Former Cal baseball star Mark Canha has inked his name in the Oakland A’s record book.
Canha has been hit by a pitch more times — 60 and counting — than any player in Oakland franchise history. When he was plunked Sunday by Orioles left-hander Bruce Zimmerman, Canha eclipsed the A’s record of 59 held by Sal Bando, star third baseman of the three-time World Series champions from the 1970s.
“I’ve stuck around long enough to have a franchise record,” Canha told the Mercury News. “Maybe it’s not the franchise record I would have picked as a kid, but I’ll take it nonetheless.”
Canha went on to acknowledge his preference would be to own the A's home run record. With 76 to his name, he has a ways to go to equal Mark McGwire's Oakland mark of 363.
But Canha, 32, has exceeded every Oakland player in terms of being hit by a pitch. He's done it seven times in 28 games this season, on pace to threat his high-water mark of 18 in 2018.
A native of San Jose who played at Cal for three seasons through 2010, set the club record in fewer than 2,000 career plate appearances — less than one-third of Bando’s total with the franchise.
“I take pride in my ability to get on base,” Canha said, “and if that’s one way I can do it and help the team then I’m going to do it.”
Canha is no threat to challenge the major league career record of 287. That’s been owned for more than a century by Hughie Jennings, who played 18 seasons from 1891 through 1918, although he was a player-manager later in his career and rarely came to the plate.
A 5-foot-8, 165-pound shortstop, Jennings batted .312 for his career and hit just 18 home runs in 4,895 at-bats. He scored 992 runs, no doubt many of them after taking first base when he was plunked with a pitch.
And that happened a lot, especially during the prime seasons of his career. From 1894 through ’98, he was hit by a pitch 202 times in 649 games — nearly once every three games.
Jennings led the National League in HBPs all five of those seasons, including a still-major league record 51 in 1896 when he batted .401 (one of 20 players to ever hit .400) and had a robust on-base percentage of .472. He did that thanks to 209 hits, and in spite of drawing just 19 walks in 602 plate appearances.
He hit zero home runs, stole 70 bases and struck out just 11 times that magical 1896 season, numbers which would automatically disqualify him from playing modern major league baseball.
A slick-fielding shortstop, Jennings was regarded as fearless. Perhaps also foolish.
According to lore, he was hit in the head by a pitch from Amos Rusie in the third inning but finished the game. Afterward, he reportedly collapsed and was unconscious for three days.
Years earlier, while a student at Cornell, Jennings was said to have suffered a fractured skull when he dived into a swimming pool at night — unaware the pool had been drained.
Jennings, whose MLB coaching career ended after he suffered a nervous breakdown, was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 1945.
Craig Biggio proved you didn’t have to play in the 19th century to be a target of pitched baseballs. Facing no doubt much harder throwers than Jennings saw, Biggio was hit 285 times — just two shy of the record — in 20 seasons. He led the league five times, but never with more than 34 in a season.
Biggio also hit 291 home runs, collected 3,060 hits (and struck out 1,753 times) in a career that ended in 2007 and earned him Hall of Fame induction.
Other modern players adept at drawing HBPs include Don Baylor (267), Jason Kendall (254), Ron Hunt (243), Frank Robinson (198) and the late, legendary Minnie Minoso (192), who played his final game in 1980 at the age of 54.
Canha’s total of 60 HBPs does not even rank among the top 300 all-time.
Cover photo of Mark Canha being hit by a pitch last month against Detroit by Stan Szeto, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo