batted .304 with 51 extra-base hits and 75 RBIs. Despite his impressive numbers, there was no thought of promoting him during the season. Bobby was still a raw talent. He also struck out 120 times and was caugth stealing 14 times.

The Astros watched Bobby closely as he began his second stint in Tucson in 1996. After another solid season, he got the call to the big club when rosters expanded in September. Bobby started four games in the outfield down the stretch and collected his first major-league hit off Bobby Jones of the New York Mets. That winter, he tore it up in the Caribbean World Series, leading all batters with a .588 average.

Bobby stayed hot through the follolwing spring and made the Astros for the 1997 campaign. He was in right field on Opening Day and hit safely in his first nine games. Bobby launched his first two homers against the Colorado Rockies in an April game, but he slumped badly after that. A few weeks later, he landed on the DL with a broken hamate bone.

Bobby spent most of the summer rehabbing in th minors. With the Astros were leading a weak National League Central, they recalled him in time to be eligible for the playoffs. He batted over .300 the rest of the way to finish the year at .250, with three homers in 59 games. He watched from the bench in the postseason as the Astros went down in three straight against the Atlanta Braves. Bobby pinch-hit in each contest and collected one hit.

The winter of 1997-98 was a busy one for baseball. Two new teams, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks, needed to stock their teams in the expansion draft. When Houston protected Richard Hidalgo instead of Bobby, the D-Rays grabbed him. The Astros justified the decision, claiming Bobby had taken a step backwards at bat and on the bases. In their opinion, he was fooled too often by breaking balls, and he had become a tentative baserunner despite the fact that the Astros had given him a green light.

In retrospect, the criticisms of Houston's brass could not have been more off the mark. Amazingly, however, Tampa Bay didn’t know what it had in Bobby, either. When the Phillies offered shortstop Kevin Stocker, the D-Rays sent their new outfielder packing. Wade was the man who pushed the deal through, convincing GM Lee Thomas that Bobby was easily worth Stocker, who became expendable after Desi Relaford was ready to take over at short.

The 1998 Phillies were a team in transition. World Series hero Curt Schilling was still the stud of the rotation, but the rest of the staff was thin. Meanwhile, a new group of young stars—led by Scott Rolen, Rico Brogna and Doug Glanville—was stepping up on offense. With limited options at his disposal, manager Terry Francona did his best in guiding Philly to a third-place finish in the NL East.

Bobby was one of Francona's bright spots. He rediscovered his picturesque stroke and led the team's regulars with a .312 average. A dependable clutch hitter from the sixth spot in the order, Bobby flashed emerging power with 17 homers and showed good patience with men on base. He also stole 19 bases and established himself as one of the league’s best right fielders, gunning down 17 runners.

The 1999 season was another so-so one for the Phillies. Bobby, by contrast, had a great year. He killed righties all season and finished third in the league with a .335 average and .446 on-base percentage. Bobby’s approach was simple. Against lefties, he drilled balls to left and center. Against righties, he turned on pitches and drove them with authority, batting .348 and smashing 20 home runs. Bobby also swiped 27 bases, and his 11 triples tied for the NL lead.

Bobby put up his numbers despite a bothersome right elbow. After the season, doctors looked at it and recommended surgery. He was ready for spring training.

As Bobby’s game surged upward, the Phillies continued to go south. They lost 97 games in 2000, which prompted a fire sale over the summer, including a deal that sent Schilling to Arizona. His departure left Bobby as Philly's top star. Accordingly, he saw fewer and fewer good pitches at the plate—opponents wouldn't let Bobby beat them. Still, he managed to hit .316 with 42 doubles, 10 triples and 25 home runs. He also drew 100 walks and displayed a little power against lefthanders. When Francona asked Bobby to fill the club’s leadoff role for a few weeks late in the year, he was superb. But friction with the normally laidback manager and the strain of losing made the '00 campaign a disappointing year for Bobby.

