Welcome to Pirates Flashback, a weekly look back at some of the best players of the worst teams in Pirates’ history.
Today’s player is Kris Benson, who pitched for the Pirates from 1999-2004.
BEFORE THE BUCS
Benson attended Clemson University from 1993 to 1996, but he first cracked onto the national scene by pitching for team USA in the 1996 Summer Olympics. Benson won a pair of games during the Olympics, but he was hit hard by Japan in the semifinals and lost. Team USA eventually took bronze in the event.
The Pirates took Benson first overall in the 1996 draft. He made his major league debut April 9, 1999.
TIME WITH THE PIRATES
Benson became a staple in the Pirates’ rotation from the time he reached the majors, throwing a combined 414.1 innings in his first two years. He missed the entire 2001 season due to Tommy John Surgery. From there he had ERAs bouncing somewhere between the low to mid fours.
He made 126 starts as a Buc, going 43-49 with a 4.26 ERA (105 ERA+, so slightly above average for the time) and 687 strikeouts.
Benson set the record for most strikeouts by a right handed Pirates pitcher in 2000, fanning 184 over 217.2 innings. He has since been passed by Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett. He went 10-12 that year with a 3.85 ERA and was worth 5.1 bWAR.
Benson was traded during the 2004 non-waiver deadline, going to the Mets along with minor league infielder Jeff Keppinger for third baseman Ty Wigginton, minor league pitcher Matt Peterson and Jose Bautista.
Wigginton struggled in 2004, was demoted to the minors in 2005 before being released later that year. Peterson never pitched for the Pirates. Bautista’s time in Pittsburgh and his career afterwards needs no explanation.
Benson signed a three year, $22.5 million contract with the Mets after the 2004 season. He did OK in 2005, but the real drama came after the season.
It’s impossible to talk about Kris without talking about his wife, Anna. Some quick highlights of her time with Kris include:
- Telling Howard Stern in 2004 that if Kris ever cheated on her, she would sleep with the entire Mets organization.
- Getting kicked out of the 2005 World Series of Poker for excessive swearing.
- Attacking Kris and smashing his computer after they were divorced in 2013. She was sentenced to four months in jail and 15 years of probation.
The Pirates were concerned about Anna too, especially after she boasted to a magazine that she and Kris had sex in the Three Rivers Stadium parking lot, and that they wanted to do it at every major league park. Putting her on a national stage in New York was destined to create some unwanted headlines. After a while, the Mets had enough and shipped him to Baltimore after the 2005 season.
He had a disappointing 2006 and then tore his rotator cuff in 2007 and never fully recovered. He made a cameo for the Rangers in 2009 and Diamondbacks in 2010 before retiring on Jan. 10, 2011.
DID HE DESERVE BETTER?
Maybe? He definitely showed promise early in his career, but the injuries just slowed him down. Not to mention his family life was chaotic. It’s hard to blame teams for wanting to stay clear of a mostly average pitcher when he comes with that much off the field baggage.
Had he stayed a bachelor and his elbow and shoulder didn’t give out on him, Benson probably could have pitched a couple more years in the majors. The Pirates probably deserve a fair chunk of the blame for making him throw so many innings as a rookie and sophomore, but this was before anyone really knew how to prevent Tommy John Surgery. Heck, it’s 17 years later and we still don’t have a solution yet.
Overall, Benson made 200 career starts and has an Olympic medal in his trophy case. It could have been more, but that is hardly a waste of talent.