Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Greatest Latino Players of All Time (Part III--Outfielders)


Roberto Clemente
Long before he died in a plane crash while delivering humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente had already become a folk hero to legions of fans. Nicknamed "The Great One," he spent his entire eighteen-year career with the Prates, winning four batting titles, twelve Gold Gloves and an MVP Award. At the peak of his offensive prowess, pitchers worked carefully around him. In 1968, he was intentionally walked 27 times. The World Series was Clemente's finest hour. He played in two of them with the Bucs, compiling a .362 batting average in 14 games. The Hall of Fame waived the standard five-year waiting period and inducted him posthumously in 1973.

Sammy Sosa
Sosa's Hall of Fame candidacy was hurt tremendously when it was discovered that he had failed a PED screening. Even so, he was one of the most exciting players in Cubs history. Known for his enthusiasm, the Dominican-born slugger would sprint onto the field at the beginning of each game. He had prodigious power, gathering most of his lifetime homers between 1993 and 2004. He averaged 44 per season during that period. His epic home run race with Mark McGwire in '98 thrust him into the national spotlight. Though he lost the "race," he captured MVP honors with a league-leading 158 RBIs and 134 runs scored. Sosa currently ranks eighth on the all time home run list.

Tony Oliva
Though he played most of his career in the pitching dominant 1960s (sometimes referred to as baseball's "second deadball era"), the Cuban-bred Oliva compiled an impressive batch of statistics. Between1964 and 1971, he led the American League five times in hits and four times in doubles while capturing three batting crowns. He burst upon the scene with the Twins in '64, capturing Rookie of the Year honors. Seven straight All-Star selections followed. Oliva played in constant pain. He underwent surgery for torn ligaments in his right knee during the '66/'67 campaigns. In '71, he tore cartilage in the surgically repaired knee while diving for a ball in the outfield. He had a handful of good seasons after that. Oliva ended his fifteen-year career with a .304 lifetime batting average.

Vladimir Guerrero
Any argument against Guerrero inevitably focuses on his defense, which left a bit to be desired. He led players at his position in errors nine times. But he also had good range and a strong arm, leading the circuit twice in assists while finishing among the top five in Range Factor on nine occasions. Guerrero carried the terrifying nickname of "Vlad the Impaler" because he was a line drive hitter who could really powder the ball. Aside from an injury-shortened 2003 campaign, he drove-in no fewer than 100 runs every year from 1998-2007. He launched 32 or more homers eight times in that span. The highlight of his career came in 2004, when he was named American League MVP as a member of the Angels. Before then, he had been the heart and soul of the Expos offense for many seasons. The Dominican-born outfielder retired before his skills eroded. He was a lifetime .318 hitter.

Bobby Abreu
A native of Venezuela, Abreu received only moderate acclaim during his playing days. His career resume includes 574 doubles, 1363 RBIs and 400 stolen bases. He drove-in 90 or more runs nine times and was a 30/30 man twice. He also knew how to get on base, averaging one walk per every 7 plate appearances. His on-base percentage exceeded the .400 mark on eight occasions. He currently ranks 10th on the all time list in putouts and 22nd in assists. He accomplished all of this while remaining steroid-free (though he did admit to using creatine, which is legal and available over the counter at health food stores). Even with his impressive numbers, he was only named to a pair of All-Star teams. That doesn't seem fair somehow. 


Cristobal Torriente
Considered by many to be the greatest Cuban player in history, Torriente never got a chance to play in the majors due to the existing color barrier. From 1913-1927, he compiled the highest batting average in the history of the Cuban Winter League at .352. In 1920, Torriente's team beat the New York Giants in a nine-game exhibition. Torriente went on to a highly successful Negro League career, spending time with the Chicago American Giants and the Kansas City Monarchs. He hit at a combined .331 pace for those clubs. Enshrined at Cooperstown in 2006, Torriente is described on his plaque as being "a powerful, stocky center fielder who possessed all of the traditional five tools." Statistical guru Bill James ranked Torriente among the top 100 players of any generation.