High-strung Larry Bowa was hired to manage the Phillies in 2001, and the team responded with a good year, winning 86 games and finishing just behind the Braves in the NL East. That might have changed had the offense been more dependable. While the team got surprising pitching performances from journeymen Robert Person, Omar Daal, Rheal Cormier and Jose Mesa, the hitters didn't produce in the clutch. Bobby, however, did his part. Though his average dipped below .300, he became the first 30-30 player in team history. he also drove in 100 runs and scored 118.

The promise of 2001 turned to disappointment in 2002. Rolen, no fan of Bowa’s in-your-face style, left for St. Louis. The Phillies, in turn, started slowly. They played better as the season wore on but were never a threat to make the playoffs. Once again, Bobby had a monster year. He rapped out a career-high and league-leading 50 doubles and hit .318, which made up for a dip in homers and RBIs. He was also aces in the field.

Now established as a player who could be counted on year in and year out, Bobby was in position to name his price. The Phillies recognized this and inked him to a five-year extension at $64 million. With that payday, the pressure intensified on him to lead the club out of the doldrums and challenge for the division crown.

Bobby would have help from new acquisitions Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood, both of whom came through with solid years in 2003. Unfortunately, Pat Burrell did not. The young slugger—viewed by most Philadelphia fans as being superior to Bobby—was a disaster. His average sank to .209, creating a black hole in the middle of an otherwise strong lineup. The Phillies won 86 games, but they came nowhere near the Braves, who ended with 101 victories.

Though Bobby had another good year, he drew criticism for not evolving as a hitter. Those who saw a developing slugger were disappointed by his 20 homers. Those who saw a slashing batting champ were dismayed by his high strikeout total and his .274 first-half batting average.

Playing in cozy new Citizen Bank Ballpark and adding several impressive new arms, the 2004 Phillies seemed primed to finally make a move on the division leaders. But a rash of injuries gutted the pitching staff, and Bowa began to grate on the players’ nerves. The Braves and the Wild Card—both in Philly's crosshairs—disappeared in September, when the cantankerous skipper finally bid Philadelphia adieu.

MAKING HIS MARK


Bobby weathered the storm and had another fine year. He became the club’s first 30-40 player, hitting those power-speed numbers right on the nose. He was second in the league with 127 walks and third in stolen bases. In the field, Bobby was excellent again. The result was his first All-Star selection and his first Silver Slugger Award as the NL’s top-hitting right fielder.

Charlie Manuel took over a’s Phillys manager in 2005,. Once again, it seemed the club had all of the puzzle pieces in place. The pitching staff included starters Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla. The bullpen starred Ryan Madson and Billy Wagner. Mike Lieberthal, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Kenny Lofton made the Phillies strong up the middle, while Thome and Burrell joined Bobby in the heart of the lineup.

The season unfolded in some surprising ways. Thome ruined his elbow, draining the lineup of power, but rookie Ryan Howard stepped in to save the day. The Phillies were good, but so was everyone else in the NL East. Even the Washington Nationals played .500 ball. Despite adding Ugie Urbina down the stretch, the Phillies came up two games short, and the Braves somehow managed to win the division again. Even more frustrating, the Phillies missed the Wild Card by one victory.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the season was Bobby’s performance at the All-Star Game. During the Home Run Derby, he got in a groove and blasted 24 home runs in an awe-inspiring first round. He launched six more to reach the finals, where he out-homered Ivan Rodriguez, 11-5. In the space of less than two hours, Bobby had hit more home runs than he had during any one season.

The aftermath was predictable. Bobby’s head and swing were no longer in sync, and he couldn’t buy a home run. His final numbers were good but not great. Somewhat unfairly, his subpar second half was blamed for the Phillies’ 12th straight year without a playoff appearance.

