Van Slyke earned All-American honors in baseball as a senior at New Hartford Central High school located in New Hartford, New York.
He was drafted in the first round (sixth overall pick) of the 1979 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. Called up from the AAA Louisville Redbirds, he made his Major League debut with the Cardinals on June 17, 1983.
In 1985, he was one of five Cardinals to steal at least 30 bases. He stole 34 that season, part of the "Whiteyball" era.
He began his career the first two years by playing first base, third base, and all three outfield positions. He mostly played right field the next two years because Van Slyke had a serious cannon for a right arm, occasionally platooning with Tito Landrum or substituting for Willie McGee in center. During spring training of 1987, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates along with left-handed hitting catcher Mike LaValliere and minor league pitcher Mike Dunne for catcher Tony Pena. The trade occurred on April 1st, with both Van Slyke and Dunne (as well as fans of both teams) initially thinking it was an April Fools joke. In Pittsburgh, he mostly played center field alongside stars Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.
Once Van Slyke became a full-time infielder, he showed off one of the most accurate and powerful throwing arms in the majors. So much that the "Slyke Zone" was established at Three Rivers. From 1985 to 1994, he was frequently among the league leaders in outfield assists. From 1985 to 1988, he posted seasons of 13, 10, 11, and 12 assists, respectively. As center fielder for the Pirates, he won five consecutive Gold Gloves from 1988 to 1992. His missile from right field on Dane Iorg's game-winning 2-run base hit in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series came very close to gunning down the Kansas City Royals' Jim Sundberg as he slid into home with the winning run. In St Louis, Van Slyke was known to throw 100mph fastballs in batting practice.
Overall, Van Slyke played for four different teams in his career: the St. Louis Cardinals (1983–1986), Pittsburgh Pirates (1987–1994), Baltimore Orioles (1995), and Philadelphia Phillies (1995). He played his final game on October 1, 1995.
In his 13-year career, Van Slyke appeared in three All-Star games (1988, 1992, 1993), won five Gold Gloves Awards, two Silver Slugger Awards, and ranked in the top 10 in many offensive categories in varying seasons.
Prior to the 2006 season, Van Slyke was named first base coach for the Detroit Tigers by manager Jim Leyland, under whom he had played in Pittsburgh. He was doing a radio show in St. Louis before joining Leyland's staff.
Has four sons, A.J., Scott, Jared, and Nathan. Scott is with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, currently playing for the Albuquerque Isotopes. Jared is a defense back on the University of Michigan football team.
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