Monday, June 26, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (The Dominican Republic)

With the release of my latest book, Latino Stars in Major League Baseball, I thought it might be interesting to list some of the players who didn't quite make the cut. I had no specific criteria for inclusion, but as I began my research it became obvious that some stars shone brighter than others. Since I had no intention of producing an encyclopedia of Latin American ballplayers, I had to draw the line somewhere. Over the next few posts, I'd like to share some thumbnail bios of guys who were on the cusp of inclusion. I'll start with the Dominican Republic, which has produced the highest number of major leaguers to date. 

The youngest of the three Alou brothers, Jesus generated 82 pinch hits between 1963 and 1979, developing a reputation as a reliable bench player. He hit .280 over fifteen seasons, primarily as a part-timer. His best offensive effort came in 1965. Playing with the Giants that year, he got into 143 games and reached career-high marks in homers (9) and RBIs (52).

Now playing in his twelfth season, Aybar is currently property of the Padres. A reliable shortstop, he has led the league in double plays twice and fielding percentage once. He captured a Gold Glove in 2011 and made the All-Star team in 2014.

Cabrera was a coveted Yankee prospect at the beginning of his career then blossomed outside of the Bronx. Between 2011 and 2014, he topped the .300 mark at the plate three times. He was an All-Star in 2012. In the 2009 ALCS, he led the way for the Yanks, hitting .391 in six games as New York went on to win the World Series. Cabrera has played for six different teams. He has been with the White Sox for the last three seasons. 

 Cruz broke in with the Tigers in 1997 and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Primarily a shortstop, he held his own at three other infield stations. Cruz had some power, peaking at 14 homers in 2003. He had his best offensive season in 2000, gathering 61 extra-base hits while hitting .302. He last appeared in the majors during the 2005 slate. 

Duncan wore five uniforms over twelve major league seasons. In his 1985 debut, he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He enjoyed his finest all around season with the Reds in 1990, when he led the NL with 11 triples and hit .306. He was named to the All-Star team in 1994. With the Yankees in 1996, he compiled a .340 batting average in 109 games, helping the Bombers to their first Word Series title in over a decade. 

At 6-foot-2, 160 pounds, this slender outfielder didn't look very powerful. But he generated no fewer than 16 homers six times between 1999 and 2006. His best offensive season came with the Marlins in 2003, when he collected a career-best 94 RBIs and 62 extra-base hits. His efforts helped the club to a surprising World Series upset over the Yankees. Encarnacion returned to the October showcase with the Cardinals in 2006, earning his second World Series ring.

Primarily a third baseman, Feliz could field and throw with the best of them, leading players at his position in fielding percentage, double plays and assists once apiece. His most productive stretch in the majors came between 2003 and 2009. He clubbed 20 or more homers in four straight seasons and gathered 80 or more RBIs the same number of times. Three of his clubs made it to the World Series. He was a member of the World Champion Phillies in 2008.

Furcal got off to a hot start, capturing Rookie of the Year honors with the Braves in 2000. He earned three All-Star selections during his fourteen years in the majors. With a pleasing combination of speed and power, he stole 20 or more bases in eight straight seasons. He peaked at 46 steals in 2005. He also finished with double digit home run totals four times. His ten triples were tops in the NL during the 2003 campaign.

In his first full season (1979), Griffin was named Rookie of the Year. He earned an All-Star selection in 1984 and a Gold Glove in '85. Griffin had excellent speed on the bases, peaking at 33 steals in 1986. He led the American League with 15 triples in 1980 and was a useful member of three World Series squads.

Guillen played for ten different clubs during his fourteen years in the majors. He was traded in mid-season on four occasions. Wherever he went, he provided power and reliability at the plate. With the Angels in 2004, he drove in 104 runs and gathered 58 extra-base hits. With the Mariners in 2007, he fell one ribbie short of the century mark. He peaked at 31 homers in 2003.

 Javier was a superb defensive player, leading the NL in putouts twice. A two-time All-Star, he started for the 1963 NL squad alongside three of his St. Louis infield mates--Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Bill White. Javier's 3-run homer in Game 7 of the '67 World Series helped clinch the title for the Cardinals. He hit .333 in four World Series. 

When Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez arrived in the majors, he was overshadowed by his older brother Ramon. Impossibly slender at 6-foot-4, 165 pounds, Ramon was one of the Dodgers top pitchers for a majority of the 1990s. He received serious consideration for the Cy Young Award twice. In 1990, he gathered 20 wins and led the NL with 12 complete games. In 1994, he paced the league in shutouts. He finished with double digit win totals during seven seasons. 

