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.

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