Bernie Williams
Hailing from Puerto Rico, Williams was sometimes overlooked because he played alongside so many high profile stars in New York. Quiet, consistent and modest, Williams helped steer the Yankees to four World Series titles in a five-year span. He topped the .300 mark at the plate every year from 1995-2002. In the outfield, he had plenty of skill, winning four straight Gold Gloves. Using long, loping strides, he often made difficult plays look routine. His number will be retired by the Yankees this season.

Cesar Cedeno
 Cedeno's roots can be traced to the Dominican Republic. He was often compared to Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente early in his career because he displayed a pleasing combination of speed and power. He was also an excellent defensive center fielder, winning a Gold Glove every year from 1972-'76. In that same stretch, he stole no fewer than 50 bases per season. He spent a majority of his career with the (mostly) woeful Astros squads of the 1970s. When the '80s arrived, his skills were in decline. By the time he retired at the age of thirty-five, he had become a somewhat ordinary player. But in his prime, there were few players who were as multi-dimensional.


Minnie Minoso
When Minoso arrived in the majors, there were still some teams that were not integrated yet. His career numbers earned him moderate support from Cooperstown voters as he remained on the primary ballot for a full fifteen years. Originating from Cuba, Minoso came up through the Indians organization, but attained full time playing status with the White Sox. He responded by hitting .324 and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1951. Over the next decade, Minoso would appear on six All-Star teams and win three Gold Gloves. He was a patient hitter, finishing among the top ten in on-base percentage nine times. He also hit for average, retiring with a lifetime mark just slightly below .300. In an era when the stolen base had become somewhat unfashionable, he led the league in steals three times and finished second on three other occasions. Defensively, he was solid, regularly appearing among the league leaders in assists and double plays. In 1980, he came out of retirement to become the third oldest player to bat in a major league game.  

Moises Alou
Alou carved a small niche in Chicago Cubs history in 2003. The Cubs were just a few outs away from their first World Series appearance in nearly sixty years when a fan named Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball Alou was poised to catch. The Cubs ended up blowing the game and the NLCS. Alou later made a snide remark about the incident, which he said had been intended as a joke. The Cubs collapse had little to do with Alou as he hit.310 in that series. The son of accomplished outfielder and manager Felipe Alou, Moises was born in Atlanta but raised in Santo Domingo. During his seventeen years in the majors, he played for seven teams and lost two full seasons to injury. He retired with a lifetime .303 batting average. His best offensive season came in 2000, when he hit at a robust .355 clip with 60 extra-base hits and 114 RBIs for the Astros. He collected even more ribbies and extra-base hits in '98, but hit for a lower average. In all, he earned six All-Star selections. He played both corner outfield positions and posted the highest fielding percentage in the league at each.     

Jose Cruz
A product of Puerto Rico, Cruz would likely have gotten more recognition had he played for better teams. He spent time with the Cardinals and Astros during the 1970s--dry periods for both clubs. Cruz's breakthrough season came in 1976, when he topped the .300 mark for the first time in his career as a full-timer. He got even better in later years, finishing among the top ten in MVP voting twice after reaching the age of thirty-five. Between 1983 and '85, he compiled a .310 batting average, leading the league in hits during the former campaign. Cruz most often occupied the fourth to sixth slot in the batting order. He cumulatively hit .319 with the bases loaded during his career. Defensively, he was highly competent, leading NL left fielders in putouts for five straight seasons. Two of Cruz's brothers played in the majors. His son, Jose, had a moderately successful big league career, collecting more than 200 homers in twelve seasons.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Greatest Latino Players of All Time (Part II--Pitchers and Catchers)


Ivan Rodriguez
Some would argue that Rodriguez, a native of Manati, Puerto Rico was the greatest defensive catcher in major league history. He won thirteen Gold Gloves and is currently the all time leader in putouts and games played at his position. He also appeared on fourteen All-Star teams. After spending more than a decade with the Rangers, he traveled extensively. He guided three different clubs to playoff berths and played in two World Series. He captured AL MVP honors in 1999. Eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, he has the credentials and was never fingered as a PED user. But Jose Canseco claims that he personally injected Rodriguez with steroids. Nobody believed Canseco all those years ago--until many of his accusations turned out to be true.

