Kapler with the Tampa Bay Rays
Born: July 31, 1975|
|September 20, 1998, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|August 14, 2010, for the Tampa Bay Rays|
|Runs batted in||386|
|Career highlights and awards|
Heritage and early life
Kapler is Jewish, and to honor his heritage, has a Star of David tattooed on his left calf, with the inscription "Strong Willed, Strong Minded" in Hebrew, and the post-Holocaust motto "Never Again" with a flame and the dates of the Holocaust on his right calf. He describes his background as "culturally Jewish. ... I was—and am—proud of my heritage, but don't practice religion."
Kapler has been given the nickname Hebrew Hammer due to his frequent longball hits, along with his muscularity and the fact that he is Jewish. It later became the nickname of Ryan Braun, who is also Jewish, and was Kapler's teammate on the Brewers.
On September 27, 1999, the Tigers commemorated the closing of Tiger Stadium by wearing the numbers of greats from the organization's history. Kapler's jersey was blank, an homage to Ty Cobb, who competed before players received numbers. This was ironic, as Cobb was a notorious anti-Semite.
On August 8, 2005, while playing for the Red Sox, Kapler took the field in the 9th inning along with Kevin Youkilis and Adam Stern, setting a "record" for the most Jewish players on the field at one time in American League history and the most in Major League Baseball history since four Jews took the field for the New York Giants in a game in 1941.
In 2008, with his career 69th home run he passed Art Shamsky and Lou Boudreau for 9th on the all-time list for home runs by Jewish major leaguers. Kapler was the unanimous winner of the 2008 Jewish Comeback Player of the Year award.
Kapler played for the Taft High School baseball team, and graduated in 1993.
He attended Cal State-Fullerton in 1994 on scholarship, before transferring to 2-year Moorpark College in 1995. He was named 1st team All-Western Conference after hitting .337 with 7 homers and 52 RBIs. Kapler was inducted into the Moorpark College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.
Kapler was a 57th-round draft pick (1,487th overall) by the Detroit Tigers in 1995.
In 1996 he led the South Atlantic League in hits (157), doubles (45; 2nd in the minor leagues), and extra-base hits (71), was 2nd in homers (26), RBIs (99), and slugging (.534), and 5th in batting (.300). He was named a South Atlantic League All-Star.
In 1997 at Single-A Lakeland, he led the Florida State League in doubles (40) and total bases (262), tied for first in extra base hits (65), was 2nd in games, 3rd in hits (153), tied for 3rd in home runs (19) and RBIs (87), was 4th in slugging percentage (.505), and tied for 4th in runs (87).
In 1998 at AA Jacksonville Suns, he won the Southern League Most Valuable Player Award, as he batted .322 with a league-high 28 home runs, 47 doubles (3rd-most in the minor leagues), and 146 RBIs (most in the minors in 1998 and most ever in the Southern League). His league record for RBIs broke the 1986 record of 132 set by Terry Steinbach. He also set league records with 81 extra-base hits and 319 total bases, and broke the old doubles record of 44 with 47. He also led the league in hits (176; 8th-most in the minors), runs (113; 6th-most in the minors), and finished 6th in batting. He played in both the Double-A and Southern League All-Star Games and was recognized as MVP of the Southern League All-Star Game. He was also named to the SL's post-season All-Star team. He was honored as Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today, Baseball Weekly, and The Sporting News and USA Today, and was named Tigers Minor League Player of the Year and Detroit's No. 1 prospect by Baseball America.
Major Leagues, Japan, and managing
Detroit Tigers (1998–99)
He made his Major League debut in 1998 at the age of 22. He became the first Tiger since the inception of the draft in 1969 to be selected as late as the 57th round and reach the majors. He had one hit in four at-bats in his debut.
In 1999, he hit his first career home run on April 30 against Albie Lopez of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He wound up hitting a career-high 18 home runs in just over 400 at-bats, third among AL rookies. His 10 home runs in his first 64 games was the fastest by a Tiger rookie since 1954, and was not surpassed until 2008.
