In this installment, I'd like to take a look at some players from Puerto Rico--a country that has produced four Hall of Famers to date (Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Ivan Rodriguez). Of the 250-plus Puerto Rican-born players who have aspired to the majors over the years, 22 of them ended up being featured in my book. There were a dozen other players I gave serious consideration to. They are as follows:
SANDY ALOMAR JR.
Brother of Hall of Famer, Roberto, and son of major leaguer, Sandy Sr., Alomar logged 20 years of major league experience. He was a six-time All-Star. In his first full season, he captured Rookie of the Year honors along with a Gold Glove. He helped Cleveland to five postseason appearances and hit .367 in the '97 World Series against the Marlins. He was MVP of the All-Star game that year.
Baerga's career spanned portions of fourteen seasons. A three-time All-Star, he also claimed a pair of Silver Slugger Awards. He exceeded the .300 mark at the plate every year from 1992-1995 and retired with a commendable .291 average. He had decent range at second base, leading the league in assists three times. A reliable run producer, he drove in 100 runs on two occasions.
JOSE CRUZ JR.
Cruz's father is included in my book. His uncles, Hector and Tommy, didn't make the cut. Jose Jr. finished second in rookie of the Year voting during the '97 campaign. He hit 26 homers in his debut then collected 15 or more on six other occasions. He reached the 30-homer mark in 2000 and 2001. He was also a competent outfielder with a strong arm. He led the league in putouts in 2000 and won a Gold glove in 2003.
DeJesus spent 15 years in the majors with seven different clubs. He peaked with the Cubs and Phillies in the late-'70s/early '80s. His best offensive effort came in '78 when he led the league with 104 runs scored. He had an excellent arm and good range in his prime. He led the league in assists twice. His range factor per 9 innings is among the top 20 figures of all time.
Figueroa had established himself as one of the most reliable pitchers in the AL when an elbow injury derailed his career. Between 1975 and 1978, he posted a 71-43 record with an ERA in the low-three's. He was a member of two world championship Yankee squads. He won 20 games in 1978.
A right-handed reliever, Hernandez was a two-time All-Star. He gathered 30 or more saves on six occasions. He peaked in '96 while playing for the White Sox, leading the league in closing appearances (61). He ended up with 38 saves and a stellar 1.91 ERA that year. He has the most career saves (326) among Puerto Rican born pitchers.
For one magical season, Hernandez was the top reliever in the majors. In 1984, he helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory with a 9-3 record, 1.92 ERA and 32 saves. He entered a league-high 80 games that year during the regular season and six more during the postseason. He was rewarded with an All-Star berth, a Cy Young Award and an MVP nod. Two more All-Star selections followed in '85 and '86. By '87, he had faded into mediocrity.
In the late-'70s, Lezcano was among the Brewers most powerful hitters. He peaked in 1979 with a .321 batting average, 28 homers and 101 RBI. At one point, he homered in four straight games. He also won a Gold Glove. Lezcano is the only player to hit a grand slam on opening day twice.
Well traveled, Montanez spent time with nine different clubs over fourteen seasons. His high energy level and volatile temperament were too much for some clubs. In 1971, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He posted double digit home run totals eight times and drove in no fewer than 60 runs on ten occasions. His best season came in 1975, when he hit .302 and gathered 101 RBIs for the Phillies and Giants. He flashy "snatch-catch" was later emulated by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.
Valentin collected at least 10 homers every year from 1994-2004, peaking at 30 long balls in the latter campaign. He drove in no fewer than 70 runs five times in that span. He helped the Mets and White Sox to postseason appearances. A versatile defensive player, he played every position except pitcher and catcher.
Vidro logged twelve years of major league service. A three-time All-Star, he was the Expos top second baseman from 1999-2004. He averaged 17 homers and 73 RBIs per year in that span. He retired with a .298 batting average. Defensively, he was equipped with a strong arm. He led players at his position twice in assists. His lifetime fielding percentage is among the top fifty marks of all time.
A right-hander, Vazquez posted double digit victory totals for twelve straight seasons. He peaked with the Expos in 2001, going 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA. He had another phenomenal year with the Braves in 2009, posting a career-best 2.87 ERA in over 200 innings of work. Vazquez was known for his durability, reaching the 200 inning mark in nine seasons. He was a 15 game winner three times.