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.

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