Brewers' steal of a deal

Since being claimed off waivers in 2002, Scott Podsednik has become one of the game's premier leadoff hitters.

Originally Published: April 22, 2004
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

The first 'd ' in his name is silent, the first spot in the batting order is anything but for the Milwaukee Brewers. It belongs to center fielder Scott Podsednik, whose rise to the top is amazing.

Scott Podsednik
Scott Podsednik led NL rookies in hitting, runs and stolen bases last season.

At a time when quality leadoff batters are at a premium, the Brewers got theirs for the tidy sum of $20,000, the waiver price. In October 2002, some of those in authority with the Mariners thought Podsednik had a slider-speed bat, he would never hit, so they placed him on waivers. Every American League team passed on him before Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin claimed him. "I've gotten rid of him twice and I've brought him back twice,'' Melvin said with a laugh. "We thought he'd be a good fourth or fifth outfielder, we didn't expect this much from him. We got him back at exactly the right time.''

Last year, Podsednik became the first Brewers rookie ever to hit .300 (.314). He's the fourth rookie in major league history to hit .300, steal 40 bases (43) and score 100 runs, joining Jimmy Barrett, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ichiro Suzuki. "It's surreal," Podsednik said. "To be on the back of a baseball card with those guys, I have to pinch myself. I know Ichiro from Seattle, he's incredible, he's one of the best I've ever seen. It all happened so fast. In March, I was trying to make the roster. In August, guys were asking me about the Rookie of the Year."

People now are asking if Podsednik, 28, is the best leadoff guy in the National League, which includes, among others, the Marlins' Juan Pierre. "He's gaining respect around the league," says Melvin. "I know people have asked 'how did you get that guy?' " This year, Podsednik is hitting .286 with 13 runs scored, three home runs, nine steals (second most in the league) and no caught stealings. Podsednik's two-run triple off Randy Johnson on Wednesday night led to a seven-run eighth inning in a 10-6 win. "I've hit leadoff all my career, it's our job to provide the spark,'' Podsednik said. "With leadoff guys, if you go, we go."

Most leadoff guys can run, and Podsednik can run with almost anyone in the major leagues. In high school in West Texas, he set sprint and hurdle records. "My cousin recently just destroyed what I ever did in the 300-meter hurdles," Podsednik said with a laugh. "But I think my time in the 100 meters -- 10.36 -- is still standing down in West Texas."

I'm a big believer that guys with speed develop late.
Brewers GM Doug Melvin

The Rangers saw Podsednik as a potential leadoff man someday when they drafted him in 1994. But Melvin, then the Texas GM, sent him to the Marlins in a trade for Bobby Witt in 1995. Two years and several injuries later, the Marlins failed to protect him on their Double-A roster, and Melvin got him back for a $12,000 waiver claim. The Rangers lost him to Seattle as a six-year free agent in 2000, but in October 2002, against the wishes of, among others, the Mariners' Mike Cameron, Podsednik was waived, and the Brewers grabbed him. "Doug and I have laughed together about the times he got rid of me, then got me back," Podsednik said. "It's been a long grind. I've put my cleats on all across the country."

Finally, those cleats are firmly rooted. "I'm a big believer that guys with speed develop late," says Melvin. "Otis Nixon, Lance Johnson, Dave Roberts. You want them to hit when they're 22. Sometimes, it takes longer." Podsednik agreed, adding "I've finally gotten healthy. I've matured as a person and as a player. I've always had a burning desire to succeed."

With that success has come popularity in Milwaukee, where Podsednik's slashing style of play is greatly appreciated. Despite his success, people still have trouble pronouncing his name. It's puh-SED-nik. "People still butcher it, but it's gotten better since that sign last year in Houston," said Podsednik, referring to a sign that a friend brought to a Brewers games at Minute Maid Park: The sign read "The D Is Silent." Podsednik laughed again. "Whether it's Puh or Pod, I don't care," Podsednik said, "as long as I'm giving you guys a reason to pronounce my name."

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.