Jul 27

A breakout weekend for Taylor recalls past rookie phenom Allison

There’s nothing quite like seeing a major league rookie come into his own, especially when he’s making the most of an opportunity to fill in for a starter. You can say “I remember when…”

So it was fun watching Michael Taylor have a breakout weekend, even though the Nationals lost a difficult series in Pittsburgh and saw their NL East lead over the New York Mets shrink to two games.

The rookie recorded the first four-hit game of his career on Saturday, including a two-run, eighth-inning homer to break the game open, and followed it up on Sunday with a solo homer in the third, giving him homers in consecutive games for the first time. Throughout the series and for the past week, he has played a flawless center field in place of the injured Denard Span, gliding to make routine plays and sprinting and leaping to make spectacular ones.

Taylor’s stats so far this season, .240/.283./.371 are a good bit below Bryce Harper’s.258/.334.425 through the first 81 games of Harper’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012, but Taylor has driven in 38 runs, many from the No. 8 spot in the order, more than Harper’s 29 to that point in 2012, when he batted second. While Taylor is an extreme longshot to win this year’s Rookie of the Year award, it’s safe to say he is the most exciting Nats rookie since Harper.

Taylor also draws comparisons to the last Washington Rookie of the Year before Harper, Bob Allison in 1959. As Taylor did in 2014, Allison played in a handful of games with the big league club the year before as a September call-up. And like Taylor, Allison played both left and center field, although Allison played all three outfield positions in his career. Allison also was a leadoff hitter in a few games, although he batted in the middle of the order for most of his career.

A Missouri native who attended the University of Kansas for two years on a football scholarship, Allison considered playing for the San Francisco 49ers before the Senators signed him in 1955.

At 6-4 and 230 pounds in his younger days, Allison was known as an imposing peacemaker. In a 1961 spring training game, he wrapped 6-6 Dodgers pitching legend Don Drysdale in a bear hug to forestall a confrontation with a teammate. He had done the same in the minor leagues to an opposing manager who was charging his team’s pitcher with a bat.

Allison finished his outstanding rookie campaign with a .261/.383./482 slash line, with 30 homers and 84 RBIs, winning AL honors in a runaway over Cleveland pitcher Jim Perry and Kansas City’s Russ Snyder. He would go on to hit 256 home runs, and after the Senators moved to Minnesota, he and future Hall-of-Fame teammate Harmon Killebrew were known as the Twin Terrors.

Allison also starred in Game 2 of the 1965 World Series, with a bases-loaded double off Sandy Koufax and a diving, sliding catch of Jim Lefebvre’s fly ball to prevent a run.

The retired Allsion was diagnosed in 1989 with a progressive sporadic ataxia known as Olivo-Ponto cerebellar atrophy. The rare degenerative neurological disease took away his muscular coordination, and when he died in 1995 at the age of 60, he could no longer walk, talk, write or feed himself. Allison and his family founded the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center at the University of Minnesota.

The Twins have a postseason award named in Allison’s honor for the player who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field.