Texas Rangers (2000–02)
In November 1999, he was traded by the Tigers with Al Webb (minors), Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman, and Justin Thompson to the Texas Rangers for Juan González, Danny Patterson, and Gregg Zaun.
In 2000 he batted .302 with 14 home runs, hitting .344 in the second half of the season.
In 2001 he stole 23 bases and had 8 assists from center field for Texas. He batted .267, but .329 in games that were late and close. He made just one error in 344 total chances for a .997 fielding percentage, second-best in the AL.
Colorado Rockies (2002–03)
In 2002, he batted .279, but .321 in games that were late and close, and .357 with runners in scoring position.
Boston Red Sox (2003–04)
In June 2003, he was acquired by the Boston Red Sox from the Rockies.
In 2004, when Shawn Green of the Dodgers announced that he would not play on Yom Kippur, the Boston media asked Kapler if he would do the same thing. Kapler called a Boston-area rabbi for advice. With the Curse of the Bambino still hanging over Red Sox fans' heads, the rabbi reportedly said: "Do it! We need all the help we can get!" Kapler decided to play.
Kapler played a career-high 136 games in 2004, hitting 6 home runs and driving in 33 runs in 290 at-bats. He batted .272, but .303 in games that were late and close. He also led the team with 6 outfield assists.
In Game 4 of the World Series, Kapler had been a pinch runner, but manager Terry Francona left him in the game to play right field in the ninth. Kapler joined an exclusive club, as one of the nine players who were on the field when the Red Sox won their first title in 86 years.
Yomiuri Giants (2005)
Less than one month after the Red Sox dramatic 2004 World Series victory over the Cardinals, Kapler departed for Japan's Yomiuri Giants. He received a $2 million deal plus a $700,000 signing bonus, compared to the $750,000 salary he had received from the Sox. Driven by the memory of an elementary-school report that he had written about Japan, he felt it was time for a change. "I tend to make emotional decisions," he said. "I did it more for the life experience than anything else. And ever since I wrote that report, I’ve been fascinated by everything that an 8-year-old associates with a country far, far away." He struggled in 38 games in Japan, and was placed on the inactive list by Yomiuri in the 2005 mid-season.
Boston Red Sox (2005–06)
Kapler was re-signed by the Red Sox in July 2005, just a few hours after clearing Japanese Central League waivers.
In 2006, Kapler finally came back from his injury in June, and had his best OBP in 5 years (.340), hit .316 with 2 out and runners in scoring position, and played error-less outfield for the second year in a row.
Managing career (2007)
He served the Boston Red Sox as manager of their Single-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive, for one season in 2007. The team went 58–81, and finished in 7th place in the South Atlantic League Southern Division.
Milwaukee Brewers (2008)
On September 20, 2007, after only one season as a manager, Kapler announced that he would like to return to play Major League Baseball in 2008.
Kapler, 32 years old at the time, had a career .270 batting average, along with 64 home runs, with 302 runs batted in. Kapler had last played on October 1, 2006, for the Red Sox.
On December 20, 2007, Kapler signed with the Milwaukee Brewers to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract that paid $800,000 when Kapler made the roster.
The initial plan, before Mike Cameron was acquired, was to have Kapler replace the non-tendered Kevin Mench as a right-handed option to share time with Tony Gwynn, Jr., Gabe Gross, and Joe Dillon, in left field. With a focus on defense, Yost indicated in March that Gwynn and Kapler might have a leg up on Gross.
"He's been very impressive so far", said Brewers manager Ned Yost in March. "I would have never known he took a year off. He does not show any signs of it to me.
While Cameron served a 25-game suspension to start the season for twice testing positive for a banned stimulant in the fall of 2007, Kapler made the club, and began to see action in center field. On April 5, 2008, he hit the first pinch-hit home run of his career for Milwaukee in the 7th inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants. Kapler started the season as the Brewers' hottest hitter, going 11-for-26 with 4 home runs and 11 RBIs.
