In 1982, Van Slyke was promoted to the “AA” level Arkansas Travelers in the Western League, where he hit .279 in 123 games with 16 home runs and 37 stolen bases. 1983 would see him moved to the “AAA” level Louisville Redbirds in the American Association. In 54 games, he hit .368 with six home runs and 41 RBI. The Cardinals called him up in June.
Van Slyke played four seasons in St. Louis, hitting .259 with 41 home runs, 104 stolen bases, and 204 RBI. Just prior to the 1987 season, he was traded along with pitcher Mike Dunne (21-18, 3.65 in three Pirates seasons) and catcher Mike LaValliere (seven seasons, 609 games, .278) to Pittsburgh for Tony Pena (three seasons, 406 games, .248, 19 home runs, 132 RBI for the Birds).
Van Slyke was Pittsburgh’s 1987 opening day starter in right field, and appeared in 157 games (NL seventh) that season batting second, third, or fifth. He hit a then-career best .293 with 36 doubles (NL eighth), 11 triples (NL third), 21 home runs, 34 stolen bases, and 82 RBI. He also racked up a 5.5 WAR rating (NL 10th), 68 extra base hits (NL seventh), 286 total bases (NL 10th), 288 putouts (NL fourth), eight assists (NL fourth), and an NL leading .993 fielding percentage in his main position in center. On April 16th, he hit a single, a double, and a triple with a run and two RBI in a 6-0 win against the Chicago Cubs. On July 10th, he hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first along with three singles and a total of four RBI in a 6-5, 11-inning win over the San Diego Padres. Pittsburgh finished fourth in the NL East at 80-82.
In 1988, Van Slyke finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. He also won his first Gold Glove, his first Silver Slugger, and was selected to his first all-star game playing center field and batting third. He led the NL with 15 triples and with 13 sacrifice flies. He hit .288 with 169 total hits (NL sixth), 25 home runs (NL seventh), 297 total bases (NL third) and 100 RBI (NL third), along with 101 runs scored (NL fourth) and 30 stolen bases. His 6.4 WAR rating was good for seventh in the NL. He had a .506 SLG (NL fourth), and an .851 OPS (NL eighth). Defensively, he led the NL with 404 putouts and with 12 assists, ranking third with a .990 fielding percentage. On April 17th, he hit two home runs in a 12-7 win over the Cubs. On September 30th, he went 3-for-5 with three runs and two RBI (including the game winner in the top of the 10th) in a 10-9 win against Chicago. The Pirates finished at 85-75, 15 games behind the division winning New York Mets.
In 1989, Van Slyke won his second Gold Glove Award. For the most part, however, his season proved forgettable. He hit .237 in 130 games, with nine home runs, nine triples (NL third), 53 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. He also had 339 putouts (NL third), nine assists (NL third), five double plays turned (NL second), and a .989 fielding percentage (NL fifth). On May 21st, he hit two singles, a double, and a home run with four runs scored and four RBI in a 17-5 win against the Houston Astros. On June 14th, he hit a two run single in the bottom of the third and the eventual game winning two run triple in the bottom of the seventh in a 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Pittsburgh finished fifth in the six team NL East, at 74-88.
1990 would see Van Slyke rediscover his hitting stroke. He won his third Gold Glove in a row and finished 27th in the NL MVP race. In 136 contests, he hit .284 with 26 doubles, 17 home runs, and 77 RBI. He ranked ninth in the NL with a 4.4 oWAR. Defensively, he had 330 putouts (NL third), six assists (NL fourth), and a .977 fielding percentage (NL fifth). He started out the season right, going 3-for-6 with a double and two home runs for four RBI in a 12-3 win against the Mets. On August 16th, he went 2-for-4, including the game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth of a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. The Pirates won the NL East by four games, at 95-67 ahead of the Mets. Van Slyke went 5-for-24 with a double, a triple, three runs scored, three RBI and seven K’s in the six-game series loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
1991 would see Van Slyke earn his fourth Gold Glove in a row. In 138 games, he hit .265 with 87 runs scored, seven triples (NL ninth), 17 home runs, 11 sacrifice flies (NL third), and 83 RBI batting third in the order. He had 273 putouts (NL fifth), eight assists (NL third), and a .996 fielding percentage (NL second). On July 15th, he hit a double and a triple, walking and scoring twice with four RBI in an 8-0 victory over Houston. The Pirates won the NL East at 98-64, 14 games out front of the Cardinals. Pittsburgh lost the seven-game series with the Braves, as Van Slyke went 4-for-25 with three runs, two doubles, a home run and five strikeouts.
In 1992, Van Slyke posted what may have been his best season. He hit .324 (NL second) with 103 runs scored (NL third), a league leading 199 hits, 128 singles (NL ninth), 45 doubles (NL first), 12 triples (NL third), 14 home runs, and 89 RBI in 154 games. For his efforts, he made his second all-star appearance, won his second Silver Slugger, and took home his fifth Gold Glove in a row, finishing fourth in the NL MVP vote. He also posted a .381 OBP (NL ninth), a .505 SLG (NL seventh), an .886 OPS (NL fifth), and 310 total bases (NL third) batting from third in the lineup. He made 421 putouts (NL third), 11 assists (NL second), and a .989 fielding percentage (NL fifth) in center field. On August 25th, he hit a single, a double, and a home run, scoring twice and knocking in four in a 10-3 landslide over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pittsburgh took home their third consecutive NL East Division title, at 96-66 and nine games in front of the second place Montreal Expos. Van Slyke went 8-for-29 with three doubles, a triple and four RBI as the Pirates again lost in seven games to the Braves.
In 1993, Van Slyke spent most of the season on the IR. Despite this, he was selected to his third career all-star game in center field. In 83 contests, he hit .310 with eight home runs and 50 RBI batting third in the lineup. On May 8th, he hit a solo home run with the Pirates down 9-8 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, a game the Bucs won in 10 innings, 10-9 over the Expos. The very next night, he went 3-for-5, including a game winning RBI single in the bottom of the 11th for a 6-5 win against Montreal. The Pirates went 75-87, fifth in the seven team NL East.
1994 would be Van Slyke’s last season in Black and Gold. He played in 105 contests, hitting .246 with six home runs and 30 RBI. Pittsburgh slotted him in third and in fifth in the order, as always in center field. On May 8th, he went a combined 8-for-9 a double, a home run, five runs scored and four RBI in a home double header sweep over the Cubs, 9-2 and 9-3. The performance raised his average from .227 to .283. After the season, the Pirates granted him free agency.
On April 21st, the Baltimore Orioles signed Van Slyke to a free agent contract. He hit .159 over 17 games with three home runs and eight RBI. On June 18th, the Orioles traded him to the Phillies for pitcher Gene Harris. Van Slyke would finish out his season (and career) with the Phils, hitting .243 with three home runs and 16 RBI in 63 contests.
All-Time Statline: Eight seasons, 1057 games, 1108-for-3922, .283/.353/.458, 598 runs, 203 doubles, 67 triples, 117 home runs, 564 RBI, 134 stolen bases, 431 walks, 733 strikeouts, 29.2 wins above replacement.
A note: to those of you who check and recheck the stats I present you here, be aware that baseball reference and fangraphs recently changed their method for computing the WAR statistic. To avoid confusion, I’m going to finish the series with the same standards by which the beginning of the series was computed. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Next up: Powder.