The position player representative of the 1984 Philadelphia Phillies is one of the more experienced players to be remembered in this ‘Phillies 50’ series.
By “experienced”, I mean that he ended up appearing in a handful of seasons in Major League Baseball. However, he was just a 20-year-old rookie when he appeared in 21 games with those 1984 Phillies, and among his five total big-league campaigns he never appeared in more than 23 games.
Francisco Melendez signed with the Phillies organization as a 16-year-old amateur free agent out of his native Puerto Rico just as the team was starting the 1980 postseason, one that would end nearly three weeks later with their first-ever World Series championship victory.
Melendez was a high-average guy without much power, and he hit well while advancing one level at a time through the minor league system over the next few years. In 1983 at Double-A Reading he hit .298 and while with Triple-A Portland hit .312 in the 1984 season.
After spending a second straight year with Portland in 1984, Melendez was called up by the Phillies in late August to make his big-league debut. At the time, the Phillies were struggling. Contenders for the previous decade, the club found themselves battling for second place in the NL East, a half-dozen games behind the front-running Chicago Cubs.
Perhaps manager Paul Owens wanted to get a first-hand look at the youngster. Perhaps the organization thought he could provide an offensive spark of some type. In any event, Melendez got the call before rosters expanded in September and would appear in five games as the month of August ended, all as a pinch-hitter, going 0-5 at the plate.
The first of those came in his big-league debut on August 26, 1984 during a 10-8 victory for the Phillies over the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies were trailing 8-3 when Owens sent Melendez up to leadoff the bottom of the 7th inning as a pinch-hitter for reliever Tug McGraw.
Melendez grounded out against 25-year-old Dodgers rookie hurler Orel Hershiser in that first at-bat, but the Phillies would go on to score a run later in the frame, knocking Hershiser from the game and beginning their rally.
It would take three weeks, a stretch in which he went 0-11 with a walk, for Melendez to finally deliver his first base hit. On September 15, 1984 at Veterans Stadium with the Phillies trailing the Montreal Expos by 4-2, Melendez was sent up to pinch-hit for 25-year-old rookie shortstop Steve Jeltz and delivered a base hit off Expos starter Bill Gullickson.
Owens left Melendez in the game at first base in place of Greg Gross, and he would get another plate appearance later in the game. After Mike Schmidt led off the bottom of the 9th with a home run to make it a 4-3 game, the Phillies had a runner on base with two outs when Melendez stepped in against Gullickson, who was still in the game. Once again, Melendez delivered a base hit. He moved to second, with Sixto Lezcano moving to third, when reliever Bob James delivered a wild pitch. But then Chris James grounded out weakly to first base for the game’s final out.
On September 19, 1984, Melendez was entered as a defensive replacement for starter Al Oliver at first base for the top of the 6th inning with the Phillies leading the visiting New York Mets at Veterans Stadium. In the bottom of the 7th his single off Mets reliever Wes Gardner scored Juan Samuel with what was Melendez’ first career RBI. He picked up another in the bottom of the 8th on an RBI ground out that scored Len Matuszek.
Melendez only got two starts with the Phillies during that 1984 promotion, those coming on September 29 and September 30 during the final two games of the season at The Vet against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went 0-5 in those two starts combined.
Overall, Melendez slashed .130/.167/.130 with three hits, a walk, and the two RBIs, producing no extra-base hits. Clearly the 20-year-old was over-matched by pitching at the MLB level during his 24 plate appearances over 21 games played.
In 1985, Melendez was back at Triple-A Portland for the entire season. Once again he hit well but with no power. The Phillies gave him another big-league shot for nine games from late-July to mid-August in 1986. Still just 22-years-old, he again appeared over-matched, going just 2-8 at the plate.
On March 22, 1987 at age 23, Melendez contract was purchased by the San Francisco Giants. He would appear in a dozen games with the Giants in 1987 and then a career-high 23 games with San Francisco in 1988. During that 1987 promotion he enjoyed what would be the lone home run of his big-league career, that coming off Atlanta Braves reliever Kevin Coffman on October 2, 1987 at Candlestick Park.
At the end of spring training in 1989, Melendez was traded by the Giants to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for outfielder Ken Gerhart. With the Orioles, Melendez saw the final nine games and 13 plate appearances of his career in MLB during the 1989 season.
After appearing with the Cleveland Indians organization at two levels in 1990, Melendez took his game to the Mexican League where he played for a different organization each year from 1991-94 before ending his playing career at age 30.