Perez was a wide-ranging shortstop who led the NL in putouts, assists and double plays three times apiece. He captured a Gold Glove with the Rockies in 2000. He peaked offensively in Colorado, averaging 10 triples per year over portions of five seasons. Away from the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, he was less extraordinary, but he retired with a creditable .267 batting average.
Santana deserved much better in 2011 when he compiled an 11-12 record with the Angels despite his handsome 3.38 ERA. The same could be said of his effort in 2013, when his 3.24 ERA produced a 9-10 record for the Royals. A fifteen game winner on three occasions, Santana is off to a hot start in 2017. As of this writing, he had logged a 10-4 record for the Twins and was leading the league with 3 shutouts.

Known for his durability, Soto led the NL in complete games twice and logged at least 237 innings of work in four straight seasons. He started his career with Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" and stuck around after the club fell into mediocrity. Soto posted double digit win totals six times during his career and was among the top ten in Cy Young voting on four occasions. He was named to three All-Star teams.

Valverde was a lights-out closer between 2007 and 2012, leading the league in closing appearances and saves three times apiece during that span. His 288 saves are fourth on the all-time list among fellow countrymen.     


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


One of my favorite projects from the past is Baseball's Most Notorious Personalities, which was published in 2013 by Scarecrow Press. In it, I got to dish the dirt on some of the game's most infamous events and ornery characters. Naturally, this included one of the most hair-brained promotional schemes in history--the 1974 debacle in Cleveland known as Ten Cent Beer Night. 

Here's an excerpt from the book:

"The Cleveland Indians have traditionally had difficulty maintaining a fan base. From 1960 through 1974, the club placed fifth or lower in the standings on twelve occasions. And though some talented players passed through that region of Ohio, such as Frank Robinson, Gaylord Perry and Graig Nettles, the Indians averaged less than 10,000 patrons per game in that span. The lack of support was made glaringly obvious night after night by Cleveland Municipal Stadium's spacious capacity of more than 70,000. The run-down edifice came to be mockingly referred to as 'The Mistake by the Lake.'

In 1974, Indians Executive Vice President Ted Bonda called a board meeting to discuss the club's sagging attendance and how to improve it. Someone suggested they follow the example of the Texas Rangers, who had hosted a successful "10-Cent Beer Night." The board agreed and the date for the promotion was set for June 4. It would turn out to be an evening that would live in Baseball infamy.

To begin with, the Indians failed to request the presence of Cleveland police. There were few if any on-duty cops at the stadium to help control the sizeable crowd of 25,000, many of whom showed up drunk or stoned at the onset. There were also no regulations in place to control the distribution of beer. Fans were allowed to buy up to six cups at a time. There were no safeguards to prevent people from buying the allotted six, handing them off to anyone in the stadium and then promptly returning for more...

The Rangers jumped out to a second-inning lead on a homer by designated hitter Tom Grieve. With beer flowing and half the attendees exhibiting "the glow," a woman ran into the Indians on-deck circle and bared her breasts. It was only the beginning. After Grieve had homered in the fourth to put the Rangers up 3-0, a naked man ill-advisedly slid into second base. In the bottom of the inning, the crowd joined together in a hostile chant when Texas Rangers pitcher Fergie Jenkins was struck in the stomach by a line drive. The stadium reverberated with a chorus of: "Hit him again! Hit Him again! Harder! Harder!"

The frat party continued in the fifth, when two more men hopped over the wall and mooned Rangers outfielders. Numerous other fans in various states of undress were dragged off the field by security as the evening wore on, prompting a rain of beer cups, batteries, and golf balls. At one point, firecrackers were tossed into the Rangers bullpen...

Unbeknownst to many in attendance, there was a heck of a game going on. Trailing 5-1 in the sixth, the Indians rallied to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth. They had the winning run on second base when a man jumped out of the stands and tried to steal right fielder Jeff Burroughs's cap. Burroughs turned to defend himself and clumsily fell over. In the Texas dugout, manager  Billy Martin had seen enough. He armed himself with a bat and headed toward the outfield. His players trailed behind him as chaos ensued.

Rangers personnel soon found themselves surrounded by drunken hooligans, some holding knives, chains and blunt instruments torn from stadium seats. Realizing the peril their opponents were in, Cleveland players sprang into action under orders from Manager Ken Aspromonte. Indians reliever Tom Hilgendorf was hit on the head with a chair. Rangers first baseman Mike Hargrove threw a fan to the ground and beat the man senseless. Texas catcher Duke Sims sparred with several thugs. Banding together the players managed to escape to their clubhouses with the wounded in tow...

With insufficient security to control the crowd, the unruly mob rioted for nearly a half hour, stealing bases and anything they could get their collective hands on. Umpire Nestor Chylak was nearly hit by a thrown hunting knife. He was bleeding from the back of his head when he declared the game a forfeit in favor of Texas and exited the field with the rest of the crew. Speaking to members of the press, he referred to those in the crowd as "f--ing animals."