DeRosa was not a great player — he was worth 10.5 WAR in 16 years, basically all of it between 2006 and 2009 — but he was good enough to hang around for long enough to surprise Carson Cistulli, and one of the greatest Ivy Leaguers ever. He’s the kind of player who rarely gets written up when he retires. So I’m writing about him.
Mark DeRosa was a 7th round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves in 1996. That was a famously awful draft: the first six picks were Kris Benson, Travis Lee, Braden Looper, Billy Koch, John Patterson, and Seth Greisinger. The most successful player taken in the first round was Eric Chavez, whose career was greatly diminished by injuries; it says something that he was the least snakebit player taken in 1996.
DeRosa was the Braves’ eighth pick of the day, after their first-round bust A.J. Zapp and their supplementary round pick, Jason Marquis. (By WAR, the Braves’ most successful player from the 1996 draft was a draft-and-follow taken in the 53rd round, Marcus Giles.)
A Penn graduate, he’s one of the best Ivy Leaguers ever. Don’t laugh: in the early decades of the 20th century, two Columbia students became two of the best players ever, Eddie Collins and Lou Gehrig. Since then, the Ivy League has fallen on harder times, but DeRosa’s career still stacks up well against those of other graduates from Brown, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Princeton.
Only two Ivy League schools have produced multiple quality major leaguers in recent years: Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. Columbia, Brown, Cornell, and Harvard have not graduated a player of note in recent decades. Dartmouth’s best recent graduate was reliever Mike Remlinger, and Yale’s was Ron Darling. (Craig Breslow and Ryan Lavarnway both went to Yale, but it remains to be seen whether they will both be quality major leaguers.) Princeton has produced Chris Young the Pitcher, Will Venable, and recent Braves draftee David Hale. Penn produced Doug Glanville and Mark DeRosa.
DeRosa was also his college’s starting quarterback. Successful college quarterbacks rarely become successful major league hitters. It’s easy to remember notable failures like Drew Henson and notable successes like Todd Helton, but a list of quarterbacks drafted by major league teams compiled by Baseball America’s Conor Glassey in 2012 shows just how rare pro success has been for these players. Charlie Ward was a Heisman Award winner who became a pretty good NBA point guard. Mark DeRosa was a pretty good Division 1 quarterback who became a decent hitter. There aren’t many athletes who have been able to do that.
DeRosa’s 16-year career included a lot of false starts and part-time work. He only played 1241 games and collected 4094 plate appearances in 16 years. He got his first cup of coffee with the Braves in 1998, but didn’t collect his 50th major league at-bat until 2001. The Braves handed him the starting third base job in 2004, replacing Vinny Castilla (who had displaced Chipper Jones to left field), but he hit .223/.276/.317 through the Braves’ first 60 games, and they gave the job back to Chipper Jones, who held it until his 2012 retirement.
DeRosa moved to the bench, got non-tended in the offseason, and signed with the Texas Rangers for $500,000. It was a terrific signing on their part. His power numbers bounced back in 2005, and in 2006 he had his first good all-around year, logging significant time at second base, third base, and right field, while hitting 13 homers with 40 doubles. It was his first of four years as a good player, and he had a chance to ply his trade in a number of different places. The Cubs signed him in 2006, then traded him to the Indians for Chris Archer in 2008, then the Indians traded him to the Cardinals for Chris Perez in 2009.
Injuries slowed DeRosa. He sustained DL stints in 2002, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, undergoing four surgeries (two on his wrist, one on his knee, and one listed as “general medical”) and missed a total of 541 days and 395 games.
DeRosa was a hell of a Division Series player. He made a total of six division series — the 2001-2003 Braves, 2007-2008 Cubs, and 2009 Cardinals — and went 19-53 with four walks, eight extra-base hits, and a 1.057 OPS. (He went 0-4 in four pinch-hit appearances in the NLCS.)
In his 16 years, DeRosa only had 400 plate appearances four times, in his four good seasons from 2006 to 2009. The rest of the time, he played far less. He was a part-time player who at his peak was good enough to hold down a starting job for a few years, thanks to a broad base of talents: defensive flexibility and just enough offensive potency to make his bat play wherever his team put him.
Mark DeRosa wasn’t a great player. But he was a good one for a long time.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.