Kapler gave fans a taste of his hard-nosed style against the Dodgers on August 16. He ran full-speed after Russell Martin's long fly in the seventh inning, snagging the ball to deprive Martin of a home run as he toppled head-first into the left-field seats. The outstanding catch helped the Brewers hold onto a one-run lead, and earned Kapler the Play of the Year Award, voted by over 12 million fans in major league baseball's This Year in Baseball Awards. Similarly, three days later Kapler made a diving catch in left field to rob Ty Wigginton of a hit, and on September 6 Kapler ran down a blooper to center and made an outstanding diving catch.
For the year, Kapler batted .301, with a .498 slugging percentage, hit 8 home runs, and was 3 for 4 in stolen bases, playing most of his games in center field, and batting .386 with a .632 slugging percentage in tie games. Kapler started 43 games. He was the club's best pinch-hitter, batting .323 with 2 homers (the first pinch-hit shots of his career) and 8 RBIs.
Kapler was mentioned as a candidate for, but did not win, the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Tampa Bay Rays (2009–10)
He started the season platooning in center field with Matt Joyce, in place of Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, who had offseason surgery on his left shoulder, and was not ready for Opening Day. On April 13, 2009, Kapler struck out against New York Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher. Kapler then began to platoon in right field with Gabe Gross. Kapler ended the season at .354 with 4 homers in 82 at bats against left-handers. In this role he almost broke Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game on July 23, 2009. Leading off the ninth inning against the White Sox, he was robbed of a home run by a leaping DeWayne Wise, a ninth inning defensive replacement.
Through July 10, despite a slow start, Kapler had the best slugging percentage of his career (.505), and was batting .320 with a 4 home runs in 75 at bats and a .680 slugging percentage against left-handers. As of July 10, 64% of his hits in 2009 had been for extra bases, which would be first in the major leagues for a player with at least 100 plate appearances (Kapler had 129).
Kapler was re-signed by the Rays on October 27, 2009, to another one-year contract, this time for $1.05 million. Over 2009-09, Kapler hit .304 against left-handers with a .577 slugging percentage, 11th-best in the Major Leagues. "Over the past two years, Kap has been one of the best in baseball against left-handed pitching", said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "Because he's also a plus defensive outfielder, he's become a tremendous asset here. His value even extends beyond the field; his knowledge and presence make him a positive influence on our younger players."
In a December interview manager Joe Maddon said: "I'm still a big Gabe Kapler fan. You look at his OPS over the last couple of years versus left-handed pitching, it's among the best in all of baseball".
Heading into spring training in 2010, it appeared that Kapler was likely to platoon in right field with Matt Joyce. However, he appeared in only 59 games that season, hitting a career worst .210 with only 2 home runs and became a free agent after the season.
Los Angeles Dodgers
On January 18, 2011, Kapler signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also received an invitation to spring training. Kapler was released on March 31, 2011.
Kapler coached for the Israeli national baseball team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifier in September 2012. Israel lost to Spain in extra innings in the Pool Finals, and did not qualify to play in the World Baseball Classic.
In the summer of 2013, Kapler became an analyst for Fox Sports 1 cable network. He appeared frequently on the network's Fox Sports Live program since the network debuted on August 17, 2013 as well as MLB Whiparound since the program's inception in March 2014. Two of his segments were "Saberclips", where he explained advanced statistics and sabermetrics used in baseball, and also "In the Cage", where he gave out advice for young baseball players what to train for when they hit the batting cage.
Los Angeles Dodgers front office
On November 7, 2014, he was hired by the Dodgers to become the team's new Director of Player Development. In that position, he managed to make all the affiliates in the Dodgers farm system, as well as the major league team, switch to serving entirely organic food. He was one of the favorites to become the new Dodgers manager following the departure of Don Mattingly but lost out to Dave Roberts.
Kapler and his wife, Lisa, co-founded the Gabe Kapler Foundation, which is dedicated to educating the public about domestic violence and helping women escape abusive relationships.
Kapler was born in Hollywood, California.
Kapler is well known in baseball for his extraordinary musculature. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan nicknamed Kapler "The Body."
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