The Philly funk continued into 2006, as the team struggled to win in April and was still below .500 at the All-Star break. GM Pat Gillick decided to dump salaries, and Bobby was put on the block. But a mere eight homers and an average in the .270s for the second straight year—combined with an eight-figure salary—deflated his market price. When Gillick could not get the Grade A prospects he wanted, he ended up shipping Bobby and Lidle to New York on July 31 for mid-level minor leaguers.

Yankee fans could barely believe their windfall. With right fielder Gary Sheffield on the shelf and Hideki Matsui also injured, Bobby was the middle-of-the-lineup hitter the team needed. Bowa, now a coach with New York, vouched for Bobby’s character and hard play. The newest Yankee began winning over the fans from the start.

Overall, Bobby batted .330 for the Yankees, with seven homers and 10 stolen bases. In a nail-in-the-coffin series with the Boston Red Sox, he went 10-for-20. In New York's postseason loss to the Tigers, he was one of the few pinstripers to hit Detroit pitching, going 5-for-15 with four RBIs. His totals for the year were .297 with 41 doubles, 15 homers and 107 RBIs.

Newcomers to the Bronx often take a while to connect with fans. Some never do. But Yankee fans appreciated Bobby from the get-go. In fact, many stood and cheered him in his first game when he drew a walk after a nine-pitch at-bat. In the now-distant days of the team’s World Series dynasty, these were the girtty little things that won championships. Fans breathed a sigh of relief when the team inked Bobby to an extension, guaranteeing he would be in pinstripes past 2007.

The Yankees made the playoffs again in ’07, but for the first time in 10 years they did not win the division. That honor went to the Red Sox, who were two games better with 96 wins. Bobby started slowly but picked up the pace. By the end of the year, he had scored a career-best 123 runs—good for second in the league. He batted .283 with 40 doubles, 16 homers and 101 RBIs, and also swiped 25 bases in 33 attempts. After the season, he garnered enough MVP votes to finish among the Top 20 in the balloting.

In the postseason, the Yankees fell short of the pennant again, this time falling to the Cleveland Indians in the division series. Bobby had a productive series, but New York lost in five games.

The team’s tumble continued in 2008, as the Yankees missed the playoffs entirely. Statistically, Bobby was not part of the problem. He led the club in at-bats, hits and doubles. He scored and knocked in exactly 100 runs and reached the 20-homer plateau while batting .296. But like almost every Yankee, he was the target of criticism in this lost season. Fans were frustrated by his reluctance to go after balls aggressively when he was near the right field wall. He was also cut down stealing 11 times. Although Bobby remained a productive and valuable hitter, by the time the off-season rolled around, there was little sentiment in the Bronx to re-sign him.

New York’s loss was Anaheim’s gain. The Angels inked Bobby to a bargain-basement $5 million one-year deal over the winter. He would be asked to play both corner outfield spots. In July of that year, Bobby was baseball’s hottest hitter and earned recognition as the American League Player of the Month. Meanwhile, Bobby was having great success tutoring the team’s younger players, always preaching patience at the plate. With the veteran embracing his leadership role, Anaheim won its third straight division title.

Bobby’s final numbers for 2009 were solid as usual: 15 homers, 103 RBIs, 30 steals and a .293 average. He finished 12th in the MVP voting. In the Division Series against the Red Sox, Bobby tortured Boston pitching, collecting five hits and four walks in 13 trips to the plate. He was one of the stars in the team’s shocking three-game sweep. It was the first time the Angels had ever defeated the Bosox in a postseason meeting.

Anaheim’s great run ended against the Yankees in the ALCS. New York simply had too much for the Angels, beating them in six games. The Yankees had good luck against Bobby, who seemed uncharacteristically overanxious at times.

After the series, the team offered Bobby a two-year contract for $16 million. He turned it down to test the free agent waters. Later, he changed his mind when the Angels bumped their offer up to $18 million.

Some fans are surprised that Bobby keeps going and going, seemingly unaffected by advancing age. Others feel he can be a valuable contributor indefinitely. In this regard, the numbers don’t lie. He does so many things so well that it is hard to imagine a big-league manager sitting him for more than a brief rest. Indeed, Bobby is a gamer in truest sense of the word. His five tools may not be quite as sharp anymore, but there are few players in the majors more reliable.