Javy Lopez
During the Braves' era of NL dominance from the mid-1990s through the early-2000s, Lopez was Atlanta's primary receiver. He hit .287 and generated 260 homers over portions of fifteen seasons. Hailing from Ponce, Puerto Rico, Lopez drove-in more than a hundred runs twice. He was MVP of the 1996 NLCS. Defensively, he was solid, leading the league in range factor three times and fielding percentage once. Sabermetric scores compare him favorably to Roy Campanella and Thurman Munson.  

Tony Pena
Of Dominican origin, Pena had an eighteen-year career spent with six different teams. He had his longest stretch with the Pirates from 1980-'85.  Pena had moderate power, finishing in double digits for homers six times. Four of the squads he played on made playoff appearances and Pena helped those clubs considerably, compiling a lifetime .338 postseason batting average. In all, he made five All-Star appearance and captured four Gold Gloves.

Sandy Alomar Jr.
Hailing from Salina, Puerto Rico, Alomar was born into a family that produced three notable major leaguers. His father was an infielder for the Yankees and his brother was a Hall of Fame second baseman for multiple clubs. Alomar Jr. held his own for twenty big league campaigns. In his rookie season (1990), he was named Rookie of the Year and became the first freshman catcher to start in an All-Star Game. He also won his only Gold Glove that year. Alomar appeared on six All-Star rosters and two World Series squads. In the Fall Classic, he was a .311 hitter.

Manny Sanguillen
Signed by the Pirates in 1964, the Cuban-born Sanguillen spent twelve of his thirteen big league seasons in Pittsburgh. It was a bountiful period for the club as Sanguillen won two World Series rings. He was a torrid hitter in World Series play, fashioning a .375 average in ten games. Sanguillen was a strong defensive presence, finishing among the top five in assists, double plays and runners caught stealing five times apiece between 1970 and 1976. Most often appearing sixth in the batting order, he topped the .300 mark at the plate in four campaigns. As a pinch hitter, he reached base 52 times by hit or walk while compiling a .288 batting average. Sanguillen was involved in an unusual trade before the 1977 campaign, getting shipped to Oakland in exchange for manager Chuck Tanner. He returned the following year and eventually retired a Pirate. 


Juan Marichal
A product of the Dominican Republic, Marichal dominated the National League with the Giants from 1962-1971. In that span, he compiled a 202-98 record. He led the league in wins, complete games and shutouts twice apiece, capturing an ERA title in '69. He likely would have captured at least one Cy Young Award had his career not coincided with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson. Marichal, who was a nine-time All-Star, has been negatively associated with an ugly brawl that took place in a game against the Dodgers. Marichal clubbed catcher John Roseboro over the head with a bat. The two later became friends.

Pedro Martinez
A recent addition to the Hall of Fame, the Dominican born Martinez was among the premier right-handers in the majors for a span of thirteen seasons. His lifetime won/loss percentage is among the top ten totals of all time. From 1997-2003, he captured three Cy Young Awards. His finest season came in 1999, when he won a triple crown. He was 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts that year. Before he retired, Martinez had earned eight All-Star selections and finished among the top ten in Cy Young voting seven times.   

Dolf Luque
Luque played in an era of segregation. Because he was light-skinned, he slipped right through the color barrier in 1914, signing with the Boston Braves. He spent portions of twenty seasons in the majors, accruing a total of 194 lifetime wins--among the top marks for a Cuban-born hurler. Nicknamed "The Pride of Havana," Luque had a volcanic temper. He once charged into the opposing dugout, punched Casey Stengel in the mouth and threatened Giants' players with a bat. He reached the pinnacle of his career in 1923, when he posted a 27-8 record and led the AL with 6 shutouts. His ERA was an economical 1.93 that year. He paced the circuit in shutouts three times during his career. 

Mike Cuellar
Another Cuban moundsman, southpaw Mike Cuellar was an irreplaceable member of the dominant Orioles squads of the late-'60s/ early-'70s. Cuellar never threw terribly hard, prompting one observer to remark that his swiftest offering could be caught bare-handed. His most productive span occurred between 1969 and 1974. In that stretch, he posted a 125-63 record and led the AL in winning percentage twice. He captured a Cy Young Award in 1969--sharing the honor with Denny McLain. Cuellar had superb control, averaging just one hit batsman per 234 innings.

