Michael Steven Hessman is the real life Crash Davis, the character played by Kevin Costner in the film, Bull Durham.
Born in Fountain Valley, California,—a middle class bedroom community 45 minutes south of Los Angeles whose motto is “A Nice Place to Live”–Hessman grew up playing all sports, but his passion was baseball. His father, Fred, served as his Little League coach and taught him the nuances of the game. Hessman attended Mater Dei High School, a private, college preparatory school in Santa Ana, less than eight miles from his parents’ home, where he played baseball and basketball. Mater Dei is one of the largest Catholic high schools in the country and offers outstanding athletics—ESPN and MaxPreps ranked them best in America, having won 28 CIF, seven state and two national championships in varsity sports during the past decade. Several Mater Dei athletes have gone on to great success at the college and professional level, including Heisman Trophy winners John Huarte [class of 1961] and Matt Leinhart [class of 2001]. Hessman had an outstanding varsity career, hitting 25 home runs, batting over .400 and going 19-4 as a pitcher for the Monarch Lions. As a rising senior, he was named MVP of the Upper Deck Classic—a prestigious national high school baseball tournament—while leading Mater Dei to a runner-up finish. The following year, he was voted into the Mater Dei Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Atlanta Braves drafted Mike Hessman in the 15th round of the 1996 MLB Draft, 451 spots behind Kris Benson, who the Pittsburgh Pirates selected first overall. Hessman turned down a baseball scholarship from the University of Arizona in order to pursue his dream of playing in the big leagues. At 18, he was assigned to the Gulf Coast League, where he batted .216 with one homer in 53 games. The following year, the 6’5”, 215 pound right-hander was promoted from the Rookie League to Single-A and hit 21 home runs in 122 games. Hessman spent eight years in the Braves organization before making his major league debut on August 22, 2003, going hitless in one at bat. Four nights later, he collected his first big league hit—a pinch-hit home run off Mike Stanton in the seventh inning at Turner Field in Atlanta. He appeared in 19 games that season and 29 more in 2004 before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, where he was assigned to their AAA affiliate in Toledo. In 2005, Mike Hessman hit 28 home runs and helped the Mud Hens win the Governor’s Cup as champions of the International League. Two years later, he hit 31 dingers in route to being named International League MVP.
Like Crash Davis, Mike Hessman has been to the Show, but has not appeared in a major league game since 2010, when he played in 32 games, hit one home run and batted .127 for the New York Mets. He combines talent, bad luck and a stubborn love of the game. Hessman is a minor league “lifer”, having played 19 seasons of professional baseball for twelve organizations–the last seven with the Toledo Mud Hens. One night a few years ago, Hessman crushed one over the left field foul pole. The third base umpire called it a home run but, after discussion, the first base umpire changed the call to foul. Toledo manager Lance Parrish, who hit 324 homers during his 19 year major league career, came out to argue the call, was ejected and returned to the clubhouse. Hessman smashed the next pitch off the scoreboard in left, muttered something while rounding first base and was greeted at home plate by the first base umpire, who ejected Hessman too. The “King” is now 37 years old. He gets to the ballpark at 2:00 pm for a 7:00 pm game, warms up in the hot tub, lifts weights to keep his core strong, takes batting practice, infield practice and then plays the game. Hessman is a decade older than the average age of his teammates and has hit 20 or more home runs in 14 of his minor league seasons. Mr. Hessman hit 14 major league home runs in 223 trips to the plate and has a career average of .188. He has played in 2,077 minor league games and has struck out 2,347 times, which would be the fourth highest total in major league history. Hessman has played in China, Australia, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In 2011, he spent the season with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan’s Nippon League.
On August 3, 2015, Mike Hessman hit his 433rd career minor league home run–a grand slam in the seventh inning of a game against Lehigh Valley–to pass Buzz Arlett as minor league baseball’s all-time home run leader. Arlett was known as the “Babe Ruth of the minor leagues” when he played from 1918-1937 and his record stood for nearly 80 years. The “King” won a bronze medal while playing for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and is a four-time minor league All-Star. On September 4, 2009, Hessman, who has played first and third base for most of his career, played all nine positions while with the Mud Hens. He started at catcher and ended as the pitcher, blowing a save and picking up a loss. Mike Hessman is one of four players in history to have hit over 400 home runs in the minor leagues.