BOBBY THE PLAYER


Bobby is a unique ballplayer in many respects. No one makes pitchers work harder, and few players have his lovely, compact stroke. Yet he also swings through an astonishing number of pitches, many right down the pipe.

Bobby looks to drive pitches from righties and has the power to hit home runs, but more often the result is a line drive. Even he cannot explain his failure to elevate certain pitches. Against lefties, Bobby takes what they give him, often hitting the other way.

In the field, Bobby moves well and take a good line to the ball. He does not have the arm he once did, but runners still respect him. On the basepaths, Bobby has good instincts and speed, even as he has become stockier in his 30s. His pop-up slide looks good, but it might cost him a few out calls from umpires on bang-bang plays.

Bobby is unusually productive between at-bats. He studies pitchers from the dugout, and if someone is tipping pitches, he’ll usually spot it before anyone else on the bench, including the coaches.

Extra


# Bobby led the NL in batting average with runners in scoring position in 1998, his first full major-league season.
# Bobby’s .335 average in 1999 was the highest by a Phillie since Tony Gonzalez hit .339 in 1967.
# Bobby hit triple digits in doubles, triples and walks in 1999 and 2000. The only other NL player to do this was Neifi Perez.
# In 2000, Bobby became the first Philadelphia outfielder with back-to-back 20 homer seasonssince Greg Luzinski.
# In 2001, Bobby became the first Phillie since Sherry Magee in 1910 to steal 30 bases and knock in 100 runs in the same year.
# In 2004, Bobby became the first Phillie since Ed Delehanty in 1895 with 40 doubles and 40 steals in the same season.
# Bobby led the majors with 124 walks in 2006.
# In 2006, Bobby drew at least 100 walks for the eighth year in a row. He joined Mel Ott, Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell on this list,
# Bobby was ninth among AL hitters in times on base each season from 2007 to 2009.
# Bobby had a six-RBI day against Javier Vazquez and the White Sox in 2008.
# In 2009, Bobby batted .380 with 28 RBIs in 26 July games. The last Angel to reach those numbers was Tim Salmon in 1997.
# In 2009, Bobby joined an elite group of major leaguers with 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, 1,000 runs batted in, 1,000 walks, 300 stolen bases and 250 homers. The five other players in this club are Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Craig Biggio and Barry Bonds.
# Bobby swiped the final base in old Yankee Stadium before it was demolished.
# Bobby and Hall of Famers Ed Delehanty and Chuck Klein are the only Phillies to hit 50 doubles in a season.
# Bobby makes pitchers work to get him out. Every season, he finishes among the leaders in pitches seen.
# Bobby was the first Venezuelan player to join the 30-30 club.
# Bobby hit the first home run at Citizens Bank Park.
Bobby and Von Hayes are the only Phillies to knock in five runs in one inning.
# Bobby is the first player not named Bonds to have seven straight 20-20 seasons.
# Bobby is unmarried. He has one child, a daughter named Paola.
# All four Abreu brothers played professional baseball, but Bobby was the only one to make it to the majors. Dennis played with the Cubs, Nielsen with the Phillies, and Nelson with independent teams in the minors.
# Bobby is so beloved in Venezuela that he often causes stampedes when he is spotted in public. He must travel with bodyguards because of the country’s kidnapping problem.
# Bobby purchased huge blocks of seats for Friday night games with the Phillies for "Abreu’s Amigos." The kids received free jerseys and got to meet with Bobby during batting practice.
# Bobby’s best friend in baseball is fellow Venezuelan Ugueth Urbina.
# Bobby plays Santa Claus every Christmas in Venezuela, handing out presents to sick children.
# Bobby is the godfather of ex-eammate Tomas Perez’s son.
# Bobby once dated 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado.


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