Mariano Rivera
Few would disagree that Rivera was the greatest closer of all time. Born in Panama, he began his major league career as a swingman for the Yankees. He became their full time closer in 1997, shattering the all time record for saves with 652. He averaged 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings during his nineteen-year career. In addition to his regular season record, Rivera has more saves than any pitcher in postseason history as well. In twenty-four World series games, he yielded just 4 runs. He saved no fewer than 30 games on fifteen occasions using only two pitches--a standard fastball and a cut fastball. He held opponents to a collective .207 regular season batting average as a reliever.

Luis Tiant
The Cuban-bred Tiant had a colorful, engaging personality and was almost always good for a quote. Tiant won more games than any Cuban-born pitcher in the majors during the twentieth century. More than half of his 229 lifetime victories came with the Red Sox between 1971 and 1978. In that span, he appeared on three All-Star teams and finished among the top ten in Cy Young voting three times. Tiant was known for his elaborate wind-up, which included an elaborate series of glove waggles and a pirouette delivery that had him turning his back to hitters. He used a wide variety of junk pitches, including an occasional knuckleball and spitball.

Johan Santana
Santana was born and raised in Venezuela. He came up through the Astros farm system in the late-'90s, ascending rapidly to the majors. Using a fastball, curve and change-up combination, the left-hander had a breakout season with the Twins in 2003, posting a 12-3 record while often working out of the bullpen. Over the next seven seasons, he was one of the hottest properties in baseball, winning three ERA titles and a pair of Cy Young Awards. Between 2004 and 2010, he averaged 16 wins per year. He led the league in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons. Slowed by arm trouble in 2009, his career became a question of what might have been. He missed the entire 2011 campaign and was ineffective in his return the following year. He retired with 139 lifetime victories.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Greatest Latino Players of All Time (Part I Infielders)

In 2013, Latino players held more than twenty-eight percent of all major league contracts--a number that has steadily increased over time. The spread of baseball to Latin America was directly related to the economic interests of the United States. The game was exported to Cuba in the 1860s and to Mexico during the railroad expansion era of the 1880s. The petroleum boom of the 1920s brought the game to Venezuela. Due to a ban on black players, only light-skinned Latinos were allowed in the majors during the first half of the twentieth century. From 1871 to 1950, less than sixty Latin Americans found spots on major league rosters. The breaking of the color barrier in 1947 dramatically altered the face of the sport not only for African Americans but for Latinos as well. In my next few posts, I'll be ranking the top Latin players of all time (RETIRED PLAYERS ONLY).
Let's begin with infielders!


Tony Perez
Born in Camaguey, Cuba, Perez made his major league debut in 1964. Over the next two decades, he established himself as one of the top players at his position. He drove-in 90 or more runs in eleven consecutive seasons from 1967 through 1977. Reds manager Sparky Anderson once commented that there was no other player he would rather have at the plate with the game on the line. Perez was a vital cog in Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine." He played on four pennant-winning Reds squads and later appeared in a fifth World Series with the Phillies. In all, he made seven All-Star appearances while finishing among the top ten in MVP voting four times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

Orlando Cepeda
Cepeda hailed from Ponce, Puerto Rico. Originally property of the Giants, he captured Rookie of the Year honors in 1958. He enjoyed several successful seasons in San Francisco--most notably the 1961 campaign, when he led the NL with 46 homers and 142 RBIs. He finished second in MVP voting to Frank Robinson that year. He finally captured the award in 1967 while playing for the Cardinals. Cepeda was carefree and easy going. He earned the nickname "Cha Cha" for the Latin music he played in the clubhouse before games. Interestingly, he had decent speed for a slugger, finishing among the top ten in steals on four occasions. Cepeda was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999. At the time, he was just the sixth Hispanic player to be enshrined. He might have arrived in Cooperstown sooner had he not been convicted for importing marijuana in 1975. 

Rafael Palmeiro
A product of La Habana, Cuba, Palmeiro was extremely versatile, winning three Gold Gloves while becoming only the fourth player to gather more than 500 homers and 3,000 hits. A reliable RBI man, he reached the century mark in that category ten times. He would probably be in the Hall of Fame had he not falsely testified before Congress regarding steroid use. Palmeiro denied using steroids then tested positive in 2005. As a result, he has yet to capture more than 12.6% of the Cooperstown vote.


