Hammering the Ball After some rocky seasons, Colorado's Jeffrey Hammonds hits his stride

August 13, 2000

Jeffrey Hammonds has watched a lot of top-notch baseball. There
are 29-year-old major leaguers who have played more (Hammonds, a
Rockies outfielder, averaged 80 games for seven years before this
one and has never had 400 at bats in a season), but, thanks to
eight trips to the disabled list in his career and a perpetual
role as a fourth outfielder when healthy, few with his talent
have had as much time to sit in major league dugouts and take
mental notes. "There isn't a facet of this game that I haven't
had a teammate excel at--Cal Ripken Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Greg
Vaughn, Barry Larkin, Eric Davis," says Hammonds, who started his
career with the Orioles, was dealt to the Reds and then traded
with righthander Stan Belinda to the Rockies for outfielder Dante
Bichette after last season. "It's been a learning experience even
when I wasn't playing."

Hammonds--known as Hammer in the Colorado clubhouse--is finally off
the bench, and his years as an observer are paying off. Through
Sunday he ranked third in the National League with a .365 batting
average and eighth with a .424 on-base percentage, and had
already set a career high with 85 RBIs. He also had 18 home runs
and had developed into one of the most dependable clutch hitters
on the league's highest-scoring team, leading the league in
batting average after the sixth inning (.421). Seven years after
he broke into the majors, it's finally Hammer Time.

The baseball world has been waiting for this since 1992, when
Baltimore made Hammonds, an All-America at Stanford, the fourth
pick overall in the draft, and scouts tossed around comparisons
to Rickey Henderson before Hammonds had seen a big league pitch.
Rushed to the majors after only 60 minor league games, Hammonds
slogged through six maddening seasons with the Orioles, visiting
the disabled list in five of them and hitting a combined .264.
When Baltimore sent him to the Reds during the '98 season, he was
backhanded on the way out the door by manager Ray Miller, who
called him brittle and unreliable. "That's when things turned
around for me," Hammonds says. "I had a broken hand when I got
traded, and there were no expectations."

Injury-free in Cincinnati last season but part of a glut of
outfielders, he was relegated to a backup role. Still, he hit 17
home runs in 262 at bats and didn't commit an error in 106 games,
a performance that intrigued the Rockies as they rebuilt their
roster last winter. Installing Hammonds as their starting
leftfielder appeared to backfire when he pulled his hamstring on
Opening Day and again landed on the DL. Since returning on April
22, however, he had missed just seven games and had gone hitless
in three straight games only once. "He uses the whole field, and
he's much stronger than I thought," says third base coach Rich

Last Friday, Hammonds prolonged a rally in an 8-1 win over the
Phillies by hustling down the first base line on a potential
double-play grounder, forcing pitcher Kent Bottenfield to make an
errant throw to second. "You can see why Hammer gets dinged
up--he's reckless," says Rockies manager Buddy Bell. "He plays
hard, and he's very intelligent. Add that to his abilities, and
it's quite a combination."