The Long, Strange Journey of Oakland's Jack Cust

Jonathan ColombContributor IMarch 19, 2008

Jack Cust is a name that has been floating around baseball inside circles for years.

He burst onto the scene with the Oakland A's in 2007, hitting 26 home runs.  He spent the season walking and striking out at higher percentages than any other player in major league baseball (21 percent and 45 percent of the time in the five months he was playing, respectively).

His journey to the Oakland DH position took 10 years of minor league stops, playing in Arizona, Colorado, Baltimore, and San Diego before landing with the Athletics.

His story is like a real-life Crash Davis (from the classic baseball movie Bull Durham). And his future in Oakland looks to be long and bright.

The legend of Jack Cust begins at Immaculata High School in Somerville, New Jersey. His baseball career literally started off with a bang, cracking a grand slam in his first official at-bat as a freshman.

His exploits were well known across the East Coast where he was worshiped as a naturally talented kid with a work ethic in the batting cage that was second to none.

He hit "tape-measure-worthy" home runs on a daily basis and managed to parlay that ability into a first team All-American selection at first base.

The Arizona Diamondbacks took Cust in the 1997 MLB draft with a first round selection before the team's inaugural season. He was heralded as a future Hall of Famer before taking a single swing in the major leagues.

The game seemed to come easily to Cust as he piled up award after award in the minor leagues.

He was sent to the Minor League All-Star teams in 1998, 1999, 2000, and in 2001. In 1999 he also garnered the Diamondback’s Minor League Player of the Year, Baseball America's First Team Minor League DH, and was a Class A All-Star.

In September 2001, he made his major league debut with Arizona only to be traded to the Colorado Rockies the following January.

Cust spent the next six years floating between the majors and minors with Colorado, Baltimore, Oakland, and San Diego, never able to hold a solid spot in the majors due to a stigma he developed as a defensive liability.

He was finally acquired for a second time by Oakland on May 3, 2007 after DH Mike Piazza went down with an injury.

For those of you who don't know, Billy Beane (Oakland's GM) uses a system to evaluate players that values on-base percentage and walk totals more than hits or batting average. Cust excelled in these categories and proved to be the prototype of an Oakland A's hitter.

His first major league game was on May 6th and his first home run came about four plate appearances into it. He was just starting to find his groove.

Cust went on one of the most prolific tears in Oakland A's history by hitting six home runs in his first seven games. He finished the season with a .256 BA, .408 OBP, and a .504 slugging percentage. Scary good.

Going into this season, Jack is slated to either start as DH for Oakland or possibly fill in at one of the corner spots in the outfield. His spring numbers have been solid with a .294 BA, a .478 OBP, and a .647 slugging percentage.

Yes, his defense is questionable and he is what is referred to as a "three outcome batter," (meaning his at bats are usually strikeouts, walks, or home runs) but the boy can hit.

So this season, look for Cust to be a real big bat in an Oakland lineup full of singles hitters.