Rod Carew
Though Carew played in more games as a first baseman, he actually began his career at second base and served more seasons in that capacity. After capturing Rookie of the year honors in 1967, the Panamanian native established himself as one of the most productive hitters in the game. Over the course of his career, he captured seven batting titles and was named to eighteen All-Star teams. He garnered AL MVP honors in 1977. He was enshrined at Cooperstown in 1991.

Roberto Alomar
Alomar was among the most decorated second basemen in history with ten Gold Gloves to his credit. He was adept with a bat as well, capturing four Silver Slugger Awards and finishing among the top ten in MVP voting on five occasions. Originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, he later took up residence in  Tampa, Florida. He helped three different teams to multiple playoff appearances. He won two World Series rings with the Blue Jays. Though he was vilified for an unpleasant run-in with an umpire, he made amends and salvaged his reputation. He ended up in the Hall of Fame class of 2011.

Manny Trillo
Trillo was an exceptional defensive second baseman for several teams, capturing three Gold Gloves and earning four All-Star selections. Born in Venezuela, he spent a majority of his career with the Cubs. He led NL second basemen in assists for four straight years. He had wide range and a throwing style that has been described as "whip-like." A competent offensive presence, he hit .270 or better seven times, peaking at .292 in 1980--the same year he helped the Phillies to their first world championship. 


Luis Aparicio
Born in Venezuela, Aparicio demonstrated a pleasing combination of speed and defense. Appearing most often as a leadoff hitter, he topped the American League in steals for nine straight seasons. A ten-time All-Star, there were few players with surer hands and a stronger arm. He currently ranks among the top ten of all time in putouts and assists. He was rewarded for his defensive excellence with nine Gold Gloves. His induction to Cooperstown took place in 1984. 

Dave Concepcion
Another Venezuelan, Concepcion was a two-way player for Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine." Between 1973 and 1982, he hit .280 or better seven times while collecting five Gold Gloves. Devoutly religious, he is remembered for making the sign of the cross before each at-bat. Though he is not in the Hall of FAme, similarity scores compare him favorably to inductees Pee Wee Reese and Aparicio. 

Tony Fernandez
A product of the Dominican Republic, Fernandez spent time with seven different clubs during a highly successful major league career. He received a Gold Glove every year from 1986-'89. A switch-hitter, Fernandez used his ample speed to gather 30 or more doubles on six occasions. He finished in double digits for triples three times, leading the league in 1990 while playing for the Blue Jays. Through 2007, he held the franchise record for hits. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Bert Camapneris
Campaneris was among the most versatile players ever. He demonstrated this early in his career by appearing at every position in a game during one of owner Charlie Finley's wild promotional stunts. It has been argued by many that Campaneris was the greatest A's shortstop of all time. Hailing from Pueblo Nuevo, Cuba, he arrived on the scene in 1964. Over the next eight seasons, he would lead the league in steals six times. He helped the A's to three straight World Series victories from '72-'74. He appeared on six All-Star teams in all. 

 (Most of the best Latino third basemen are still active, but there are at least two historical players worth mentioning) 

Vinny Castilla
A Mexican import, Castilla spent portions of nine seasons in Colorado and benefited tremendously from hitter-friendly Coors Field. Nearly seventy percent of his lifetime homers and RBIs came as a member of the Rockies. His most productive span occurred between 1995 and 1999, when he hit .302 while averaging 38 homers and 112 RBIs per year. He led the league with 131 ribbies in 2004. Defensively, he fielded his position several points above the league average.  

Aurelio Rodriguez
Also from Mexico, Rodriguez wore seven different major league uniforms during his seventeen-year career. He enjoyed his longest stretch with the Tigers from 1971-'79. Though he never hit for high averages, he had moderate power, finishing in double digits for homers five times. He was far stronger on defense, leading AL third basemen in fielding percentage, assists, double plays and range factor twice apiece. Shut out by Brooks Robinson of the Orioles year after year, Rodriguez finally captured a Gold Glove in 1976.